Katie is an experienced Quality Assurance Specialist. Driven by the idea of becoming a digital nomad, she decided to try her hand at tech. In this interview, she shares her story of choosing a career as a tester and thoughts on what might help women and the younger generation become part of the tech community.
You started your tech job a few years ago. When did you decide to pursue a career in this industry?
Yeah, so my story’s a little unconventional. I didn’t go to school for computer science. I guess I learned the basics of computer science in middle and high school, but at that point, I didn’t want to major in it at college. Actually, I decided after I graduated from the University of Denver, Colorado.
So what did you do after college, before diving into tech?
I went to Central and South America but mainly lived in South America. My major was international business, and my minor was international studies. After college, I was doing ecotourism. I love studying other people and the places they’re from.
Who or what inspired you to try tech?
While being involved in ecotourism, I met digital nomads. At first, there were more bloggers, videographers, and photographers. In time, more techy people joined. The first one was a German who was making a website for a nonprofit he had volunteered with in Bolivia. He inspired me a lot by telling me he was trying to do whatever he could to get more exposure. It was 2014, and he added that there were not enough women involved in tech and said we’re in demand.
I caught myself thinking that I wanted to continue studying so I could work with NGOs and nonprofits as well. The single drawback of this sector is making money. There’s not a lot of money unless you have an investor giving you this money.
And what happened next?
I was in Columbia and had no personal laptop, so I used my friend’s for a Udemy course. These were my first small steps towards the basics of coding, but nothing extensive. I started trying to learn programming languages on my own. And it’s still a process of continuous learning because technology is always progressing and changing.
I knew I wanted to get into tech and thought it would be front-end development, so I was looking for different boot camps online and in person before COVID happened. I was accepted to a couple of boot camps in Denver, and I even started attending them. But things went completely online, and I was intensely disappointed. At that time, online learning wasn’t as well-developed as it is today.
Then there was an unexpected twist. A friend of mine introduced me to his friend, who was already working in the Bay Area. We had brunch together, sharing our life experiences, and he told me I could be a great QA. That was the moment I learned about this branch of tech jobs.
Was this guy a QA?
He used to be a developer, but when we had brunch, he was already a product manager. He became my coach, who guided me as I got started. He advised me to start doing small things and look up something online to get information. He persuaded me that I could figure out things that weren’t in my Udemy courses on my own.
So, where did you study QA?
I followed his advice, went with the Udemy course, and did a lot of self-study. And, you know, if I had the opportunity to join a boot camp like Careerist, I would have taken it. At that time, there were no such opportunities.
So Quality Assurance became an unexpected twist while pursuing a tech career.
Yeah, I loved QA. I didn’t think I would be on this path, but it ended up happening. I was encouraged by a German guy whose name I already forgot and by my current career coach. I still keep in touch with my coach. By the way, he believes testing improves the person because people always want to know what is going on within the software.
Wow, that’s quite an exciting story. So you were close to those who inspired you to become a better professional and learn more. And now you are a digital nomad, right?
I could be one now, but since COVID happened, many things have shut down in the travel industry. And the experience is just junk compared to what I previously knew and did. Things change, and I hope there will be many more options in the future.
What was your biggest surprise when joining tech?
Perhaps because you don’t have to know everything, most people experience impostor syndrome. It feels like developers, engineers, PMs, and other people in higher roles know everything. It’s intimidating if you aren’t in tech yet, or you’re transitioning into tech. You won’t get into trouble or lose your job if you lack knowledge—that’s just not the case whatsoever.
Working in Agile or Scrum environments is great because it’s collaborative and supportive. Compared to other jobs, I was very pleasantly surprised and shocked—just because it’s more of a team effort with no competition.
You also said that women are the minority in tech. We often hear that girls aren’t considering future careers in tech. What is your opinion on this situation? Is there any solution?
With all the technology that has developed very rapidly, young people are different now. I grew up using computers since kindergarten, but that wasn’t true for my peers.
Many things have progressed, even social media. I just don’t think technology is introduced to girls as much as to boys. I think it’s cultural. It seems that girls in the US spend time with their cousins, sisters, etc. I grew up with two sisters. So around girls, it’s common to have a baby doll playhouse, where they can cook and be the mom. Things like mathematics, science, or computer science are considered more boyish. I think that’s part of the social issue where we need to start treating girls and boys equally, showing that anyone can do whatever they want. Some skills may benefit and, when grown up, these girls can change the lives of their families for the better.
How would you describe your job to a kid?
It’s when you have a kind of toy you like very much, and you don’t want it to break. So you’re trying to understand how it works. Gradually, you create your own game with this toy.
