Alison Hawke

avatar-01-2014
How many years have you been in tech?

Since 2005, so 12 years now.

Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

I was the science and maths nerd at school, did a physics degree because I loved the subject, and got into coding there via Fortran77 and then Visual Basic 4 and 5. My husband and I are British, we immigrated to the US in 1998 and got US citizenship in 2009.

How were you exposed to tech?

I had a Commodore VIC-20 and spent many happy hours typing stuff in and watching it run, and playing games. At University, we got access to the school Unix machines and Windows boxes. Then I married a programmer and taught myself Java so we could converse at dinner. After years of listening to him tell me about working with bad QAs, I got a job in that field so I could do better, and because it sounded fun.

What is your current role?

Director of Quality Advocacy for Asynchrony Labs. I serve fifty quality advocates in two states, spread across three cities.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Introducing the idea of a QA apprenticeship to the company. I took a candidate with no development background and trained him to be a QA automation engineer on one of our larger teams. After less than three years as a QA, his work is outstanding and contributes to a high-performing team responsible for multiple applications. We are currently training apprentices seven, eight, and nine.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.

When I arrived at Asynchrony in 2013, I was one of about nine QAs for about two hundred developers. Many teams did not have a QA person, and the few QAs worked in isolation. I wanted to change that, despite being told “Test-driven development means we don’t need a QA.” I implemented automated tests on my team, learned C# from my team lead, started a weekly QA stand-up to connect the QA team, pushed for a free month of Codeschool.com for QA people to continue learning, and drove hard to be the best QA automation engineer these developers had ever seen. Now we are a team of about fifty QAs for four hundred developers . Teams request a QA on startup, the QA team meets every other week to share knowledge, and we are continually training each other, pairing with QAs and developers, and having fun.

What are you learning right now?

The Elixir language. Current goal is to write myself a web server that will return a correctly formed HTCPCP 418 error, see https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2324 for details of the spec I’m working from.

Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?

I was trying to coordinate QA activities while being a full time QA on my team, and we hadn’t been able to hire a replacement for me. I asked for and got permission to hire an apprentice, thinking of my father’s experience when he was apprenticed to a local carpenter as a teen. His apprenticeship changed the course of his life, I wanted to give someone else that chance. It was a risk, my apprentice took a huge leap of faith and we muddled through a three month boot-camp until he was ready to start flying solo. I’ve continued to meet with him to advise and encourage and hear his successes and experiments, I’m so proud of what he has become.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

Speaking in front of groups of strangers has always been terrifying for me. My mentor challenged me to visit the CoderGirl meetup and talk about software QA. I prepared a speech, got myself a green laser pointer and did it. I felt horribly nervous but people liked the talk. I have taken on part of the new hire orientation presentations at work, so I speak in front of a group every month and over time it has become easier. It’s still scary though.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this, that something is ‘too technical’ for you to understand, that your role and discipline is a second class citizen. March forth and be awesome!

What are your hobbies?

I’m a 1st degree black belt in Chinese Kenpo, which took over eight years of training. I knit, I spin yarn from fleece, and I write a novel every year with National Novel Writing Month.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

The people here are friendly, the weather is constantly changing and the summers are glorious. The town is big enough to get band concerts but not so large it feels like a New York or London. I have history here, my favourite bread shop and coffee place knows my name and my order, and I feel like I belong here.

Who inspires you?

The people in my life who struggle with mental illness and refuse to give up against often overwhelming difficulties. Walking forwards against a depression hurricane is a struggle I share with them.

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