Episode 127 – Share Your Value and Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Advice to Progress Your Career with Anne-Marie Charrett
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Anne-Marie Charrett. She is currently running her own software testing, training and coaching business. By trade, she is an electronic engineer, who, early in her career became interested in testing protocols, which she has been doing for the past 20 years.
Anne-Marie is also a coach, trainer and Software Test Consultant. She is also a well-known conference speaker.
(1.01) – So Anne-Marie, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Anne-Marie explains that when she left university, it was not her intention to become involved in software testing. However, at the time, there was growing interest in protocols and making sure that they conformed to European standards, something that Anne-Marie was drawn to.
Anne-Marie got used to testing each layer to make sure that it conformed to the standard. But, she soon realised that this was not an indication of quality. She recognised the fact that things had to work together properly for the system or software to be deemed as truly fit for purpose. The realisation that testers had to dive deeper and go beyond whether the software meets a standard and check that it does its job drove her to become a software tester. From there, becoming a software engineer was a natural progression.
(3.17) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Over the course of her career, Anne-Marie has learned to follow the advice – “don’t be nice, but do be kind.” She goes on to explain what she means by that.
She says that you need to work smart. To do what is right for your career and the project that you are working on. So, sometimes you have to push to get things done and stand up for what you know has to be done. But, you can still do that in a kind way.
She went on to add that you need to think strategically about your career and how you get things done in the workplace. This is something Anne-Marie thinks Angie Jones does particularly well.
(3.17) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Years ago, Anne-Marie moved from managing a team of 30 testers to leading 250 engineers. For her, it was a big change.
She was working in a very different environment with people who thought and worked in a different way. Her new team needed to be motivated differently. Unfortunately, Anne-Marie did not fully realize this until it was too late.
Anne-Marie had taken a very similar approach as she did when she was running her testing team. Making sure that everyone understood the big picture. What the end customer wanted, how the developers worked as well as what the system needed to do.
Her band of 30 loyal testers had happily followed her and thrived when she had managed them in this way. The engineers were not as comfortable with this approach. They were far more empirical. For them, it was facts and figures that motivated them. So, things did not go well.
However, she learned a lot from this experience, including the fact that there is a difference between leadership and management. She also realized that you need to communicate your value, even when you have not been asked to do so directly.
If you produce software you have something solid to show for your efforts. With testing, it is not as easy to demonstrate how you contribute.
It also taught her to think and talk about quality engineering in terms of business outcomes. This helps the person you are speaking with to understand the contribution you are making to the company’s bottom line. Anne-Marie explains that you have to adapt your message to fit in with that person’s role. For example, the finance guys will be more interested in how much the new software saves the company than they would be in the fact it will make someone’s job easier.
(10.10) – Phil asks Anne-Marie to share her best career moment. Anne-Marie’s most rewarding experience has been running her own company. She has really enjoyed creating a space in which talented people can work, thrive and discover skills that they never knew they had.
Anne-Marie is also really proud of SpeakEasy, which she set up with Fiona Charles. This initiative pairs up those who want to speak at conferences with mentors.
The majority of IT conference speakers are still men, something Anne-Marie and Fiona wanted to play a part in changing. As a result, most of the people they help are women or those from minority groups.
It has been a huge success. Plenty of experienced speakers have come forward to be mentors and they have helped lots of people. Plus, many conference organizers have agreed to leave a few slots free specifically for SpeakEasy participants, which has been a great help.
(15.03) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that the industry has woken up to the importance of diversity is something that Anne-Marie sees as a big positive. Diversity will lead to more ideas and different solutions.
(16.39) – What drew you to a career in IT, Anne-Marie? Like many people of her generation Anne-Marie had a Commodore 64, which sparked her interest in IT. But, not necessarily in the same way it did for many others.
Like most kids, she found learning to program interesting. But, what really fascinated her was how the computer itself worked. She wanted to find out enough to dismantle her Commodore 64 and find out.
(17.37) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Anne-Marie said that it was a something her Dad told her – Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. People love giving advice. When you ask someone for advice you are laying the foundation for a strong relationship, as well as benefiting from their experience.
(18.52) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Anne-Marie says that she would get involved in Site Reliability Engineering, from the start.
Learning how to design and set up systems in the most optimal way is fascinating. For someone who loves looking at the big picture and working to push quality levels up, as much as Anne-Marie does, the SRE sector is a perfect fit.
(19.30) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Anne-Marie wants to scale her business. Fortunately, she has a good partner who is helping her to learn the skills she needs to be able to do this.
(20.18) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Being able to ask the right questions has proved to be an invaluable skill for Anne-Marie. She says that most of the time, smart people already have the answers to their problems. Usually, all they need is to be asked the right questions, something that Anne-Marie is very good at doing.
(21.13) – Phil asks Anne-Marie to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Anne-Marie’s advice is to “never let people put you in a box.” Instead, set your own boundaries and work out ways to gradually push beyond them.
(7.44) Anne-Marie – “I learned the importance of communication. You need to communicate your value, even if nobody’s asked for that.”
(9.06) Anne-Marie – “Now, I talk about quality engineering in terms of business outcomes, “
(14.31) Anne-Marie – “People are interested in personal experiences. People are interested in how you approached a problem and solved it.”
(17.41) Anne-Marie – “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. People love giving advice.”
(20.50) Anne-Marie – “By probing and asking thoughtful questions, often, the answers evolve out of that conversation.”
Twitter: https://twitter.com/charrett @charrett