Giving a Voice to the Women Who Test: An Interview with Alison Wade


In this interview, Women Who Test founder Alison Wade defines the most important career superpowers for women. She covers her summit at STAREAST where professionals, leaders, and idea disruptors come together to celebrate women in the testing field.

Jennifer Bonine: Welcome to our first virtual interview of the STAREAST conference. I'm excited to have all of you with us. I'm excited we have Alison Wade, the president of TechWell, with us, so thanks for joining us.

Alison Wade: Great to see you, Jennifer. Thanks.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome.

Alison Wade: Thanks for having me again.

Jennifer Bonine: Let's talk a little bit about, for the folks that are out there that aren't here live at the conference, some of the things we're seeing just as trends, in terms of attendance, who is here. They don't get to see all the folks, so give them a little insight maybe into how that's going.

Alison Wade: Yeah, absolutely. STAREAST has been a banner year for us. We have an increased attendance of about 14 percent over our previous STAREAST, which is great numbers. We have well over a thousand people here today. We had about 3,600 people sign up online to watch the conference. They're going to be coming in virtually at different parts of the day. This morning during the first keynotes there was over 750 people online watching in an Eastern time zone. It's been really a terrific conference so far, great numbers and a lot of energy, a lot of fun people.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that's amazing. For those of you that are out there kind of interacting virtually, the nice part for you throughout the day today and tomorrow, is besides the keynotes, we'll be talking to folks like Alison and the speakers and getting you some insight into what they're thinking and what's going on. One of the really exciting things, I think, that's in its second annual event is our Women Who Test. Can you tell the folks out there that aren't familiar with it, how you started this, what the mindset was around doing this?

Alison Wade: Absolutely. About a year and a half ago, maybe more like two years ago, I attended, actually, a Google Techmakers conference, a Women Techmakers conference. I saw how much was going on for women in development, software development, and obviously that's a very different ratio, I think it's a ratio of ten to one. Female software developers are hard to come by.

The industry and companies like Google and Microsoft are realizing how important women are in this equation. It's not just a feminine issue, it's a social and economical issue, I mean they're 50 percent of the population. When you're building products for a divided gender population with 50 percent women, 50 percent men, you have to have women's input, it's imperative that you have their perspective and their input.

I saw a lot of this going on and I felt like there just wasn't enough going on in the testing community. There is a little bit few more women in testing than there are in the development community, a 7-to-3 ratio. Still, what can I do to support the women in this community that I've been a part of for twenty years? I put this day together and it was at STARWEST last year and it was such a successful day. You were there, Jennifer. The women loved it.

First of all, any time that you get to talk to people that have similar experiences to you it's just a great time for people to hear from other people, feel a lot of camaraderie, talk about the issues that they have personally. How they solve them and learn how other people have solved them. They're coming together first as women and secondly as testers.

Jennifer Bonine: I know, having been a part of that first day, it was the energy in the room when you get a group of people together and you can talk about some of the topics that were on there. The one I thought is interesting for the folks out there if you haven't seen it was the panel you did on career superpowers. Talking about that and the books. For folks out there that might not be familiar with that. Maybe talk a little bit about what that looks like. The career superpowers and what that session was geared towards for people.

Alison Wade: Sure. We put together a panel of women. There were actually five women speakers at the event. Jamiee Newberry was one, and I'll just sort of give you a little bit of an outline of the day. She did a talk called "Redesigning Your Life." Basically, what she was talking about was a time when she experienced a tremendous amount of burn out in her career. She was a mom, she had a lot of things that she was balancing. She was super burned out and how she got herself out of that funk and back into what she loved which was software design. She used the methodology that she uses to design software to bring herself back to life, I guess. It was a very inspiring story.

We had Melissa Benua talk about being the, sometimes as a tester you're the lone voice of reason, you're the one that has to say stop this is not good enough, there's a problem, we can't ship. What's it like, when you're not only the lone voice of reason, but you're the lone female voice of reason? That sometimes can be incredibly intimidating. She gave everybody just totally practical tips about what to do and how to communicate in an environment where you may be the only female. That was really terrific.

Then we had another woman who was hysterical, so funny. She's actually a real-life standup comedian who now has a job with a software company called Axosoft, and they started a fabulous campaign called "It Was Never a Dress." Basically, they took that little bathroom icon of the lady and revealed what was really under there all the time and it was a cape, of course. It was just a fantastic visual. I actually wore that T-shirt through the airport. I got so many comments on that T-shirt. It really felt empowering to women to see that symbol.

Jennifer Bonine: I think they gave out little stickers for your laptop.

Alison Wade: They did.

Jennifer Bonine: I have the one on my laptop, and I tell you, everywhere I go, people look at that sticker and they ask me about it. Men and women, anyone thinks it's so neat to see something reimagined that we looked at one way and can see it a completely different way.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. I had a lady come up to me in the airport, she must have been seventy years old, and she looked at my T-shirt and she's like, "Oh my god, I wish they had that when I was young. That's so cool." What a great affirmation.

Jennifer Bonine: It is, yeah. For folks that haven't seen it out there it's called, "It Was Never a Dress." It went viral. I mean, it was all over. If you haven't seen it go check it out. It's so neat if you haven't seen it.

Alison Wade: It's basically women in technology telling their stories on this website called "It Was Never a Dress." It's fantastic.

Then we have you doing a session on branding. Which is just really awesome because I feel like women don't think about their careers enough. Back to the career superpowers. One of the career superpowers is to plan, to think about your career, to treat it like a job and so often women don't think about their career in that perspective. To treat it like a job or a marketing campaign or all those other things. That is one of the career superpowers. Jennifer does a great session on branding. It was really helpful, people loved it.

