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byMelissa Benua 2015-10-13

Learning from the Women Who Test

I spent a wonderful week at the STARWEST testing conference earlier this month. The conference was excellent, and I know I’ve picked up plenty of new tips and tricks to help us at PlayFab build and run our service to our exacting standards of quality. Thank you to everyone who came to my technical talk, Integration Testing as Validation and Monitoring, which explained the cool technical pipeline behind our growing status page.

Though I was initially selected as a speaker for the technical side of the conference, the highlight of my week by far was being selected to participate in the Women Who Test day. I was delighted to join the wonderful speakers to give my perspective on being a female engineer who has often been the only female voice on my development teams. In particular, I shared a number of my experiences as a quality advocate and what I have found led to positive or negative outcomes. The slides are here: When You’re The Lone Voice of (Female) Reason.

During my talk I also shared the three steps that I use in my day-to-day life as a developer:

1)     Always have data.

2)     Be wrong. A lot.

3)     Be on a team that lets you be wrong a lot.

In my experience, the best decisions we make are those that are driven by some form of data analysis. While we can argue over “which shade of blue looks best on the homepage” until we’re, well, blue in the face, a simple A/B test will show which shade of blue our customers prefer. As happens, though, sometimes our interpretation of a set of metrics will be wrong.

It’s okay to be wrong sometimes. Being wrong is how we learn what is right; you cannot have one without the other. The healthiest engineering teams that I have encountered are those (like PlayFab) with the philosophy that it’s okay to take risks so long as we do them with the best knowledge we have at hand. To that end, we support our team members and their choices, and don’t punish them if the occasional mistake slips through — so long as we learn from that mistake and don’t make the same ones over and over again.

I was amazed at the wonderful group of women who came together to share their diverse experiences and to help support each other in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. There were a quite a few great ideas from our brainstorming sessions about how to be heard and how to take control of our careers that apply, I think, not only to women but globally to all engineers. Pieces of advice such as “don’t be afraid to ask for what you want” and “don’t be afraid to leave an unhealthy team for a healthy one” really rang true not only in my experience but with many of the other participants.

The biggest takeaway, for me, was that as fantastic as it was to rally this smart group of women, the next step is to engage with the male colleagues who make up such a significant portion of our respective teams. Just as we do with our products, it’s only through working together and melding everyone’s different experiences together that we can really excel as a whole.