Software Diversity and the Women Who Test: An Interview with Alison Wade


In this interview, Women Who Test founder Alison Wade details the lineup for the Women Who Test event at STAREAST 2017 and explains why software diversity is important. She discusses how women can move up the ladder in the software industry.

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with another interview before we head back in to take a break, but I'm here with Alison. Alison, thanks for joining me.

Alison Wade: You're welcome. It's always great to see you.

Jennifer Bonine: For those folks that haven't had an opportunity out there to meet Alison if you've been at one of these events, she is the president of TechWell.

Alison Wade: Yes, conferences and training.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, conferences and training, so Alison is a huge influencer inside of these events. But something kind of special that's, I think, near and dear to your heart besides, obviously, the TechWell conferences and all the training that gets put on, is something you created and authored, right?

Alison Wade: Yeah, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: So, we should talk about what that is for the folks out there that don't know, and kind of your thought process behind creating this very special opportunity event and then website for Women Who Test.

Alison Wade: Yeah, absolutely. I've been working on conferences for testers for probably twenty years. I was actually twelve when I started, so ...

Jennifer Bonine: Obviously.

Alison Wade: Obviously.

Jennifer Bonine: Obviously, she was twelve.

Alison Wade: I've seen a lot of great women testers over the years, but I really felt like there needed to be more elevation. We get a lower amount of women who actually participate in speaking, and also participate in submitting, so it's harder to find them. And we at TechWell have put together a real effort to go out and find women and encourage them to speak. But what I notice from a lot of women is—I mean, you see this across all genders, but especially in women—a lack of confidence in what they're doing. Men naturally are very good at touting themselves and talking about their achievements and women not quite as much. So, I wanted to give them an area and a voice to do that. I was actually at a Google Techmaker conference, and I attended something that was specifically designed for women, and thought about how fantastic it was. There was a lot of women coders there, and I was like, "Well, I really want to do something like this for women testers."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Yeah, because you see that in other spaces, where you have women who code and opportunities for women in coding in other places, but I think it's phenomenal. For those of you that haven't heard of it, you definitely need to get informed about it, but now there's a place for women who test, which is amazing.

Alison Wade: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I put together this day on Friday, the last day of the conference, and specifically addressing women, but more talking about ... there's a little bit of testing, but there's a lot of career and personal development. And just, it's a really fun day. It's a time for women to relax and to unwind and to hear from other people about the specific challenges they have in their jobs and their careers, and more importantly, I think, to see other women leading in roles, because you can't become what you can't imagine. So, seeing other great women leaders is just really inspiring to people.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, absolutely. And having participated in these, Alison, are we going on our, is it your third year now? Going on your third year?

Alison Wade: Yeah, it is. I think we're on our fourth iteration and we're coming into our third year.

Jennifer Bonine: Third year, fourth iteration, that ... yep, that sounded right from ...

Alison Wade: And Jennifer is a prime contributor to this day. She does a fabulous talk on branding at the end of the conference, which, again, is really important because I think women don't think constructively about their careers sometimes the same way men do. It tends to fall to the back of the line, and so for them to have the opportunity to really think strategically about what they're going to do and how they're branding themselves, and taking that mental break and spending the time to think about their careers, is really important.

Jennifer Bonine: And more purposeful, like you said. A lot of times if you talk to ... I find it interesting when you just engage with conversation when you're networking with people and you'll say, "Oh, what are you doing?" And they'll say, "Yeah, and here's what I'm going to be doing, and here's where I am in five years or 10 years." You ask women and they'll pause a lot of times because they're like, "Oh. I haven't had time to think about that." Like, "I don't know," and sometimes I find that we kind of hold back and wait for someone to recognize us, and wait for them to say, "Oh, you're ready. Now go do this," versus us saying, "Here's what I want to do, and here's where I'm going."

Alison Wade: Absolutely, and that's one of the skills we're teaching in this day is like, I guess I'll call it self-authorizing behavior, like having that self-authorizing behavior to say, "It's okay for me to take this time. It's okay for me to spend time thinking about my career because ... " I'm not saying this is just unique to women, and men suffer from this as well. But everything else becomes more of a priority than what you're feeling purposeful about. And let's face it, life is pretty not very meaningful if you're not excited about what you do every single day.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep. Absolutely, and that's what I think is magical about this day. Alison, you've been able to bring together a lot of different women, like you said, from different facets, areas. What are some of the topics people, for example, if they are here this week, are going to see in the session on Friday?

Alison Wade: We start out the day with massive amounts of hilarity and laughter from an incredible woman called Tania Katan. She is just funny, funny, and when I say funny, I mean Ellen funny. She's hilarious. Hilarious. And she is now ... she started out actually working at a software company. She's now gone off as a consultant on her own, and she started a company called Creative Trespassing, and it's about adding creativity into all aspects of your life, your job, your work, your company. And that's part of renewing and refreshing yourself is thinking creatively about what you're going to do and how you're going to do it, and Tanya is the master of that. So, so much fun.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. Honestly, she's one of those people that you go, "Wow, where can I go pay to see you just give comedy?" And just that comic relief and just the ability to laugh at herself and share experiences and give you her life experience is so invaluable.

