I’m pleased to run the seventh interview in our #testerstory series with our guest Tristan Marshall from Leeds, England, United Kingdom. He will tell us his journey as a Tester from a different angle, and how he managed to move his career in the world of testing after working as an HR Administrator.

Hope it will inspire lots of you who are looking to become a tester without necessarily having a technical background.

Part 1: Introduction and Career Change

1. Tell us about your experience, background? 

I had a pretty normal academic background in that when I left school aged 16 I went on to further education in the form of A Levels and, later, University. I had a natural affinity towards Business Studies so I elected to study that at University. I was studying towards a BA (Hons) in Business Studies so my degree was 4 years long including a 1 year long work placement which I undertook working as an Administrator at a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge, UK. After graduating I decided to pursue a career in Human Resources as I enjoyed a final year module focussed on the rise and fall of trade unions in the UK. 

My first job after graduating was at the budget airline Jet2.com where I worked as a HR Administrator for 6 months. I really didn’t like the culture or working practices there so I started looking for another role and stumbled across Sky Betting & Gaming who were looking for a HR Administrator. I applied, interviewed and was offered the role. I remained in HR for around another year and a half before exploring my career options a bit more. I found an internal role as a Test Engineer and applied. That was 3 and a half years ago and I’ve been in testing ever since!

2. Sounds like you have a different background, which is really great for the testing industry. The more we have diversity the more we are more creative while pairing together as testers. Can you tell us when you decided to make this career change? Is it within the same company you worked as an HR ? 

I still work for the same overall group (Flutter International) but I now work for The Stars Group division of that company rather than Sky Betting & Gaming. That said I still work with a lot of the same people day to day and in the same offices (when they’re open). 

Whilst working in HR part of my role was to administrate the company HR & Payroll system, Workday. We had a dedicated technical team that configured Workday and as part of my role as HR Administrator I was often asked to carry out regression testing. It was only after speaking to the Test Engineer on the Workday team that I realised I could go into testing without a background in computing. I found an internal role as a Test Engineer at Sky Betting & Gaming and decided to apply. As part of my interview for the role I was given a task whereby I was asked how I would test a customer registration flow, I must have impressed the Hiring Manager as he offered me the role! Three and a half years later I’m still in testing, albeit in a different division of the company. 

I decided to make the career change as I saw it as a great opportunity to work in technology without a background in computing. I, like many people, assumed that you would have to know 3 different coding languages and have a background in computer science in order to work in technology but having found out that wasn’t the case I decided to make the jump and work in an industry that I have long been fascinated by. I’m not from a technical background but I have always had a passion for technology, whether that’s building computers or just trying to understand how something works from a technical perspective. 

3. Making such change requires huge courage to overcome the fear of new beginnings in a completely different career path. How did you get that courage ?

Did you receive any advice like 

  • ‘You are not from the field why you want to change ? ’
  • ‘Are you sure you can adapt ?’

I was lucky enough to work for a very forward-thinking company at the time. Sky Betting & Gaming are really passionate about developing people and furthering their careers, I have seen people go from technical to non-technical roles and vice versa. If you are passionate about making the change Sky Betting & Gaming will do everything that they can to support you. 

For a period of time I also met with a mentor who was working as a Test Engineer at the time. The time that I spent with him was invaluable as I really got to know what testing is and what it’s like to work in the industry. When the time came to actually change my career path I felt like I knew what I was going into and I had the support of my new line manager so I felt really positive going into my first role. 

Part 2: From an HR Perspective

5. From your perspective as an HR, how do you select the right tester to join the company ? What are the required skills from your side? 

In my opinion the technical side of the role can be learned on the job or in your own time. A good tester is inquisitive and detail-oriented. They are constantly questioning and never just accepting something for the sake of it. I would want to see people who are passionate about testing, regardless of their background. I think technical skills are less important in the early stages of your career as a tester, but if I was hiring a more experienced tester I would expect them to have some basic technical skills such as basic automation and the ability to explain how a product works from a technical perspective. 

6. Do you focus mostly on technical or interpersonal skills? Which ones do you value the most ?

As a well-rounded tester you will have a mixture of both technical and interpersonal skills, the former is less important in the early stages of your career but you will need to develop technical skills in order to progress. The role of a Test Engineer is changing, more and more companies will expect you to have some experience with automation. I think both skills are equally as valuable, but as a tester you need to have the basics; logical thinker, detail-oriented, good communicator. Anything else can be learned on the job. 

