Women Can Do IT: If the system is going to fail, it will happen to me!
Today in the Women can do IT series, we talk to testers: Agnieszka Sadowska from BlueRider.Software, Agnieszka Krajna from Divante, Monika Buchaniewicz and Magdalena Mielke from TestArmy as well as Agnieszka Kędziora, Agnieszka Kowieska, Małgorzata Sadowska and Izabela Czarnecka from Soflab Technology.
Did you start your career in the IT industry? What is your background when it comes to your education and previous career path?
Magdalena: I graduated in geology and during my studies, I had a future in this field. I had a craze to become a geologist. However, the labor market quickly verified it [laughs]. I was looking for my own path, exact sciences were close to my heart. I decided to go towards IT and programming. I started with testing because I decided that it was useful to learn about different areas. Then I came across the issue of security testing and hacking, which turned out to be what interested me the most. I changed my employer with a chance to develop in cybersecurity. There I found myself under the wing of a very good mentor and that is how it started my adventure with pentests.
Monika: I graduated from pharmacy studies, but I have been working as a tester since 2015. The idea to enter the IT industry came when I started looking for a job after 10 years of maternity and childcare leave (I have 4 children). I found the ‘Mum in IT’ program and I suddenly discovered that testing could be performed professionally. As part of the program, we had the opportunity to obtain an ISTQB certificate. I also worked remotely from the beginning — my boss and I laugh that I did it before it became fashionable [laughs].
Małgorzata: I studied electronics, but right after graduation I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to find a job in my profession. I started sending my CV wherever my profile fit, and so I got the opportunity to work as a tester in a company in Warsaw, in a profession I had never heard of before. It was a complete coincidence, but it turned out that that profession fit my character very much. I am pedantic, so when they told me to check something thoroughly, it suited me very well [laughs]. I’ve been working in the IT industry for 15 years now.
Agnieszka Sadowska: I wanted to become a psychologist in the past, but I decided to study biomedical engineering. I took the risk and chose the specialization ‘computer science in medicine’ — not convinced that it was a good choice. During my master’s degree, I already started working in an IT company that ran projects closely associated with medicine — my job was to search for data, I occasionally handled testing — and I liked these moments the most. Therefore, I decided to take further professional steps in the testing field.
Agnieszka Kowieska: I studied psychology and dreamed of running my own marketing agency. In 2008, however, I started working in IT as a tester. Currently, I am also in the third semester of applied computer science at the Lodz University of Technology. I chose this course because there are a lot of databases, programming, and Artificial Intelligence. I’ve been interested in electronics since elementary school and secondary school — at home, I often blew the fuses out [laughs].
Agnieszka Krajna: I finished geodetic studies and worked for several years as
surveyor, but I was disturbed by the working conditions prevailing in this market. At work, I always liked the analytical part of it the most, and it has a lot to do with the work of a tester. So I decided to explore this field. I went to postgraduate studies and got into testing. Then I had a few years’ breaks, during which we went to the Netherlands and I had children. A year ago I came back to Poland and I am professionally active again.
What do you value most in your current role?
Agnieszka Kowieska: There’s definitely a lot of variety — you can work on diverse projects. If someone likes to develop and doesn’t like monotony, testing will be a great choice.
Małgorzata: You don’t fall into one rut in this profession and you can observe work in various IT areas. For me, the testing field is interesting because it stands on the border of the humanities and exact sciences, as you need to combine the ability of logical and analytical thinking with the user’s perspective. Testing itself is like solving puzzles, which I really enjoy.
Agnieszka Sadowska: While being a tester, you can prove yourself in various roles — sometimes it is writing test scenarios, and sometimes you need to help with project management or setting new functionalities. It allows you to learn new things and gives you the satisfaction of having a real impact on the final look of the product.
Magdalena: I also work in a company where projects change very quickly, which keeps me from getting bored. I have to jump between different applications and testing devices very quickly. Each project is different I’m up to date all the time. It is also cool that my job is to provide users of systems and applications with security during their use and the security of their data. This is a big responsibility because there is no universal way to deal with threats.
Agnieszka Krajna: I will not be an exception here, because I also think that testing is simply a very developing job — the number of paths that can be chosen is unlimited. I also like the working atmosphere in IT and the flexibility of working hours.
Monika: I’m a perfectionist by nature and I really like the fact that I can genuinely influence what the system I’m working on will look like. I also appreciate the fact that — owing to remote work — I can combine my professional and private life.
Your greatest professional successes in IT?
Małgorzata: My professional success is certainly the fact that I never gave up. In the beginning, I had various experiences in this job, not always favorable work environment, however, I stayed in this market and at the moment I’m a specialist for whom various companies compete.
Magdalena: The mere fact that I managed to get a job as a security tester and how fast I am growing. After less than a year of contacting the IT industry, I became a Pentester. Over the next year, I obtained CEH certification. Personally, I don’t know any other girl-pentesters, although I hope that this will change in the near future.
I can confidently say that I am proud to have managed to jump into a highly male-dominated IT area. It’s nice to grow in an area that’s dominated by men.
Monika: It was certainly a big success that after 4 months of work, I was transferred to a team working on rebuilding a large and complex system that is used by over 100,000 users. I was responsible for all the tests. I still remember the day of migration, when all the test cases in every possible variant were flying through my head [laughs].
By the way, I also discovered what I call the tester syndrome — if the system is going to fail, it will happen to me. It helps a lot at work.
Agnieszka Kowieska: It would be hard for me to choose only one thing because it seems to me that my success really consists of minor achievements. The first was to gain confidence and trust me that I would manage to do it.