Alison Wade: Yeah. She truly does. I mean, just when she sends me a text, I find that I'm more creative when I text back with her, just given by who she is and what she brings out in people. So, it's fantastic to have that side of it. Then following Tania is a lady named Madhu Das, and Madhu is a leader in testing at Great-Western Financial. So, I want to every single day, every single time we do this, hear from a woman in a real job, a real position, who's really working as a woman, who's testing every day and in an organization. So, Madhu's going to be talking about that and her journey and her success and what she's found worked and what she's passionate about in her workplace.

Jennifer Bonine: That's amazing.

Alison Wade: And then, we do a little bit of power of the collective thinking because it's always more valuable when you can get groups together to do some self-discovery, to think about things that are important to them. And every group has its own dynamic, and we discuss the things and the issues that are really important to women. So, we do a ... Dawn Haynes leads us in that, and we do a lot of creative thinking about that.

Jennifer Bonine: And if you find that ... I think that's a really good session for people when they find they're stuck. Like they have this problem, "I've been trying to work through it on my own, and I don't have that support sometimes, or that front row." I know we've talked about the front row before in these sessions and maybe talk about that a little bit because I think all of us, regardless of gender, need that front row, and to know who that is at all times. I think these sessions are great at people feeling like they have support, like they have a community, like they have people that can be.

Alison Wade: Absolutely, and I would say that's one thing I personally got out Women Who Test is Dawn introduced this concept that everybody should have a front row, and if you imagine the people that are standing there applauding you and egging you on, and to choose wisely. And I know I have an amazing, you know who you are, set of women in my front row, and it's really important to me because these are people who will be there for me and who will reflect back to me and say, "Yeah, I don't think that's such a good idea," or "Yeah, you can do this. This is great," or teach me things that I might necessarily have skills in. Those things are really important.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Well, in removing too. Not only, like you said, being careful about who you choose for that front row, but then eliminating. If you have someone who's consistently just a detractor, knowing how to alleviate that, because that can be causing negative energy and bad things in terms of how you're seeing yourself. And I think all of us in general do a lot of our own negative self-talk, so we need those positive people to bring us back out of that.

Alison Wade: Yes. Absolutely, and you can't always just go in and change your situation immediately. You may be struggling, you may have difficulties in your personal life, in your business life, so also, the one thing you do have control over is your internal environment. So sometimes, there's techniques and ways to take charge of that that can help you. Obviously, you want to move in a direction in life that truly empowers you and truly makes a positive difference to your life, whatever that is. But in the meantime, being able to work on those other things while you're on that journey is really helpful and really important.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, and then it is a journey, and there's going to be times when you get to a place. The other theme that I think is interesting for all of us, and some of you may be going through it now, is around burnout.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. Yes, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: And we've talked about burnout before and that it's real and it happens to people.

Alison Wade: Definitely.

Jennifer Bonine: You're not alone if you're feeling burnt out.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes. I have been there, done that.

Jennifer Bonine: Right?

Alison Wade: Everybody does, and that's one thing that's great about this day is it's a way to refocus. It's a way to draw the attention inward and listen to yourself and listen to others and hear their stories, and kind of circumvent some of that burnout, or find some techniques to get around that so that you have a ... And sometimes just having a clearer path about where you're going is what helps alleviate that burnout.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Well, and the important thing too for folks, obviously, for some of you watching this, well, you may not be able to participate in the day this week. This event happens again. It'll happen again at STARWEST.

Alison Wade: Yes. And we do get many questions from the virtual audience about, "Are you going to make this available by video?" I agree that would be terrific, and there may be some of that in the future, I don't know. But it's really hard. It's kind of a day that you have to participate in. I guess it's a little kinesthetic, so it's kind of important to be in the room and to be there because it doesn't transmit as well, I don't think. But we can work on that.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. But the other great piece of it is, there is the website.

Alison Wade: Yes. Yes, please. Another initiative I just ... Isabel Evans, like there's just ... I just want to say that there's many luminaries here, women testers. There's Dot Graham, there's Isabel Evans, there's Dawn Haynes, Julie Gardiner, Mary Thorn, Jennifer Bonine. The list goes on of just great women who are here. But I feel that the testing community needs a big spotlight in general in terms of who the women are that are speaking, encouraging women to speak.

