Episode 152 – Learn Not to be Afraid of Doing Things Differently with Maaret Pyhajarvi
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Maaret Pyhajarvi. Maaret is an Eng Manager, Tester, Polyglot Programmer, Conference Designer, Speaker and Author. For the past 25 years she has mainly worked in the testing field and has written two books on the subject. Her Mob Programming Guidebook and Exploratory Testing books are both very well regarded.
Maaret received the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person award, in 2016. She is a well-known conference speaker, who has delivered close to 400 sessions, in 25 countries.
(1.10) – So Maaret, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Maaret explains that she has been working in the IT testing field, for about 25 years. But, it is only in the past couple of years that she has thought about and started to understand what motivates her and the role she is fulfilling in this industry.
After someone who did not work in the industry asked her what she did for a living she realized that she is actually a feedback fairy. In other words, she finds problems and shares them with the developers in a way that enables them to fix the issue. Something that end-users cannot do, they can only really highlight problems, but do not have the tech knowledge to come up with possible solutions.
(2.14) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Maaret’s advice is to remember that you can craft any job you are given into the job you want.
Over the years, she has been crafting the way she works to better suit each of the companies she works with. Maaret likes to over deliver, to push the boundaries.
People are often surprised by the tasks she carries out. They do not identify some of these things as being tester related. This is evidence that Maaret has been crafting her role into something that better suits her and provides the firms she works for with extra benefits.
Phil asks her if she brings her personal values to her work. Maaret agrees that this is very much the case.
In fact, she has changed the way she works so much that when she took on a management job just 6 months ago, she realized she had been basically filling that role for some time.
If there is a job to do that she knows she is going to enjoy Maaret will usually volunteer or take the initiative and just get it done. It is not always necessary to ask for permission. You just need to be ready to apologize later if you misinterpret what needs to be done. But, usually, you get it right, so apologies are not needed.
(4.08) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. That happened about 10 years ago. She was working as a contractor on the customer organization side and had overall responsibility for a multi-million euro project.
Normally, she would have taken a hands-on approach. But, her then manager asked her to do things differently. They wanted her to focus on the metrics. She was assigned with tracking, preparing and explaining the progress of testing, at boardroom level. Helping the board to understand where the quality was bad, basically, preparing for these discussions. Naturally, that is what she did, barely touching the application itself.
The system they were developing and testing had multiple customers. So, usually there were two other big contractors, representing two other user clients in the boardroom with her. One day, when a big decision was about to be made, at the door of the meeting room, these two people told her they could not come into the meeting. They said they were working for other clients who were considered to be direct competitors of this board’s firm. So, because of a conflict of interest they had to stay outside.
This left Maaret handling the meeting. At the time, there were serious quality issues and a key decision had to be made. Naturally, Maaret struggled to explain things to the board at what was a critical point for the project. She had very little hands-on knowledge of the system and was thrown in at the deep end, at the very last moment. Unsurprisingly, the outcome of that meeting was not good. She was unable to win the argument, which resulted in her company losing a huge amount of money. For Maaret this was a real career low.
(7.18) – What was your best career moment? Maaret is lucky enough to work in a fast-moving field, which provides her with career highlights on a regular basis. But, one of her biggest highlights was helping one of the companies she worked for to reduce their end-user problem rate. When she joined them their issue rate was 18%, which, by any standards, is extremely high.
At the time, they were releasing every few weeks. Each time things were getting done at the very last minute. A chaotic way of working, so, unsurprisingly issues were still slipping through.
In an effort to tackle this issue, they decided to move to daily releases, which really helped. Speeding up the process meant they were introducing smaller changes that were easier to test and track. As a result, there were far fewer end-user issues. Plus, if anything small slipped through it could usually be fixed very quickly. This speeded up release process meant that there was not enough time for problems to accumulate and become big enough to cause serious issues for end users.
It is a way of working that she has introduced to her current company. Working like this is far better than waiting weeks, even months for a release. Something Maaret is quite relieved about. She finds that having to work on a project for 6 months before a release drives her insane.
(11.08) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that the work she does has a big impact on people’s lives excites Maaret. These days, it is easier to work in a way that makes sure that what you create really does fill a need. She is also excited by the potential of today’s machine learning related technologies. Being able to work so much faster opens up a world of possibilities, things that were once impossible are now possible, easy even.
(12.16) – What drew you to a career in IT? Maaret explained that she had wanted to become a chemist. But, she suffered from allergies. Her doctor advised her that working as a chemist would be too dangerous.
So, Maaret looked into other possibilities and came across software development. The people involved in the industry seemed to be really nice and she enjoyed creating something useful while working in a team.
(12.56) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? One of her bosses once reminded her that she did not have to be perfect. This was very good advice for Maaret. At the time, she was holding herself to a crazy high standard. So much so, that, at one stage, she felt like a complete failure. Fortunately, her boss helped her to realize that perfection is not necessary or expected. They showed her that she did add value and was good at her job.
(13.19) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Maaret says she would probably follow the same career path. But, she would work differently. Instead of starting the testing process slowly using case studies, she advocates jumping straight into exploratory testing. In fact, she is now teaching 17-year-olds to work in that way.
(14.01) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Maaret is figuring out how to multiply the impact of the R&D team by making them feel responsible without the presence of a product owner.
(14.17) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Over the years, Maaret has developed the ability to break down illusions. To help others, and herself, to break free of conventional thinking and try to do things differently. To the extent that sometimes it is a good idea to try something even when you are fairly sure it will not work. Exploring all avenues is the best way to discover new things.
(14.46) – Phil asks Maaret to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Her advice is to pay attention to your impact. You need to be hands-on and do some of the work. But, you should also be generative, helping others to multiply their impact.
(2.25) MAARET – “Remember is that you can craft any job you’re given into the job you want to have”
(12.47) MAARET – “That feeling of achieving something in a in a group of people is will really draw me in and keeps drawing me in still.”
(14.27) MAARET – “Sometimes telling yourself to try things that you are sure don’t work is the best thing you can do”
(14.48) MAARET – “Pay attention to your impact.”