Agnieszka Krajna: The success for me is the fact that I managed to return to my profession after a 3-year break and start my new/old duties [laughs]. I was quickly trusted and transferred to a complex, international project of great importance to the company. I am still developing, I write automatic tests in my spare time and I am proud of it.
Agnieszka Sadowska: In my opinion, the trust I enjoy among my closest colleagues and customers is my success.
In one of the projects, I even got an expert label on one of the websites. Such appreciation from the people I work with on a daily basis is very valuable and encouraging to me.
What surprised you the most about working in IT? What is different from popular opinion?
Monika: Before I started working in IT, I often heard about communication problems between testers and developers, but to be honest, I never experienced it. On the contrary — developers often thank me for noticing something they overlooked. I think it is affected by the way I tell them about the mistakes.
Magdalena: The first thing I encountered in IT was the assumption that this industry is dominated by men and that it is difficult for women to find their place in it. In the area of manual tests, the proportion of testers to testers was quite even, but in the cybersecurity department, the division is very visible. This probably struck me the most, I was concerned that I would not be taken seriously and that I would not do what I love. Now I am trying to break stereotypes related to the presence of women in the IT industry.
Agnieszka Kowieska: My idea that testing is a very interesting and diverse profession has certainly come true. It turned out that the stereotype of an IT specialist sitting in the basement was not true.
Agnieszka Sadowska: The image of an IT-introvert in a flannel shirt and glasses collapsed very quickly. In this industry, I have met people who were very helpful and open, willing to share their knowledge. Many of them provide me with a lot of inspiration for development.
Agnieszka Krajna: I was also convinced that this was a more male world. I remember my brother spending his entire days in front of the computer as a child. I didn’t understand it at all then [laughs]. I also thought that for most programmers, work is their only hobby, so they don’t go beyond things related to IT.
Małgorzata: I haven’t had a moment when I was wondering whether to work in the IT industry and what it looked like.
In the late 1990s, when I was considering which studies to choose, the stereotype of a computer scientist wearing a flannel shirt was very strong, because that’s what it was like back then. It was also a male world — there were few girls both in secondary school, in the mathematics and IT class, and later at the studies. It seems to me that although the IT world has changed a lot during these 15 years, there are still few women in managerial positions. I’ve had an opportunity to take part in a few big projects managed by 15 guys and me. This is difficult.
What else are you striving for? What are your career goals?
Agnieszka Krajna: My next plan is to become an automation tester who applies good practices. My further plans include following Magda’s footsteps. In the longer term, I would like to focus on the development of web application security testing.
Agnieszka Sadowska: I can repeat what Agnieszka said a minute ago. At the moment, I’m also focusing on automation — API and Selenium tests. I would also like to enter safety — I have already started a course in this field.
Małgorzata: This is a difficult question because I have reached a point where I already have a lot of interesting experiences behind me and I don’t know what to do next. The closest plans are to do an ISTQB course at the Expert level. I would also like to look after tests in large IT projects in a comprehensive way.
Agnieszka Kowieska: My favorite project was associated with the development of Business Intelligence and hence I chose the Lodz University of Technology because these studies included a lot of issues related to Big Data, data analysis using statistical methods, and Machine Learning. I would like to develop more in this field.
Monika: I think about requirements engineering and business analysis, which interest me very much now, but I know that for organizational reasons it is not a good time for me to changes. For now, I am gaining knowledge on my own. With such plans, for now, I definitely want to be up to date and be able to work in the best possible way in the project I am currently involved in.
Magdalena: First of all, I want to get more certifications related to
safety, both from the technical and auditing side. Of course, I would also like to build and manage my own test team someday. I would like to motivate more women to deal with security and become more self-confident.
What advice would you give to people who would like to work in IT?
Małgorzata Sadowska: I would tell such a girl that she is not less smart than men and that she shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions that seem idiotic, because when you ask them, it usually turns out that the other people did not know the answers either.
Agnieszka Sadowska: In my professional career, what helped me was the Chinese proverb: “Who asks is a fool for five minutes; whoever does not ask remains a fool forever”. It is worth asking and talking because then we use the knowledge of people who are more experienced than us. IT-related professions have lower or higher entry thresholds, but remember not to rest on your laurels and persistently climb up.
Magdalena: My advice is: do not give up on the first difficulties you encounter. Basic courses and training are often not enough, and after the basics, we encounter a wall, frustration, feeling that we are stuck, and what we know is not enough. Regardless of whether we are interested in testing or programming, it takes a lot of work and time, but it is not worth letting go.
Agnieszka Kowieska: In the beginning, if a person would like to enter IT, I would recommend finding out which area in this IT world is really interesting to us: programming, testing, or maybe business analytics. Then I would look for training and job offers for people who have no experience.
Monika: I quite often advise my friends on how to start working as a tester, and I always suggest that they should familiarize themselves with basic test tasks that can be found online. This job requires meticulousness. You have to repeat exactly the same action many times, which can be monotonous. It’s good to be prepared for this.
Agnieszka Krajna: I agree with the girls. If you’re interested in working in IT, don’t be afraid and explore the topic as soon as possible and find a job. You can learn anything if you want to.
Magdalena: Let me just add that the offers we apply for often offer with a wide range of requirements. Don’t be afraid to apply even if you meet 50% of them.
Oftentimes, having all the skills you want is impossible. I have often come across the statement that women only send their CVs when they meet most of the requirements. Sometimes, however, it is enough for us to shine with knowledge in a specific technology or we have some feature that will bring a lot to the new team.