Svetlana (Lana) Levinsohn is a professional trainer with more than eight years of experience in Quality Assurance. She teaches manual and automated testing at Careerist, and is an author of a course here too. Read her fascinating story below!
Where did your IT career start?
That is quite an interesting story...
I used to play desktop games a lot. And because I had a big interest in this field, I started working for a company that specialized in mobile games when I was living in Moscow.
The team was looking for a person who could do translations and help with game localization. And that’s what I did for them. It was a part-time role, nothing special or super serious or difficult. It was like working with friends.
When I moved to the US I started to search for new opportunities. Then I had an idea to try to find work as a tester. I joined IT courses to start off with and that was the start of my IT career.
For a while I was working and studying. I used to work on my own IT projects, and I used to help my friends out as well. I also had some personal contracts to work on too. This all helped me to gain a lot of experience in various IT fields.
My first real job was at a small agency where we were creating websites for other businesses. We also did marketing, testing, advertising and many more things too. I was involved in testing game products. The most remarkable project I worked on was for the Museum of Computer History. I was also testing health care based applications at the same time.
In another company I worked for we were trying to create a platform similar to Netflix, this one specialized in yoga instead.
I also worked for some time at Sintech.
Now I work at a company that creates devices for cannabis smokers. It is a big and very new experience for me!
Is there something special about the places you’ve worked at?
There isn’t one particular thing I liked about a certain team or company. It’s more about the people you work with everyday and the communication you have with various people. Although, my personal policy is not to fall in love with the places I work in, but I am getting attached to people. I still connected with many people I worked in previous companies.
Have you played Cyberpunk? What do you think about their statement about poor QA testing being the reason for their low quality product?
No, I haven’t played it, but I’ve heard about it.
The point is, product quality and product success depends on the work of a huge team of people, from product managers who write specifications, to developers who create the product, and to testers who check all the stuff. If something goes wrong in the end, testers are not the only people to blame. It’s a whole team effort!
For example, something may not work properly because of incorrect specifications, perhaps things were missed out in testing, and perhaps some glaring bugs were overlooked throughout the whole process. The problems could be anywhere!
Moreover, if you have three testers working with a team of a hundred developers, you can almost guarantee something will go wrong. You need balance!
Before a game is released there should be Alpha and Beta testing. A game should never be put on the market until a group of a few thousand users have tested it. Their feedback is really useful because it lets the developers correct the bugs before people buy the game.
After eight years of testing, how do you feel about QA?
IT is about new coding languages, products, tools, you have to know a lot and you must constantly study. There is a lot of work involved.
Eight years ago nobody knew about tools like Docker. Nowadays you can’t imagine working without these tools.
IT is a different world for me now.
When I came into IT I did not expect to test, but I actually needed to write test automation for whole products. Now, I usually go to work in places where they look for a tester who can create testing frameworks.
Architecture is vital, and it takes time to figure out how to make everything work the way it should. Now I’m working with Bluetooth devices, and it’s something brand new to me.
You started as a manual tester and moved into automation, right?
Yes, I started as a manual tester, but I immediately continued my studies. I learned automation with Java, but I found that it was too long and not very successful.
I saw another course on Ruby and I joined it. I have to admit, things did get better after this point. I guess maybe my Java knowledge helped me. I often offered my help to coworkers when they were trying to build or test something because of my extra knowledge. After the courses, I often offered the guys at work, where I was a manual tester, to automate something, build, therefore, I could already write this experience on my resume. The next time when looking for a job, I already applied for vacancies with test automation, having real experience in this direction in my resume. This seemed to have the magic touch.
Tell us about your working day.
There are no two similar days.
How my day goes depends on the company and the workflow I have. I typically check all the communication tools first, (Jira, Slack, etc). Then I create some tickets and autotests. And most days I participate in different meetings.
When you start as a new tester it’s always hard to figure out a working process because you’re still figuring stuff out.
At new companies I spend a lot of time showing them the architecture and frameworks I have developed. I also discuss things like cloud services, and I hold meetings and discussions with team members. I guess, I almost do not spend time on setting up and new tests, more on supporting old ones.