7. Is there a way that an HR (or other background) can decide if he is able to switch into Tech jobs ? which recommendations 

I would say that if you’re a logical thinker and detail-oriented you’d be a good fit in technology. You may need to learn some basic technical skills such as using the command line and using a code editor but if you have the right mindset for it then you are able to make the switch, don’t worry too much about technical skills in the early days. 

8. As an HR, how do you convince hiring managers that you are able to make a move from a non technical background to a tech job in general or testing in particular ?

Hiring managers want to see passion, they want to know that you’re looking to move into technology because you genuinely want to work in that industry, not just because it pays well or because you don’t know what else to do. My advice to anyone looking to apply for their first testing role would be to really do your research on testing, know what you’re letting yourself in for. Show that you have done some research on testing, if you can make it applicable to the company that you’re applying for then even better! 

Part 3: From a Tester Perspective

9. How do you describe your activity as a tester ?

I work as part of a web development team, we are building a sportsbook which is a fancy term for the front-end of a sports betting website. We work with the agile methodology so I am currently the only tester on the team. I work with 5 developers, a designer, a product manager and a scrum master. 

My days are a mixture of a few things. Largely I will be manually testing the individual feature tickets as they come through, either against the website or a mobile device. I also attend various ‘ceremony’ meetings such as stand-up, retrospectives and sprint planning. We are currently developing our automation framework so increasingly I will be writing automated tests in order to further streamline our testing processes. 

10. How your previous experience and background as HR helped you drive your testing ? 

Working in HR gave me a lot of transferable skills; communication, attention to detail, generally being inquisitive. The ability to communicate with anyone, regardless of their level on the management hierarchy was an important transferable skill, it means that I don’t have any reservations about talking to anyone about what they require from a tester. You need to be detail-oriented to work in HR, especially as an Administrator. You work with a lot of letter templates and employment contracts so you need to be able to spot mistakes. This kind of skill obviously carries across to testing really well! 

11. Do you find it easy to talk with technical oriented people ?

I do, but I’m quite a natural communicator. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I don’t understand something, the best piece of advice I was ever given during the early days of my career in testing was to question everything that you don’t understand. Something may seem extremely technical and difficult to understand but a good technically-oriented person will be able to explain the concept or piece of technology in layman’s terms. 

12. I suppose test automation is the hardest part to be familiar with ? How do you deal with code (writing / analysing )? 

I just try to expose myself to as much code as possible. I may not completely understand line-by-line the code that the developers are writing for features but I have enough experience to be able to get the jist. Regarding automation it’s just practice, get as much practice as possible and keep putting your PRs in front of people to review. Take their feedback onboard as much as possible. 

13. After 3.5 years in Testing, How do you see your career path, more technical challenges/ or more into management skills in testing  ? 

I’m really focussing this year on becoming more technical. I have strong interpersonal skills, I know our product and industry inside-out, I have a handle on agile methodologies and I have experience in people management so I really see my technical skills as being the only thing holding me back. I’d like to become a well-rounded Software Engineer in Test, able to write and build automation frameworks working with all kinds of different technologies. Down the line I’d love to do a bit of people management too but I don’t see my career diverting from testing at all really. 

Part 4: Conclusion 

14. What advice do you give for both people from other perspectives and backgrounds who want to start their career in testing and make that move ?

My advice would be to research testing as much as possible, really understand what the role of a tester is and how they contribute to the overall software development lifecycle. If you can speak to somebody who is a tester right now, do so. I found this invaluable during the early days. Put yourself out there in the community, go to some conferences and talks, don’t worry too much about not understanding the content, that will come with experience. The testing community is really welcoming, people won’t think less of you if you don’t have experience in testing. The Ministry of Testing runs some great conferences, their website is also a plethora of useful information. I’d also recommend going to local testing meetups and talks, you’d be surprised at how common these are. They’re often free to attend, if you’re based in the UK they’re likely to have free pizza and free beer too so that’s a bonus! 

15. Anything else you want to share with the testing community ?

Thanks for letting me be a part of the community and share my experiences. I really enjoy doing these kinds of things and I hope in doing so I have broken down some barriers. If anybody would like career advice or just a general chat about testing feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much Tristan for being part of this interview and sharing your experience moving from an HR to Tester. It’s a really inspiring and courageous career move.

I encourage you to continue on your brilliant journey, wish you all the best in your career. 

If you want to discover more about Tristan journey being a tester, don’t hesitate to checkout his blog: from HR to Testing.  

Interviews History: