Conversations #77: Nandini Srinivasan, VP of Quality Assurance at Motive
Alma Negrete Shen, Software Engineer and Director at Women Who Code Santiago, speaks with Nandini Srinivasan, Vice President of Quality Assurance at Motive. They discuss aspects of QA, such as, the daily life of a VP, automation’s role, and the importance of diversity.
Can you tell us more about your career journey?
I have around 22 years of experience in this industry. I started as a UI developer back with Veritas. I gravitated toward performance engineering. It is a fragment of quality where we try to test an application to scale. The next five years of my career were with US Bank, where I was focused on performance testing financial applications. Around year eight, I got into the QA leadership roles, where I started leading and managing teams. I became a QA manager for test automation.
My philosophy with QA automation has always been to focus on test automation. It is the best way to get the maximum efficiencies for any software development process. When you do a test automation-based quality verification, it is more about testing the code than just testing a manual verification. It is not to discount the manual verification because it is how a user uses your product.
That is important from a user experience test. But I have grown in my career setting up teams from scratch, building test automation frameworks, building state-of-the-art test technologies and then taking it forward. For the last four years, I have been head of quality for large quality organizations leading software test teams, and firmware test teams and channeling all these processes.
Tell us about your day-to-day work as the VP of QA.
I manage software QA teams. I manage firmware QA teams. I also work very closely with the customer experience and customer testing. Test engineering has two facets. One is baked in quality. What you do in-house. That is test coverage, test automation, all the processes, and defect metrics. The other is how does the customer value what you have done? We work very closely with customer teams to see what kind of customer-reported issues are coming in. How can we take what the customer is looking at and beef up our test coverage?
On a day-to-day basis, I try to build up these teams in terms of technology. I split my day between people, processes, and technology. I'm a big believer in investing in my relationships with people. It's about talking to my team, even if it is multiple skip levels, I just will ping someone, and ask them how their day is going. I talk about setting up processes, working with my stakeholders, and figuring out what metrics they're looking for. I look into the firmware side. Whether it is firmware or software, the underlying structure is the same. I look into the issues, strategizing and creating more extensive strategies in terms of test technologies.
Where should we be getting our efficiencies from? How can we take automation to the next level, planning for scale? As your application is growing, you have to test for scale and make sure that you are keeping in touch with your customer success teams so the customers are happy.
Can you speak about the importance of automation and improving efficiency around the QA?
Test automation is my passion. It is very important for a quality team to be adapting themselves to their stakeholder development and product teams. You have to collaborate with the developers because they write the code. You also have to collaborate with your product teams because you want to be sure that you're testing a requirement, not just testing what was written.
Test automation is beneficial because it helps you improve your build validation times. At the same time, it also enables you to release faster. That is how all of our companies operate daily. If you have a sound test automation framework, your test automation teams can start running in parallel with your developers. Automation helps improve efficiency, automation enables you to release things faster.
Automation helps improve build health. I emphasize the need for automation with my development teams as well because I emphasize to them to write good unit tests. If they write good unit tests, then we extend upon it to write better-integrated tests, better API tests, and even UI tests to try to see the look and feel. I also emphasize that the tech stack we use on our automation framework has to match the tech stack that our developers use.
Our code base is constantly increasing. In most of my setups, our development teams are our peer reviewers. Our development teams are the people who work very closely with our test teams to review their automation and then take advantage of the efficiency that automation brings.
How has quality assurance in tech changed throughout your career?
When I started, I remember, we would come into work at nine or ten o'clock at night to deploy when the markets were down. I was working for a financial company. We would take every server out of the pool. Then we would validate it. We would test in production. It would be six or seven hours of work. We had to ensure everything looked good just before the markets came up.
That was way back when you had web applications only. You had standalone application testing. Then we came into the world of mobile and then the world of virtualization, where you're able to spin up these environments. In all of these, this is the deployment aspect. We went from Agile to Waterfall. Agile was there for the longest time when QA ended, and people would get little time to test. QA would not be involved in the earlier parts.
Agile is where I spent some time getting myself certified. In multiple companies, I was a part of ensuring we implemented Agile correctly. Nobody does Agile in the same way. Everybody has their flavor, they call it a hybrid. The QA testing has moved up, what we call the shift left approach. Today, even when requirements are written, you need strong voices which say, "Hey, even if you're writing a requirement, make sure that you keep the test in mind." You are accounting for this application rewrite, but you're also accounting for the test time.
When your developer starts writing code, automation gets started. You are also creating checklists and test plans. You are working in a scrum team in a coordinated fashion where your stakeholders know what you are doing. In some organizations, quality engineers also give proposals for how to fix these bugs. The dynamics have changed from being an organization that would get called in the last four days to someone who's actually called in and made sure that this team participates and asks the right questions.
Automation has changed the game. If they even want to make platform changes, they reach out to the automation team. The whole concept of DevOps has come into the picture in the last few years, which is a combination of Dev and QA. Taking the best into the deployment aspects and having DevOps engineers understand the pain points on both ends and putting in infrastructure changes.
As the tech industry has changed, the quality industry has also changed. Today, quality engineers understand that all of them have good sound technical backgrounds. All of them know how to write code and are very proficient at writing scripts. They understand the system architecture way better. The QA industry has seen a huge change, mobile, then came cloud, and now it is all the AI triggers. Everything has changed the way and quality has been changing and adapting itself.
What drew you to Motive, and what keeps you at the company?
I joined Motive almost a year back. Motive is one of the leaders in AI fleet management companies. My title is vice president of quality. For a company of Motive’s size to give importance to quality such that they have a vice president reporting into a chief technology officer as a head of quality is sending a message very loud and clear about how invested the entire company is in quality.
Another reason I was drawn to Motive is the core values. One of our core values is to build trust. Another one is to bring down walls and build bridges. Quality is a trust-building exercise. I like our equality focus, giving quality and equal seat at the table across all stakeholders, not just the technical teams. That aspect of Motive is their biggest selling point.
How important is it to have diversity in tech, especially around QA?
Diversity is fundamental. It's crucial. It is the pillar, the backbone of innovation. Having a diverse team fosters thought processes from different aspects and backgrounds, which is what gets you ahead of the market.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I have two boys. They're 15 and almost 11. I'm a robotics coach when I'm not working. I coach a First Lego League team. This league focuses on elementary and middle school. Being a robotics coach, I also work with underprivileged schools around San Jose. I would take blue lego kits and give them as gifts to girls. I realized in my career and my journey with working with children that it is somewhere around the middle school mark that the girls decide not to be a part of STEM. That's the age that you have to tap into their interest. Being a robotics coach gave me that avenue to help work and give back to my community. We went from six boys and one girl to today. We have two boys and four girls.
What pro tip do you have for women in tech?
Don't be intimidated; tech is for everyone. Don't back down. Don't let a bad experience define how your trajectory should be. Step back and say, "Huh, this happened to me. Now how do I learn from it? How do I move forward?" Don't let discouraging experiences define you. Just stand up, dust it off, and move on. Also, join a women's network because these channels provide that safe space, a networking opportunity, and that moment of giving you that encouragement you sometimes need to hear.