Is there any advice you want to share with parents to help develop their children's interest in tech?
My nephew, who is 8 years old, loves Minecraft. I would like to purchase an educational program for him. Maybe it would be Minecraft or something similar—a place to create his own game and see where his imagination can take him. I’d also recommend organizations or boot camps for girls— with the right teachers to help them believe in themselves.
I agree that although we live in modern society, gender roles are still very strict. We divide boys and girls and tell them what to do and how to behave.
What was it like getting into QA? What challenges did you face?
At first, I was trying to understand how I fit into the QA team. My first QA job was just kind of sitting back because I had never worked at a tech center. Usually, in other jobs, they don’t tell you much, but this was a completely different story. My QA manager told me what was going on, I had other manual QA people around, and I also met with automation testers.
Before COVID, we had many in-person events, but when COVID happened, we went remote. I was impressed by how open everyone was and how much guidance I got on what I was supposed to do. On top of being constantly trained, I could always go to my manager, product manager, or even teammates.
Sometimes people are too busy to explain much in detail, but you learn a lot seeing things play out in real life. If something goes wrong, no one’s getting into trouble.
What do you remember about your first tech job?
My first job in Tech I did work on many projects for a range of different companies throughout the states and internationally but mainly focused on companies within the states.
Worked with a great product and engineering team and they helped to get set up with learning my QA role through and through to be able to take on my second role within Quality Assurance as a QA Analyst at OurFamilyWizard.
What does your everyday routine look like now? What are you doing on a day-to-day basis?
I like the “stand-ups” we have every day. These are 15-minute morning meetings, and we do the planning on Tuesdays. It helps to figure out where you are and whether you have any blockers. I think we do this because video conferencing doesn’t always work well. We also have a monthly review to discuss the project’s overall progress. Most of the time, I’m busy with regression testing. If I find something, I can contact the developer directly via Slack.
Agreed. Sometimes video conferences are not what we need for proper communication. What pushed you to start teaching Quality Assurance? What do you like best about teaching?
I’ve always liked teaching. When I was in South America, I was teaching English but wasn’t a certified ESL teacher. My friend was an English teacher in Brazil, and she got me a job at a private English school, which I enjoyed a lot. I taught adults focusing on English speaking skills. The students’ love for learning and their excitement inspired me a lot.
I love when people learn new things. My parents have been teaching for like 40 years at US public schools. At first, I didn’t feel like becoming a teacher because I grew up with that. But I really liked it after my experience abroad, and I love QA. If I can help anyone to learn this skill, I’m very grateful because it’s changed my life for the better. I’m happy to see the number of women in tech increasing.
How would you complete the sentence: “The QA is a person who…”?
A person who wants to be in a QA role is someone curious, for sure, but also someone who knows how to listen and follow directions. That’s a very important part of our job. And they need great attention to detail, of course. I would probably add collaboration too because I find working with other people is also important.
If you could advise people who are still thinking about whether or not to become a QA, what would you say?
I would say do it. There are so many jobs and even more opportunities. Every company needs a QA, and has manual and automation testers, so there are no job shortages. Quite the opposite, there’s a job surplus. I still get emails daily from people on LinkedIn and recruiters asking if I’m happy where I’m at or if I want to move somewhere else. I’m just saying it’s a great opportunity. And if you feel like joining tech, I highly recommend it. QA is a great way to segue and break into tech, for sure.
At the start of the interview, you said you wanted to become a digital nomad. Did you become one?
Technically, yes. I’m working remotely, but I’m still living in Colorado. I think it will be the same until things return to a more normal status. At my company, I think we already have people working from different places around the globe. Our clients are also outside the US—in Australia, the UK, and other parts of the world. I’m pretty sure my company would allow me to work wherever I want as long as I do my job and complete my tasks on time.
The company I work for focuses on families having a hard time co-parenting. We help these families go through a challenging time. OFW helps families living separately thrive. I’m working for a company that’s making a difference and impacting the community.
What would you like to tell all the future Quality Assurance Specialists?
Technology constantly changes, and lifelong learning is vital. If you feel like moving to automation, feel free to learn Python, Java, or any other programming language. It’s also fine if you don’t feel like diving into coding.
I have just been accepted for a scholarship with AWS and Udacity. I’m planning to dig deeper and learn automation through Python.
Listen to podcasts, and find your personal way of effective learning. Trust me: learning is fun. Be open to new experiences because if you’re rigid, you’re going to be left behind.
You are absolutely right about tech constantly evolving and how crucial it is to keep learning throughout your life. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on various aspects of a career in tech and motivating us to reach for the stars by discovering new things.