Talking Testing with Danny Dainton!
As a part of my Testing series, I caught up with Danny Dainton, a Senior Software Tester at NewVoiceMedia, a cloud service company based in Basingstoke. Read on to hear about his diverse career, his involvement with the testing community and views on the future of testing! Follow Danny on Twitter here.
Looking at your LinkedIn you can see you had a long stint in the Army before making a very big career change, what first attracted you to Testing out of all the other careers you could of considered?
By luck, fate or chance we basically found each other - I made the decision to leave the Army over a year before finding Testing. I joined the forces when I was 17, not long after finishing senior school, I wasn’t a ‘model student’ and I wasted my school years by being a horrible teenager so there wasn’t a great deal of options open to me at that point - The Army seemed to be one of the organisations that would take me on, given my educational background.
Fast forward 11 years, It came to the point of deciding what my future looked like - I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew that there was more I could be doing and I needed to leave the forces to give myself the chance to find it.
After leaving the Army, It got to a point where I was actually in desperate need of a job…..any job, when I received a phone call from someone who saw my CV online and asked if I wanted to come down and do some software testing. I had a couple of things that they required in order to work on a government software project, one being Security Clearance and the other being some very recent knowledge and experience of working in Afghanistan. I had spent the last 7 months of my Army career there so I knew it quite well. I love a challenge so I jumped at the chance of giving this a go! That was basically my entry into software testing - I wouldn’t even know what it was, if it wasn’t for that phone call.
You are now a seasoned Tester, how was your career path up to this point? Any rocky patches or big wins along the way?!
It was an extremely steep learning curve, as you can tell from my route into Testing, I started out having zero clue about what the role involved. This was made 100% worse by the guy who invited me to come and work with him on the project, leaving the company after 3 days of me being there. Bad times.
I obviously knew how to use a computer but at a basic user level, I joined the Army as an Infantry Soldier so using a computer wasn’t something that I did on a daily basis. I have total belief in myself that I can learn and pick things quickly so it wasn’t long before I was up to speed with lots of different aspects of the role.
Looking back now, I feel completely shocked that I was even allowed to work there - I had the right clearance and domain experience that was needed but I technically had no real right to have that job. It was a very well paid role too so there was a level of embarrassment on my part, I’m the type of person that wants to give people everything I can so I made it my absolute mission to provide value, every single day that they choose to keep me down there.
A huge win back then and what I try and do now is to basically, talk to people - Communication is absolutely vital to the success of anything. A lot of the ‘talking’ back then was done via email and instant messaging….that’s just asking for trouble.
There were issues popping up all the time based purely on the lack of communication and talking amongst people. The quote from George Bernard Shaw summed this situation up perfectly “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
So I’ve taken the lessons that i’ve learnt from that situation and always pushed the importance of how simple communication between people can save so many future problems from happening.
As the world of work changes and evolves so do our working lives. I can see you remote work at the moment which is becoming more and more popular in Tech. What attracted you to this way of working and what are the perks?
It was something that I had never done before until I started working at NewVoiceMedia, Once I got seriously focussed on becoming the best Tester that I could be, I knew that I needed to in an environment and surround by people that could help me progress and improve. Unfortunately, the place that I wanted to work at was about 85 miles from my house in Bristol.
I was in the office everyday for my initial probation period at NVM but after this was completed, I started to work at my house more and more which seemed to go really well and I was lucky enough to be in a team that already had a few others who had a similar arrangement - We have a saying within our team “If one person is remote, we’re all remote” so there is never a feeling of being left out or being isolated due to not being physically located together. This is mainly because we have tailored our teams practices and processes to be fully inclusive.
I wrote a post a while back about my experiences of being a remote worker where I’ve expanded on some of the things that I’ve touched on here already.
It’s absolutely not something that everyone would enjoy but for me personally, it works very well. I have an office in my house which is my ‘place of work’ so once I’m in that room, I’m fully focused on what I need to achieve that day.
The major ‘perk’ for me is that I get to be around my family a lot more than I would be if I was spending time commuting to an office everyday. We have a young daughter so I get to spend time with her in the morning before I start work and I’m also there straight away after work to see her before the bedtime routine kicks in. It’s the perfect work / life balance.
You describe yourself as a “Learning Fanatic” considering you had such a big career change how did you, and how do you go, about keeping your skills and tech knowledge up to date?
Testing is a very topically diverse subject so it’s impossible to know everything and also extremely difficult to keep up to date with it all. I’ve learnt a lot of what I know ‘on the job’ so to speak, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by people at NVM who are at the top of their game and love sharing their knowledge with others.