Why did you decide to become an instructor? What do you like about it?
In Moscow I worked as an English tutor and I taught English to various students. I figured out very quickly that I didn’t like working with young kids. However, I had a few grown-up students and I liked teaching them. So, I had some interest in teaching.
But, when I first moved to the US I didn’t think of becoming a tutor at first. This is how the story goes...
When I used to go to interviews, many years ago, I figured out that some interviewers wanted to pull me down because of a lack of experience and interview preparation. Sometimes it was really tough for me and it was difficult for me to pick myself up and try again. I figured out that this was a common problem that many people faced, and I promised myself that I would change this situation one day.
Things changed when at one of the companies I worked for I had the opportunity to complete a six-week internship. This changed the game for me! Eventually I was hired by the company and I was involved in hiring people.
I started hiring graduates from the QA school I used to study at. In a year and a half, we trained around thirty people and all of them managed to find a job really soon after they completed the internship.
We created material that would help people ace interviews and would teach them how to handle them better - we still use some of this material today at Careerist. The network grew, and many of the graduates came back because they wanted to study automation.
Being a student on several different courses I noticed that girls were often too shy to ask questions. So, I created my very own course at Careerist. Moreover, this automation course is only for women. I have worked hard to make it comfortable for girls to ask questions.
I also have a few more assistants who help me to conduct classes and check homework. Ilya, has helped me a great deal. The course is based on my personal experience and it is very successful.
How do you feel when you hear that one of your students has got a great job offer?
I remember almost all my students by name, and I always feel so happy when I hear that they have had a great job offer. My students are like my kids and I am so proud of them all.
People are so very grateful, and they want me to help them because they know that with my help they can change their life for the better.
Many students panic when they start work and they often contact us and ask for help. I’m always happy to help!
Is there a particular student that stands out for you?
I always like determined people.
One woman I taught had an extremely limited background in IT and she was doing badly on the course. But then she decided to retake the course and things went much better for her the second time around. She stands out because even when things got tough, she never gave up hope.
Those who don’t give up and get to the end of the course are adorable.
*We let our students retake a course for free.
Do you remember your first interview for a QA job?
The first job searching process I went through was rather stressful. I was panicking a lot as people I used to study with had already found jobs, but I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I guess, you constantly compare yourself to other people and it’s a negative mindset. It is something that I know I shouldn’t have done.
At the time I didn’t understand two fundamental things: first - don’t compare yourself to other people, just go and reach your goal.
The second: when you have an onsite meeting there are usually only 2-3 people on the interview list, so you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting the job.
If you’ve failed at least three interviews your chances of getting a job offer the next time go up. I didn’t understand this at all when I was going through all my interviews.
I was applying and going to interviews regularly. In the end, I was so desperate when they didn’t call me back, I wanted to give up because no one wanted to hire me. I reached my third onsite interview and I got a good result, I got my offer.
What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about becoming a tester?
First, you have to decide what you want from your life and what you need.
Next, you may be told that testing is difficult, but any process that is geared towards changing your life is never going to be easy. Basically, if you want to be a tester you’re going to be pushed out of your current comfort zone. But that’s the thing that's going to change your life.
Accept that you’ll probably have to start from scratch. That’s very stressful and you have to understand this and be ready for it.
Additionally, I think that persistent, hardworking, and single-minded people with good English can find a job in IT.
Further to this, if automation is not for you try manual testing.
Moreover, you don’t need to know everything because it’s the IT field. I have eight years of experience behind me and I still have to Google some questions about StackOverflow, for example. You have to be ready for that.
In addition to the points above, these days testing is very much full of opportunities. My American husband once told me that it would be good if I could earn a salary of around $40,000 dollars per year. Now my yearly income is about $200,000 dollars - so anything is possible! I work in automation and the salaries are exceptional for this niche.
My final point is, if you are looking to change your life, and you are ready for this radical change - I’d advise you to try out testing.