Engineer to Engineer: How Saying Yes Led to Leadership and Fulfillment
From left to right: Alexandra Martinez and Silvia Maria Hernandez Lopez
In this edition of Engineer to Engineer, WWCode Monterrey Network Lead and MuleSoft Developer Advocate Alexandra Martinez sat down with Silvia Maria Hernandez Lopez, Technical Lead Engineer at Telus. They discussed Silvvia’s career, how being a team player led to her becoming a team leader, the processes she employs as a QA, and the superpower of never saying no when it helps the team succeed.
“Any good thing that comes your way requires a path to reach it” - Silvia Maria Hernandez Lopez
Hi Silvia! It’s nice to meet you. Can you tell me a little about your current role and responsibilities?
Really nice to meet you as well! Currently I'm working as a Technical Lead Engineer in the testing area, which includes both manual and automation. It involves everything from managing the team resources, checking allocations, managing the performance of each team member, to planning testing for different types of projects we have at TELUS International.
I also work on proposals for new tools and technologies to implement. Right now, that means setting up the straight line that we're following into our DevOps journey. That line includes getting metrics, dashboards, and innovating our processes to match with the DevOps culture that we're building.
You have a ton of experience in QA. Did you always want to be a leader in this space, or did you grow into it?
It's funny how I came to be a QA. When I started my journey, my first job was as a developer. I was really good and had some good opportunities at the bank I worked for; however, that meant having a crazy schedule. At the time, I was still studying and wanted to graduate, so balancing that work schedule with school was difficult.
Those challenges led me to an opportunity with a larger international company that offered me a role in QA. I figured I could give it a try; fast forward and I’ve been in QA for nearly eight years now. It's been a learning journey that has allowed me to develop new skill sets.
Alongside my personal development, I’ve been able to help other team members grow within QA and expand their knowledge. Overall, I’ve been able to grow into a Lead role by working really hard and taking on more responsibilities.
Were you fearful moving from Development to QA?
Yeah! I didn't have any past experiences with QA. I just knew that we had a QA on the previous job that I had with the bank. He always rejected everything without any reasoning or instruction behind it. Just saying, “nope, doesn't work” isn’t helpful to anyone.
That small experience did help me realize what QA shouldn't be. When I joined the larger company, I was a fish out of the water. Although I already had the technical aspect of the role down from my studies, I needed to understand how the world moves on the QA side.
My first couple of weeks I was primarily doing manual testing. I wasn’t enjoying it because I came from a coding background which was more fun for me. With time, I started growing into the role and liking it more. I learned that we could still do coding, just with a different approach.
That's when I took a turn in my career and started pushing to do test automation and implementation. I was able to help the company start the road to ALM implementation. At the time, they didn't have anything like that. I worked with the team to install everything and implement ALM, Agile, and Scrum. What started with a small team quickly went to the whole organization. That's when I knew that I would do test automation because it has different points of view and is involved with business.
Do you feel every developer can become a QA Automation Engineer or do you feel like you need specific skill sets?
I think everybody can be a QA Automation Engineer. You just have to want it. The only thing that will be difficult for some developers is the mindset. You can’t focus on just your component part of the testing that you're doing. You need to see the system’s big picture and how business wants it to work.
Thank you for that insight! What advice would you give to someone that wants to look into transitioning from a Developer to QA?
You can start by talking with someone from QA at your company. I would recommend researching QA processes as well. There's a lot of documentation available now on different types of topics. The testing world isn’t just doing clicks or testing a small feature, it includes a lot of things!
You can go from the planning management processes, to execution of the test, or even be an architect in this area. We have basically the same type of roles as developers but with a different focus. I would focus on the aspects of developing that you enjoy most and then find a parallel position in QA.
I agree. I think it all depends on how you think and if you want to really do it or not.
Definitely. There are developers that try to be a QA, but they don’t find it entertaining. It could be that they don't like it because they didn't explore all the options that we have on the testing side. They may have been stuck with manual testing which reduces the scope of what we can do.
