It is the dream of every trainee to stay in a company that meets their requirements. This was the case with Maja Bieńko, who during her studies got an internship at Goyello (today Aspire Systems Poland). She worked as a tester for several months and didn’t plan to change her profession. However, supervisors noticed that she has the potential to manage the team. What is your main principle at work, we asked her. – I want to build teams where everyone is involved and feels responsible for the project – she says.
We invited Maja Bieńko, a Software Tester at Aspire, to tell us what the reality of the student, the intern, and later the product owner and team leader look like.
How did your adventure with testing and software development begin?
I was studying computer science at ETI, Gdańsk University of Technology. I was not sure if programming was something that I would want to do all my life. I did not have a specific development path. I didn’t know if I would become a programmer, a tester, or maybe a business analyst. So I applied for two positions at the Goyello internship programme – one related to .Net technology and the other to testing. With the second one I did better and during the recruitment interview I received an internship offer as a software tester.
What was your job about?
It was a mix. My duties included writing both automatic and manual tests. But I also did system analysis. This position combined everything that I always wanted to try. And so my career with testing began. I thought for a long time that I would always be testing, because I liked it very much. The advantage was also that there are many types of testing, and I am curious by nature and I like to try many things.
Let’s go back to the university period for a moment. Were you interested in testing outside of the classroom? Did you read tutorials or took courses?
My studies and tasks in computer science were so time consuming that I didn’t do much else. In the first year I didn’t have any contact with programming. The level at the Gdańsk University of Technology was quite high, so I had to learn a lot of things quickly.
Could you tell us about the usual day after class, to show how much time you need to devote to full-time studies in computer science?
We had a lot of lectures and exercises, and as an exemplary student at the beginning I tried to participate in all. We had classes for about eight hours a day and participated in projects. After classes I would visit my sister, a graduate in the same field, and sometimes we stayed until late night to learn. This is how the first months of studying looked like.
What was the first day of the internship like?
Everything was new, which stressed me a bit. But I got a lot of help from senior colleagues. My friends from my studies got into the same internship programme, which also encouraged me. However, I was the only tester in my project, and the first task was to know how the application works, and what are the business rules. I received the documentation that was created at the very beginning, and I was supposed to create an update in English on its basis. It took some time for me, because in the meantime I got to become familiar with the application. I sent bug reports and in the beginning there were a lot of them. It was only with time that I learned how to prioritize – what is worth reporting and what you can turn a blind eye on.
After the documentation, the time has come for the next task. Do you remember what was it?
Later I started writing automatic tests. I received help in the form of links to various articles, testers from other projects also helped, but a lot of time I was in the dark. Manager reviewed one of my tests that didn’t meet his expectations. It was like a bucket of cold water on the head. At first I felt that it was unfair because I had to deal with myself. However, in my later work, I also had to explore new topics for me on many occasions. Therefore, from the perspective of time, I think that it was an important lesson to do my tasks at 150% to meet the requirements.
You were the only tester in the project. Did you have a mentor?
At that time, the mentoring process was not as developed as it is today. These were my main concerns when it comes to the internship. However, they were listened to and improved in subsequent editions. My team-mate, a programmer, helped me with solving problems. He did code review, but only for programming. Even then, I thought it would be good if the tester took a look at it. For the next tasks, I asked testers from other projects for review.
How many people then worked in the company? How many projects did you have?
I think it was around seventy people. Nine people were accepted for the internship, and since then more and more programmers and testers have joined us.
How did it happen that you started your product early enough with a beginner tester?
At the beginning I was a tester of our internal application related to gamification. In it you have five main skills defined. For example, for writing a blog post you get points in the skills of “Writing”, for giving a presentation you get points for “Knowledge sharing”. Each activity has its own score, for which you later gain more levels. I sent my proposals for changes to the product owner, which was Paweł Bejger then, the initiator of the application. At some point, he suggested that since I see so many points for improvement, maybe I would like to take care of the whole project. First, I took the position of “Product Owner Support”, and then I became the Product Owner.
Do you have a dedicated team today?
Until today, due to the fact that it is an internal Aspire application, there are different developers working on it, who don’t work in the project for clients. The customer always has priority, which is why the team is constantly changing. It was quite a challenge for me.
How do you manage such a team?
By making sure that knowledge doesn’t remain only in the heads of developers, that’s why I write down important things and keep records. I try to select what is valuable, worth documenting. Make people who leave the project always at hand, in case of what they have helped with, for example, to pass on information to the next person. Currently, I am in the process of transforming all our previous documentation, updating it, and working on technological debt.
Many seniors with whom I talked said that projects implemented for clients are more developmental. You work in one, internal project all the time. Do you think that it makes you grow slower?
This is not entirely true. From the very beginning this project and being a PO in it was a side task and only recently I am spending more time on it. So far I’ve worked in around twelve different projects. When I was appointed to the PO League of Geeks (that’s the name of our gamification platform), I worked as a tester on a full-time client project. Therefore, I looked after the League of Geeks in the so-called meantime. At the beginning I was mainly responding to problems, changes, from time to time meeting with users and gathering information. Later, I spent even more time as part of a regular job, but I was still in a project with a client.
What have you been working on lately?
Recently, I’ve worked in three projects. Two and a half day in a very big project related to aviation. My entire test team was in Belgium, which was a big challenge and gave me a lot in terms of development. Two days I was involved in another project, in which I was not only a tester, but also a scrum master. As you can guess, from a whole week of work, I spent only half a day working on the product owner’s work.
I’m curious what has changed in your everyday work, since you are not an intern. Can you compare how the day looked like when you worked in one project, and how does it look when you work in several simultaneously?
When I was only a tester in one project, I had a list of tasks, functionalities that I need to check, test and consult with other developers. Today, working on several projects at once, I track the hours spent in each project. Sometimes it turns out that there is something urgent to check in the project, which blocked the work of a developer. I always write down what I did, how many hours and in what project, because otherwise I would get lost.
I’ve learned what is more important and valuable at the moment, which tasks I can postpone when there are a lot of them. I had to learn how to organize my work. I used to sit for eight hours in one project, sometimes I took part in a meeting. Now there are days when I have a meeting after the meeting, which makes it difficult to accomplish my own tasks later.
You are a team leader, and one of your tasks is to take care of the team’s development. What does it mean?
I’m a contact point for them, a person to whom they turn with any problems. I also make sure that they grow in Aspire, realize their ambitions. We have an approach that sets annual goals that we talk about later. I ask if I can help, if something blocks them and if I could support them.
What would you like to pass on to the future interns?
The main thing is to tame fear and uncertainty and don’t let it stop you from undertaking ambitious tasks. I was lucky that the manager encouraged me to take on subjects that seemed beyond my reach and skills. Thanks to this, I independently take on new challenges that are now standing in front of me.
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