Careers: Interviews
Questions and Answers with a QA Manager

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Jennifer Butcher, QA Manager of Integration Products, for Pivotal Corporation.

Q: With your busy schedule, I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your insights with the audience.

A: It is my pleasure to have the opportunity of speaking with you today, Stephen.

Q: Jennifer, what attracted you to Pivotal and how did you get to your current position? What challenges did you need to overcome?

A: Prior to joining Pivotal, I had just completed an intensive IT certification program at Capilano College. I chose the program as it was a highly recommended program targeted at mature students with business experience seeking a career change and entry into the exciting and challenging world of Information Technology (IT). Upon completion of the program, I was particularly wanting to join a growing and dynamic organization which offered a lot of potential opportunities for career growth and training with the firm. Pivotal was a smaller (but by no means small) company that was already making a name for itself within the mid-enterprise market as a leading provider of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software solutions. I started as a Quality Assurance Specialist, testing the integrity of the product prior to its release, and within just four months of joining the organization, I was promoted to Technical Lead for Third-Party Integration Products. Pivotal’s willingness to promote me so quickly to Technical Lead, despite my lack of previous industry experience, was highly rewarding and solidified the rightness of my decision to join Pivotal as a company of opportunities. And my experience with Pivotal since then has only reinforced this belief. Over the course of the last 3 years at Pivotal, I have also been promoted to Team Lead, and now hold the position of Quality Assurance Manager, Integrated Products, a role in which I manage a group of Team Leads, Technical Leads and Quality Assurance Specialists and deal with project teams dispersed throughout North America and Internationally.

Q: You’re a principal architect behind QA--Integration Products. Can you provide useful pointers and best-practices to our audience from your experiences in this area?

A: One of the biggest keys in building a great product, and testing that product effectively, is understanding your target market. Knowing the ins and outs of your customers’ business needs and practices will allow you to ensure that you are designing a product which meets – and more importantly – exceeds their expectations. This should be the goal of any software solution, and it is important for not only designers but also testers of the software to keep in mind what the clients’ needs are and how the software is likely to be used. It is nice to build a product that you think is great, but the bottom line is that if the customer doesn’t have a use for it, you’ve failed to produce great software.

Q: Where do you see your area evolving in the future and how will you direct these changes?

A: The trend for software development as well as for many different streams of business, seems to be towards international and global corporate strategies. Advances in communication with the Internet and other Web-based technologies, have removed or greatly decreased the previous obstacles to global communication and collaboration. I believe you will see many companies embrace global collaboration and project teams will need to read just their mindset and business practices to work in this new environment which crosses time zones, languages and cultural differences and where the workday occurs on a 24/7 basis for companies that span the globe.

Q: With regards to Pivotal itself as a company, are there any new technologies businesses should be watching for?

A: Pivotal is always looking to expand on its already vast product offering, by offering customers solutions that anticipate their needs. Pivotal has already brought to market a number of industry vertical solutions which are customized for specific segments of the market. These solutions allow businesses to start with a solution which is already tailored to their specific industry workflow and as consequently, mean a much short, and therefore, less costly, implementation period for our customers.

Q: What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?

A: The best tip I can give to someone wishing to start a career in the IT field is to pick a specialization within the field that you love and pursue it with passion. There are so many different focuses you can choose in the IT profession – from scripting to database or network administration, the sky is the limit. Employers tend to look for those individuals who have expertise in a specific area, rather than those with a broad knowledge that is not extensive in any one particular area. Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of the decisions I made. The only action I might change looking back is that I wouldn’t have debated as much as I did about some of the decision I made. I would just go for it now. Risks – if they are calculated risks – are a necessary part of moving forward in the IT industry, and you learn so much by taking on new challenges.

Q: What do you see on the horizon that businesses and IT professionals “must” be aware of to be competitive?

A: Businesses as well as IT professionals must never become complacent. The market is always changing, and although you may be offering a product or skilled in a technology that is revolutionary today, it quickly becomes obsolete and replaced by the next latest technological innovation tomorrow. So professionals must remain vigilant in keeping their skills updated with continuous education and businesses must remain open to exploring and working with new technologies in their solutions.

Q: What do you feel are the top ten the hottest topics of interest to both businesses and IT professionals today and what will be the topics in two years and in five years?

A: From a technical perspective, I think methodologies like UML will be the hot ticket in the coming 1-2 years, as businesses and professionals try to find a common language for communicating their needs and workflow practices. There is always another “hot” technology looming on the horizon…. First it was ASP, then XML, and tomorrow it will be something else. But the constant focus will be the ability to understand a user’s workflow and translate that workflow into a solution that works for them.

Q: Who/What do you think are the winners and losers in IT in next five years? [This could be companies, technologies, …and so on.] What advice would you give to enterprises in their adoption of technologies in the next five years?

A: The winners in the field of IT will be determined in a lot less than 5 years from now. How companies choose to do business over the next 1-2 years, will determine who is around in the next 5 years. Winning companies will be those who embrace change and look at unconventional ways of doing business, including global collaboration. Pivotal is one of those companies which is positioning itself well to be in this category of winners, by thinking outside of conventional business practices and looking at innovative ways to meet customers needs.

Q: If you were doing the interview, what four interview questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: I don’t know about 4 questions, but here are 2 that I always ask. The first allows me to understand whether the person is a fit for the role they will be required to take on (do they have the mindset required for QA which involves looking for defects and requires thinking beyond the functional specifications and thinking outside the box). The second question allows me to determine what path the person is likely to take in their career and with the organization, which can be helpful in determining whether they will stay with the organization for some duration or are looking for more of a stepping stone to another, difference career focus:

Q1: Why are you seeking a job in Quality Assurance and what appeals to you the most about working as part of a Quality Assurance team?

A1: I enjoy working as part of the Quality Assurance team because I have the opportunity of using my analytical abilities and problem solving skills to assess the defects in the product and how they can best be resolved. I also enjoy working as part of a team and the rewards of working together to produce a great result – a great product.

Q2: What attracted you about Pivotal as a potential employer and where do you see yourself going within the organization?

A2: I became interested in joining Pivotal because I was looking for a growing and dynamic firm which offered me the opportunity to grow my career and increase my technical knowledge and expertise. I see myself continuing in my current role, gaining further project management experience through the continuing expansion of my role in international project management.

Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give?

A: For anyone who has the goal of entering the IT market, I offer these words of encouragement. If you have a dream, pursue it and do not let anyone deter you from your vision. The marketplace is very competitive, especially after the economic set backs of September 11th and the drop in investors’ confidence with the Dot Com market disappointments. But for those who are determined and persevere, there are rewarding and challenging jobs to be had. And a career in IT is one of the most stimulating and rewarding careers you can have it you chose.

Jennifer, thank you for this most informative interview.


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