Switching gears, what kind of technologies have you been using over the course of your career? Are there specific ones you prefer?
I would say the first place to start is to know how to code. It will be easy for you to work with multiple programming languages or frameworks throughout your career as long as you have that strong foundation built on good standards and best practices.
Currently, I work with a lot of different types of tools such as: Selenium, Karate, Cypress, Ruby, and Node.js. I also work with other types of tools that don't involve coding like Katalon Studio where you can just record it and the recording will be then converted into code! In the end, the project determines the right tool or technology that we will use.
When it comes to maintainability of the code and how you manage it, I think all the tools are the same. It will depend on the architecture that you set up for your code. For example, Cypress is really easy to style and to set up under local environments. However, if you're working with software where you need to have system cross origin scripting or side original scripting, Cypress doesn’t support that. If you go with Cypress just because it's easy to install but your application uses SSO and then redirects to another application, that won’t work. You will need to go with Selenium or another type of tool. There are workarounds, but your code will be a mess.
I do like Jest, Puppeteer and Node.js. That's what we're using currently at TELUS International for a couple of the projects that we have. They’re dynamic and work well with any type of application.
Wow, you know a lot of technologies! How did you come to familiarize yourself with so many?
I'm always trying to implement new things and change what we do. If I see something that I know can be done better, then I do my research and try to fix it. That's how I came to know a lot of different technologies.
I mentioned Katalon Studio earlier --- I discovered it while consulting for a medical application. They needed tools to automate their testing that anybody could use because they didn't have the dedicated technical team to do it. Their CEO really liked it and adopted it for their team. And I still use it today for doing RPA.
Awesome! Now that you mention RPA, what are most of the testing that you do?
It's a mixed combination I would say. I'm doing RPA for all the types of processes that we do for metrics and reporting. Then on the internal side of the team, I can see how we're managing bugs, triage process, how the team is moving forward and that part of metrics and reporting I'm using as RPI with Katalon Studio.
That’s just the minimum part compared to what we have on the projects. On the projects we're doing frontend and backend testing. We are trying to achieve 100% of coverage on the applications.
Are you close to achieving 100% coverage?
Yeah, we already have one application with 100% coverage on API end and frontend. Then when it’s hosted on GCP, so full DevOps cycle on that project, and it's already live on production.
For the others, I would say we're halfway there because applications are still in development. We are working like a sprint behind development. When they deliver, we start working on our changes. Our goal is to have it ready by the end of the year.
Wow! Currently, you're in a manager/lead position. How did you move from being a QA Engineer into leadership?
At TELUS International, there is no manager role. We don't believe in traditional manager figures and instead focus on leads. Leads help grow the team and chart how we can accomplish our goals.
As I mentioned before, I like to stay busy, and I also like to help the team. When people ask for help, I am always willing to jump in. I began picking up a lot of other tasks that were different from QA automation engineering. There was no lead on the team at that time and we needed that figure because the team was in a bad shape to be honest. We were doing the work, but it was not at the highest quality.
I started helping others to complete more tasks. I found myself helping with everything from metrics to dashboards. If it would help the team, then I would always say yes. I think that willingness to make the team better is what helped me get into the role I have now. It also led to me picking up more skills and more knowledge from the people that I was working with; moreover, I also got more visibility for the work I was doing.
You may have noticed that I don’t mind speaking a lot as well…
There is a common thing that you see from some developers where they don't speak much, or they’re too technical and other people in the business don’t follow them well. Every time that our team needed to present something to our business counterparts, I was eager to step up and speak. Nowadays I'm part of business and triage calls where I support the process of making decisions with the business team. Helping our technical and business teams align definitely helped me get to where I am today.
So, you're super proactive, you help people a lot, you really like what you're doing, and you like to do research. You're this super woman doing everything!
I'm not sure if I'm a superwoman, but I do like to do a lot of things and I cannot say no. That can be an issue too. I have to monitor how many additional projects I take on to ensure things are still done on time.