Twitter has been awesome at bringing in new content for me to consume - I’m a fan of accounts on there that brings content together in one place so I can work my way through it, in my own time. Two accounts in particular are great for this - @FiveBlogs gives you a daily list of 5 interesting posts, I love these because it’s not always about testing so you never really know what’s going to pop up in there.
@testingcurator is the another account that gives you a weekly curated list of great content that covers many testing areas or disciplines. There are lots of individual personal accounts that promote their own work or retweet other posts that they have seen, If these are something that I like the look of I normally save them to a tool called Pocket, this gives me the ability to store them quickly and read through them once I have some spare time.
Outside of Twitter, the Ministry of Testing has it’s own blog feed and curated list that is sent out in an email each week, that’s also full of excellent content from around the testing world.
In terms of keeping my skills up to date, it’s just down to pure practice, this is still a new career for me and i’m learning all the time but I know that the skills that I have gained so far will start to fade over time so I like to keep on top of that and set myself little challenges so it is still fresh in my mind.
I’m also a fan of getting hands-on and learning by making mistakes, I grab local copies of tools or applications and just explore them. I like to understand how they work and how I could use that for something I might be working on now or in the future.
It’s clear from your Twitter you are an active figure in the wider Test Community, both with MOT and your own Meetups. How did you discover this community and how do they help you be the best Tester you can be?
I honestly can’t remember exactly how I first ‘found’ or ‘discovered’ the test community, I’m sure it must have been from stumbling across a blog post that mentioned the Software Testing Club (now ‘The Club’) after doing a Google search on ‘Testing’ about 6 years ago….that’s where I think it all happened. :)
This then started its own mini chain reaction over the years that led me on to joining Twitter and following some amazingly talented people, attending local meetups, conferences and meeting some of the people who I had been following and talking with online for years. When you meet these amazing people in person, It’s impossible to not be impressed by their passion and love for testing - There is just an absolute desire for continuous improvement from these people, to become the best testers that they can be. This had an instant impact of me and with the help and encouragement of these people, some of which have become extremely close friends, I have made really good progress in my short career so far...I’m still in the early stages of my testing journey and there is so much more to learn but I’m always keen and eager to improve myself!
It can be super nerve racking to give a talk, and I can see you have done this recently. How did you prepare for the talk, and any advice for someone wanting to do a talk?
I always thought that I had things to share and being a regular conference attendee myself, I knew that I could do this by being that central figure on stage - The reality of doing this, for me, was a million miles away from the way I had imagined it in my mind. There is so much more to giving a talk than the 30/45 mins that people see you deliver.
Doing a conference talk in front of hundreds of people was a great experience but it was also an emotional rollercoaster - Your mind is racing the whole time during the months before, you’re always aware that people are paying money to come and hear a great talk. I was panicking and thinking about my own personal story not being interesting enough etc. I had some amazing support along the way who were very reassuring and I know that everyone wanted me to succeed but it’s very difficult to shake the fear of the unknown.
Luckily, I didn’t fall on my face and especially fail, It went quite well and it was well received by the people in the room on the day and also the people who watched the recording. I’m proud that all the hard work paid off in the end. I wrote a post about my first conference talk experience that explains more about the build up and why I did the talk in the first place.
As for advice for anyone wanting to do this themselves, a few things helped me:
Don’t go anywhere near a slide deck until you have your story nailed down, once you have the narrative cemented in your mind - The slides will be much easier to create as they will just flow more naturally than they would if you attempted to create the talk around a bunch of random slides.
Practice all the time - In the car, In the shower, In front of the mirror...where ever you can. You will probably end up hating the sound of your own voice but it will make you feel more comfortable up there on stage. If you can, do a dry run in front of actual human beings….I didn’t and I totally regretted it!
Seek feedback from others, I thought I had my talk sorted and locked down until a couple of weeks before giving it at the conference. I got some amazing feedback and pointers that made me realise that I was missing some vital information, that would have just left people a bit confused. I was just too close to it for too long, I didn’t see what was there in front of me.
Is it something you would do again?
I never say never - I’m sure there will come a time in my life that I will want to get up on a stage and present a talk again but for now, I’m just really happy to share things in multiple other ways.
Last but not least, what’s is on your “to learn list” for the rest of 2018/predictions for the “next big thing” in Test?
My list is an ever growing one - Not enough hours in the day to cover what I have on there already, let alone all the new things that spark my interest. I want to continue my learning around APIs and Microservices for the rest of the year as that’s the current domain.
I’m a bit of a magpie so even if I nail down a list of things, while I’m learning those, I’d just be distracted by a load of new shiny information and want to head in a different direction...I’m my own worst enemy sometimes. It’s the curse of being interested in everything and absolutely loving what I do. :)
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