STAREAST 2015 Interview with Julie Gardiner on Applying Emotional Intelligence to Testing


In this interview, director of consultancy for Hitachi Consulting, Julie Gardiner, discusses her STAREAST presentations. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.


Julie Gardiner discusses her experience at STAREAST 2015 and her different presentations at the conference. These include "Applying Emotional Intelligence to Testing," "Getting Your Message Across: Communication Skills for Testers," and "Testing in the Digital Transformation Age."

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are here with our last virtual interview, and we're so lucky, we've got Julie Gardiner. Julie, I'm happy you're here.

Julie Gardiner: Hi. I'm glad to be here. Thanks very much.

Jennifer Bonine: For doing this, I appreciate it. And, Julie, you're with Hitachi Consulting now.

Julie Gardiner: Yes. I am. About two months in.

Jennifer Bonine: Relatively new role.

Julie Gardiner: Relatively new role.

Jennifer Bonine: But a familiar face around these conferences. You and I have seen each other often, yeah, we've seen each other a lot here. So we always run into each other.

Julie Gardiner: But, we never have time to talk, though.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. So this is good, we're actually getting more time to chat. But, for those that haven't had a chance to meet you in person and are out there and want to know what Julie is all about and what you've done, can you give them a little background on you and some of what you've done?

Julie Gardiner: Sure. Yes. So I did start out as a developer, well, as a computer operator, actually, which some people might remember. Most people don't. When I say computer operator, they go, “What is that?” Then I became a developer and developed in language like Fortran, Innator, C, Oracle.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Julie Gardiner: Then I became an Oracle DBA. And then I decided management had all the power, so I become head of operations management and then became a traditional project leader and project manager. I didn't enjoy that. It was before the ages of agile and actual certain leadership and collaboration and so forth. I wasn't having fun, and my philosophy is if you're not having fun, something is wrong—especially in testing.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Julie Gardiner: I decided to join, to become a tester, which back in those days was such a strange move. I started at the bottom as a trainee tester. Testing lead, test manager, test consultant.

Jennifer Bonine: Worked your way all the way back up even after having been in management.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah. That's right. Yeah, but then I knew their tricks.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Julie Gardiner: Along the way.

Jennifer Bonine: So it was easier to get ... yeah.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And now you're the director at Hitachi Consulting and have that capability. I think a good story for people out there who are saying, “I want to make a change, but I don't know how.” It's possible.

Julie Gardiner: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: You absolutely can do it.

Julie Gardiner: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Like you said, if you're not enjoying it, not having fun, it may be time.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah. And I also think sometimes, people get too worried about where—if they haven't got everything mapped out for the next five years, they worry about it. But, if I tried to do that in my career, I would have been really struggling.

Jennifer Bonine: Those happy mishaps or divergents that we take sometimes in our career are the best moves.

Julie Gardiner: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: You talk … there's a session that people couldn't see, because it's not part of virtual conference, but around applying emotional intelligence to testing.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: I think that's so interesting. For folks out there that haven't heard that yet, explain what you mean in that emotional intelligence being applied to testing.

Julie Gardiner: Emotional intelligence is understanding what triggers you in terms of emotions, and then how you handle those emotions. Also, the relationships you have with others and how to get the best out of those situations. Showing empathy and active listening and so forth. Research has shown in the EI world that in fact, people succeed higher up the chain when they actually have the higher emotional intelligence.

It's basically, unfortunately, within the testing world we get squeezed. People don't understand what we do. Then it's how we actually handle those situations can actually determine whether or not, how successful we are and our teams are in terms of providing that testing-as-a-service aspect with projects.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely.

Julie Gardiner: Part of it was talking about actually, what actually triggers you, what actually upsets you, how do you actually handle that? If your testing times change from three weeks to one week, what your response should be, how do you actually communicate that back in the right way? Actually, how do you become more of a trusted advisor and build that relationship up as well? Also, the big message I was trying get across as well was understanding where the other person is coming from. Especially our senior managers, our desk managers, so that we communicate in the right way back to them. If we keep talking about things like test cases, they don't care.

Jennifer Bonine: They don't care.

Julie Gardiner: Stop doing that. It's just trying to help people get the right message across and behave in the way that is best for us.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I think putting yourself in their perspective, like you say, what are they looking for, what are they hoping to hear, and then putting yourself in that spot and saying what would I want to know if I was them.

Julie Gardiner: Exactly. Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: Giving people that perspective and stepping outside of just yourself and how it impacts you, but how it impacts others, I think is so important, and I think a lot of testers out there focus on their technical skills and saying, “I want to be technically great, and I want to know all the latest tools and tips and techniques.” But what would you say in terms of the importance of your communication skills and honing those and things like emotional intelligence and those other skills that sometimes people label as the soft skills or dismiss?

Julie Gardiner: Yeah, the fluffy stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, right?

Julie Gardiner: It's like, "I'm going to be the world's best person in Microsoft"—does it really matter? Firstly, I think it's the vital ingredient. I think for me, there was a great quote by a guy called Sidney Harris that said, “Information and communication are two words that are interchangeably used, but mean very different things—information is giving out and communication is getting through.” And it's the communication bit.