Jennifer Bonine: It's so interesting to me that naturally a lot of women are very giving and they give a lot of themselves in their careers and their personal lives. Then, like you said, sometimes we forget about how to take care of ourselves and build that brand for ourselves and treat ourselves the way we do everything else in our life. Which is to make sure we have a plan and to take care of it, nurture it and make sure we have a goal in mind at the end of it. Great session for those folks that aren't able to attend. You kind of got a good rundown on what will be happening in that day in Women Who Test.

There's also a way that they can get engaged if they're out there, right, with Women Who Test with the blog?

Alison Wade: Yes, if you go to Twitter @WomenWhoTest, we also have a LinkedIn group. There's also a website, You can go there as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, they would have an opportunity to go out there and take a look at that and see what's out there. For those of you out there. What are the plans for the future? Do you see will this be at more events?

Alison Wade: Yes, absolutely. I think I missed telling you about that. When you first asked why we started I got side tracked by the Google Techmaker thing. One of the original issues was when we look at the number of submissions we get for say a STAREAST program, we get over 350 submissions. Somewhere between ten and eighteen percent came from women. I was thinking obviously there's a population difference in the tester community but even then it was incredibly un-represented.

I got some help, from actually, a few great men who helped me find really good women out there who were testers and asking them to speak. I felt a lot of hesitance on their part to tell their stories and to talk about themselves. I think that men sometimes have a much easier time presenting themselves, talking about themselves. It comes quite naturally. Women sort of don't do that as well. It's a learned skill.

In working with some of the women, I'm pretty proud to say that there are now several women who have become speakers at the STAR conference as a result of efforts just to help get speakers in.

In particular, one's really exciting and I forgot to write down her name, Yasi, I can't remember her last name. She's a director of QA at Cvent. She approached me about speaking at the next Women Who Test at STARWEST. She has an amazing story to tell about her career and her life. She came to Women Who Test at STAREAST. She was inspired by that day and wanted to speak. She just did a great write up about what she wants to talk about. Yasi will be talking at Women Who Test at STARWEST so that's really awesome.

Jennifer Bonine: I mean, what a great story. Like you said, just to be able to get more people engaged and be comfortable telling their stories. There are so many great stories out there and it always helps to hear those stories from other people who were in similar situations and have had similar experiences.

Alison Wade: Definitely.

Jennifer Bonine: That unity of that. That's awesome and great to see. Very exciting. The plan is that every STAR conference going forward there will be a day dedicated to those.

Alison Wade: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: STARWEST, STAREAST will both have these days. For folks looking at getting funding or capability to come to one in the future, plan for that. It's included.

Alison Wade: It's free.

Jennifer Bonine: It's free?

Alison Wade: It's free. It's there on Friday, it's free, it's available. If you come to the rest of the conference you can just add it on to your conference package. If you're local and you want to attend and you just want to attend that you can come just to that.

Jennifer Bonine: That's amazing. For folks out there that maybe watching that are local to the Orlando, Florida area that can get here for Friday, is there still room?

Alison Wade: There is still room.

Jennifer Bonine: There is still room so you can still get in on Friday if you're out there and interested. Which is great. Then you'll get a bit of a chance to see some of the energy here in person too and what goes on when you're live here at the conferences.

Alison Wade: Yeah, just go to our STAREAST website and you can click on the registration and register for that. If you can't get in for some reason, just tweet me at A Wade SQE, A Wade SQE, and I will be happy to respond to you and get you signed up.

Jennifer Bonine: Any last words of wisdom, advice for anyone out there who maybe wasn't able to attend, wasn't able to get funding to go to one of the conferences, is struggling, things you guys have seen that helps in promoting and getting people more on board in leadership for sending people to conferences like this?

Alison Wade: I think it's always a challenge. We had a test manager training meeting the other day. There was a gentleman who was telling me every year he talks to his boss about wanting to come to the conference and he wants to get his employees to come. They're on board, they get the budget, then the boss says, "Okay, why don't you just go and bring back the experience to everybody." That's great but it's just not the same.

I think the one thing about coming to a conference is it refreshes you, it inspires you, you get to talk to your peers. You come away with a new perspective. I think if you're an employer, think about that for your employees. How valuable a week away doing this sort of stuff can be. There's a little bit of money involved, of course and a little bit of time involved. It's so worth it. If you can get your people here to hear from other testers, learn what they're doing and, of course, the return on the investment for your company can be huge in terms of what they can learn and what they can get out of the conference.

Jennifer Bonine: Wonderful, I think that's great advice. Thanks Alison, for being with us and the interview. I hope you all stick with us for some more interviews later today.

Alison Wade: Thank you.


Interested in the Women Who Test? You can attend these summits at this year's STARWEST and STARCANADA conferences.

Alison WadeAlison Wade is an accomplished executive dedicated to the business of software. For the past fifteen years, she has worked with industry leaders developing programs for software development and testing professionals. She is the Program Chair for the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test conferences, and she plays a pivotal role in the development of the Better Software, Agile Dev, DevOps, and STAR Conferences. She also directs TechWell’s highly respected training curriculum and programs with SQE Training. Alison strives to increase awareness of diversity in the software industry concerning both the workforce and the role of software beyond commercial products and IT departments. In 2015, Alison launched Women Who Test, a day dedicated to women in software testing, happening in conjunction with the STARWEST conference. You can find her at @awadesqe or @womenwhotest.

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