Actually, Isabel was talking to me. There's a woman who just created a list for a thousand women in science and technology, and so we said, "Why not create a list for a thousand software testers?" So, we're going to be doing that and put out some information about that in ... It's coming soon, so there will be a ... you can email me and Isabel and other people and we're going to update this document, and really, again, focus the spotlight on women in testing.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, I think it's great, and you've seen this trend too, which is great, that there'll be this thousand women in testing and that list so people can leverage it because again, when you come to the conferences to your point, you want to see it reflected, right? Who you are, and not just male speakers but female speakers and different perspectives.

Alison Wade: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: I had seen one of the ... I thought this was interesting to see in the world, where one of the leading hedge fund managers on Wall Street had put in front of the bull statue ...

Alison Wade: Yeah, that was incredible.

Jennifer Bonine: A statue of the defiant woman, and just a woman statue and his perspective as a male. So, all of you males out there should feel good about even if you can't attend the day, you can support your wives, your significant others, your daughters. All of the other people, your mothers. The people you love in your life who are women, who still ... the reality is the statistics show women are paid less for the same job still. Today. Women are paid less. There's less women in those leadership positions. There isn't always rationale for why that is, even. So, all of us can be advocates for this, and I thought it was so great that this very successful hedge fund manager as a male said, "I believe it's important to have more women in leadership positions, and that the companies who do will be run more successfully and will net out a better result for my investors."

Alison Wade: Absolutely, and that's the key to software too is diversity because your user population is a very diverse group, and if you only have one set of eyes on your product, you're not getting the full spectrum of diversity. Whether it's male, female, cultural, socioeconomic, you have to have diversity. It's really important.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and I think that's a really important piece for everyone out there is that diversity of thought, the diversity of people, being able to see that diversity and embrace it. But we're all different. We come from different perspectives. Sharing those stories and experiences, and helping each other at the end of the day.

Alison Wade: Yes. I think we're slowly chipping away at society's bias. It's a hard, long road because I know even as a woman who advocates for women, I have some internal biases sometimes that I'm not aware of. But it's happening, and that's part of my mission is to keep that going.

Jennifer Bonine: Well, and I think if I ran out there, keep it in your conscience, like know ... keep it in your conscience that bias, and know when we even do it, and try to keep that in check and recognize it. So, awareness, right?

Alison Wade: Yeah. I just saw a fantastic thing. It was Dove, who's done a lot of campaigns for women, did a hack, a life hack they called it. They were trying to overpower the internet, the traditional image of a woman, when you typed in "real woman," what you got was a lot of really sort of sexist content. And they hacked the internet, basically, by uploading thousands and thousands and, I think it was like 20,000 images of women, and tagging them with the words "real woman" and "beautiful woman." They were women truly being empowered because that's what I want my daughter to see, and I'm pretty sure that's what most fathers and brothers and uncles want to see when they see images of their ... when they think of images of their young women in their life, that's what they want to see, too.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, exactly, and it's great to have that. And I think Dove as a company, for people that haven't seen it in their commercials and what they did with that life hack, are really a good example of supporters of real women and what women are, and creating a good image around that. So, interesting if you Google them and if you watch some of their ads, I know you've seen one of their ...

Alison Wade: Yeah, there's a really great campaign right now, a video that shows that. It's really awesome.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Well, this has been amazing, Alison, so I thank you for sharing this with us and the group out there. Now, once again, just so you don't forget, if you want to go to the website ...

Alison Wade:

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, and people can go there and sign up, and then see what's out there and connect with the community.

Alison Wade: Yep, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: And then if you're not able to, obviously, to make it this week, but there's more coming up.

Alison Wade: STARCANADA. We have another Women Who Test day in Canada, and then we have another one that's in October. Go to our website, that's the TechWell website, and click on STARCANADA. Then also at STARWEST, which is in Anaheim. STARCANADA is in Toronto. We have it again in October, so there's two opportunities in October. One on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is perfect, and then again, remember if you sign up for STARWEST or STARCANADA, it's included ...

Alison Wade: Absolutely. It's free.

Jennifer Bonine: In the price, so you don't even have to pay more to get that additional day, so a great selling point for your organizations to let them know that you get this bonus day of content that's really impactful. So, thank you again for sitting with us and chatting.

Alison Wade: You're welcome. Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: Hopefully all of you got a lot of good content and information out of it as well, and we will come back after a break with some more interviews this afternoon.

Alison Wade: Thanks.

Alison WadeAlison Wade is an accomplished executive dedicated to the business of software. For the past fifteen years, she has worked with industry leaders developing programs for software development and testing professionals. She is the Program Chair for the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test conferences, and she plays a pivotal role in the development of the Better Software, Agile Dev, DevOps, and STAR Conferences. She also directs TechWell’s highly respected training curriculum and programs with SQE Training. Alison strives to increase awareness of diversity in the software industry concerning both the workforce and the role of software beyond commercial products and IT departments. In 2015, Alison launched Women Who Test, a day dedicated to women in software testing, happening in conjunction with the STARWEST conference. You can find her at @awadesqe or @womenwhotest.

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