We provide information for people to make those decisions, but it's the communication aspect that actually determines how successful we are and is actually providing that real service.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Julie Gardiner: Yes, technical skills are needed.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, got to have those.

Julie Gardiner: Without a doubt. But, in order to actually provide the real service for me, it is the fluffy stuff it is the communication that counts.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Julie Gardiner: I think one of the things we're not very good at is listening—listening to what actually people are saying, what they're actually needing from us, and then responding back.

Jennifer Bonine: I think that's so true. A lot of times we, we are always thinking about what are we going to do, what are we going to say next, and we don't take it in and listen and take on those other perspectives and try to understand other people. I think that's so important; just a good thing for everyone out there to remember is active listening. You talked about honing your skills in how to be an active listener, and truly take in what is being said and understanding it, is so important.

Julie Gardiner: Exactly. This actual table reminds me of a story, actually. There was a young boy with father at the breakfast table and he says, “Daddy, I want to read to you,” and the father is there with the newspaper and he says, “Yes, I'm listening, dear” and he says, “No, no, Daddy, Daddy. I want to read to you, please listen to me.” Father says, with the newspaper, “I'm listening.” Child gets up from the table, pulls the newspaper down and says, “Silly daddy, you need to listen with your eyes.”

Jennifer Bonine: So true.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah, I think it's true.

Jennifer Bonine: Today, we lose so much of that because we're always on our phones or our devices.

Julie Gardiner: We're distracted, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: We're very distracted, and we're not always actively listening because we're inside our phone or we're thinking about what we have to do next. We get so caught up in all of our things in our heads even that we aren't present all the time ...

Julie Gardiner: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... in the conversation. Very good tip as well ...

Julie Gardiner: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: ... to put those devices down. ... I have a four-year-old daughter, and she'll tell me now “Mommy, I need your phone” because she wants that time.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not just I'm hearing you, but you're actually looking at me and I can tell that you're paying attention. So, so true.

Julie Gardiner: Jerry Weinberg said the greatest compliment you can give to someone is your full attention. I like that.

Jennifer Bonine: I love it!

Julie Gardiner: I do believe that we're distracted, and that disruption actually affects our productivity because we have bad connections as well with others.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. Being at these conferences a lot, obviously getting a chance to mingle with folks, who do things, kind of some of the stuff you're hearing that is top of mind for people, or that they're trying to get more information on or learn more about or that is worrying them?

Julie Gardiner: There's two camps. There's people struggling with, how do I get my message across? Demonstrating the value of testing. But also obviously in the digital age, and we're having to do a lot more different combinations, and we've got the same amount of time, and how do we be smart with that time? But also, how do we get better? And I know obviously innovation is one of your big things as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Julie Gardiner: It's also finding that time to actually dedicate to actually making things better. It seems to be an underlying theme, whether it's actually from a people point of view or from a technology point of view. If I had to sum it up into one area, it’s how do I do more with less, but also get better and actually not just think about the here and now, but think about the continuous improvement I can make?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and where I need to be. But, I'm still worried about today, how do I figure out how to think about tomorrow?

Julie Gardiner: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: People get so caught up.

Julie Gardiner: Did you find that as well in your session, as well?

Jennifer Bonine: I did. I think people struggle with time and how to manage that. Because they're so pressed and people are constantly working now, it's never enough. They have devices that are fully connected. I heard a lot of people saying the only way I'm not fully connected is to physically go to a place where I don't get cell signal, which is very rare to find a place where you don't get cell signal.

Julie Gardiner: It's kind of sad, isn't it?

Jennifer Bonine: It's horrible.

Julie Gardiner: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's creating this "always on" mentality and no time for thought or just free thinking, or nothing occupying our mind, where we just have the opportunity to think and have space.

Julie Gardiner: It feels kind of a bit strange when you do have that time, it's like, "I should be doing something, maybe."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Even when you do, I've noticed in classes when we give our tutorial is you give people … I'm going to give you a minute to do this activity, and after about fifteen seconds they're like, “What do I do now?” And you're like, “Wow, you just have a minute. You should take that time and think.”

Julie Gardiner: Enjoy it! Yes. And dedicate your time to it.

Jennifer Bonine: We don't know what to do with it. The time goes by so fast, we are already out of time.

Julie Gardiner: Are we out of time?

Jennifer Bonine: We're having fun! We ran out, see? Not bad. Julie, thank you so much.

Julie Gardiner: You make it a pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: I enjoyed the time, and thank you. You closed us out, our virtual interview and we'll move over to the keynote shortly, so stick with us and thank you, Julie.

Julie Gardiner: Thank you!

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome.

Julie GardinerAs director of consultancy for Hitachi Consulting, Julie Gardiner provides consultancy and training in all aspects of testing, management, and agile, and specializes in risk, test management, and usability. Julie has more than twenty years of experience as a developer, DBA, project manager, head of operations management, and head of R&D. She has held positions of test analyst, test team leader, test consultant, and test manager in the public sector and in the financial, broadcasting, insurance, utilities, retail, web, and telecom industries using both traditional and agile methodologies. Julie is a certified ScrumMaster and agile coach.

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