It sounds like you’re really happy with what you're doing.
Definitely! The company has given me a lot of room to grow and to try new things. That's what's making me happiest.
That's always important to have. Do you have any time management tips that you can give any of us? What is your secret?
To be honest I think it's the pressure I put on myself to deliver. Sometimes, I'm not that good at time management. When I have back-to-back meetings for example, I often find myself joining 10 minutes late due to continuing discussions in the previous meeting.
The key for me is to set priorities. I focus on the things that I need to deliver. That's how I move through the day. I’m sure there could be a better approach, but that's what it has worked for me so far.
If it works, it works! I saw that you have a lot of certifications under your belt. Congratulations on that by the way!
I'm sure it wasn't easy to get any of them. What was your motivation to get these certifications?
I always liked learning new things and pushing myself to the limits to learn new stuff. After I finished university, I wasn’t quite sure what my next move was. I saw that in the tech industry, sometimes it's more advantageous to have a certification, than another degree or title.
It all can depend on your location. In Guatemala, for local companies it is really important for you to have your degree and for you to have a master’s degree more specifically. If you don't have that, some companies will not consider you. However, international companies work differently. They focus more on the skill sets that you have than degrees.
With that in mind, I opted for certifications in different areas. Even though I'm not working on those areas right now, it has helped me be a better professional. It also has helped me on other projects or things that I've done through my life, not just work.
You have project management and scrum master certifications under your belt too. Did you ever plan to change careers into any of these or just because?
In the beginning, I did plan to change careers. I got them at a time when I was at a company that didn’t have growing opportunities for me. They assured me they would elevate me to senior, but nothing like that happened. I was leading teams, but I didn't have roles or titles that represented that.
From there I thought I would pursue other options. I had already tried development and enjoyed it but now I can see another side of engineering. I received my certifications and changed companies. My new company was experimenting with the new technology that I fell in love with and didn't look more into project management.
I don't discard that for the future. It could still be a possibility for me. I'm open to other opportunities as long as I’m able to learn more from what I am doing.
I bet the knowledge that you got from these two certifications helped you a lot with what you're doing right now. It sounds like you are a project manager and you are a scrum master! You are managing the teams and if they need help you can step in.
I would say I'm QA, BSA, scrum master, project manager all in one.
It has helped a lot and even with things that are not directly related to technology. For example, I got a degree in bioinformatics which is how you combine technology and systems engineering with medicine and getting solutions for medicine. This type of work is being done today with the COVID vaccine research. It helped me a lot because I already knew all the parts of managing a project, managing people, making deadlines, etc. I just needed to learn the scientific basics.
Now I’m in a position where I was recently invited to give a talk about how to use scrum for scientific research at an university here. My studies have opened a lot of opportunities for me. I don't regret having the certificates but not working in the specific area.
How did you decide that you wanted to continue your education?
I’ve always liked medicine topics and like scientific topics. If you asked me right now, I think it's not a good option because it takes too much time and effort and I'm good with what I'm doing right now. It's like a full-time degree so I knew I needed to find something where I can mix both things that I like: technology projects with a mix of science.
I learned about the Bioinformatics degree that they offered here and in other parts of the world. I made myself more familiar with the topic, made some good connections, and a lot of new friendships with doctors and researchers. Here in Guatemala, there aren’t many jobs in that area at the moment, but I’ve found it incredibly useful.
To finish things up, with all of the experience that you have today, what advice would you give to yourself if you were just graduating from university?
I would say be patient. Even though you may not like some of the courses and what you're seeing during your early years, stick with it. Try to learn the subject fully and put it into practice. Technology careers are booming today and there are many opportunities. You can even transition these skills to other career paths like I did with science.
Any good thing that comes your way requires a path to reach it. The road for you could be troublesome or could be something that you don't like at the beginning. The good news is you can grow into it and you can like it in at the end.
Lastly, what you do in school it's not the same as what you do at work. Stay positive, try your absolute best and don't lose focus of where you want to be in the future. That’s how I got where I am right now.