Re-engineer Your Development to Stop Creating Defects: An Interview with Jennifer Scandariato

[interview]
Summary:
In this interview, Jennifer Scandariato, the director of test engineering and leader of the Women in Technology initiative at iCIMS, explains how you can alter the way you develop your software to avoid creating defects—through culture, continuous integration, and automation.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with more virtual interviews. Jennifer is here with us. Jennifer, thanks for being here with us today.

Jennifer Scandariato: My pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: And you are with an organization called iCIMS.

Jennifer Scandariato: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: Privately held company, so for those that maybe don't know what iCIMS is, maybe give a little background.

Jennifer Scandariato: Yeah. We are a SAS company. We help with talent acquisition. We're working towards more enterprise customers as well as some of the more smaller, mid-tier customers as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Great, that's amazing. We were speaking—the folks out there don't get to hear all of the before-the-scenes things that happen—but you're a department head in the organization, so you lead a team of folks and you've sent them to conferences like this before and had them participate. Now, is this your first time participating in this one?

Jennifer Scandariato: It's my first time participating as well as speaking.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, wow, so it's a big thing. Do you have some of your team here as well then? Did you bring them?

Jennifer Scandariato: I don't, I don't.

Jennifer Bonine: So just you this time. How did you kind of decide that you wanted to speak on a particular topic? Your topic is transformation.

Jennifer Scandariato: It is. Any time I'd have a conversation with someone, or as we interview people and bring them into the organization, they're blown away by the story. They're like, “Are you talking about this, are you sharing this, are you promoting this?” and I thought, “I should start.” It's important to give people these pearls of wisdom that they can gain benefit from, especially an organization like this, in a conference where like-minded professionals come together. You need that camaraderie and that feeling you're not alone.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, absolutely.

Jennifer Scandariato: I think most of the challenges we all face are very similar across industries, across different companies, they're the same unique set of problems.

Jennifer Bonine: They are. That's what's so funny about this, is you hear the conversations in the sessions and the conversations after the speakers talk and what people are worried about, and it is, it's very similar. Like, people have the same challenges, and it doesn't matter if you're energy or finance or retail, it really doesn't matter. I mean, everyone is struggling with a lot of underlying common issues right in their organizations.

So for those that won't get to see the session, which is right after this, could you give us a little insight into ... you talked about the story and kind of the transformation. Could you give us a little bit on what that's like, so maybe they can take advantage of some of what you're going to impart, or the wisdom, to the folks after this?

Jennifer Scandariato: Definitely. It does sprinkle in a little bit of automation, a little bit about shifting left with your testing. It's so important to build quality within your software development lif cycle before just kind of bolting it on the end. You run out of time, you find defects too late. So one of the things I've talked, about and it seems pretty ambitious, but I don't want to find any more defects. The number one response is, “But that's what you do. You're here to find defects.”

I look at it a little different. The reason why I'm talking about transformation is I want to re-engineer our software development lifecycle so we don't create defects to begin with. It's a very, very difficult thing to accomplish. Sounds good, it sounds like nirvana, but I've taken a really practical approach, and these are the things you can do to help your organization make that transition. There are cultural things, there are technological things with the CI/CD, and doing more integrated builds earlier. There's automation as a really big piece to that. So, how do you upskill your engineers to be able to do the automation that they're required? It's sometimes difficult to hire people out of school with a software degree and coming in, Java, day one.

So you can't just take a set of manual testers and send them to learn Java in a day and start. So how do you do that? And I think that's what my discussion is on today.

Jennifer Bonine: You mentioned hiring, and I'm assuming with some of the things your organization is doing, you're kind of in a growth mode and a talent acquisition mode yourself.

Jennifer Scandariato: We are.

Jennifer Bonine: And acquiring the right talent. Is there any tips you would give? Because maybe some folks out there are saying, "I'm struggling with the same thing right now. I've got a very traditional organization that maybe had testers," and for years a lot of organizations had testers that weren't testers by profession, they were testers by necessity, because they were in another role or they were in the business or something happened, and they're like, oh, you'd make a great tester here, go over here and we'll put you in IT and now you're going to be a tester for us.

They maybe didn't choose that profession, some of those types of things. How are you making that shift in your organization to get some of those technical skills?

Jennifer Scandariato: It's a great question. To have a team that doesn't have those skills, how do you upscale them so they can be proficient and confident and engaged? So part of my session talks about that. But we are changing how we hire and what we're looking for in the skills. We are looking for more development skills. So if you don't have development skills, you're kind of almost left behind. I think going back to, Colin Day is the CEO of our company, and he always talks about passion and drive. So I think if you can find that passion and drive in any individual, that's the potential that you need to really make a difference. The rest you can learn.

Jennifer Bonine: Yup. That's interesting, the passion and drive. I have also heard Accenture, some other organizations, in the past have used "attitude and aptitude" around that passion and drive. If you have the right attitude, we can teach you a lot of things—it's just a skill. And right now skills are changing really rapidly anyways.

Jennifer Scandariato: They are. It's like every six months there's a new technology coming out.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. So it's that attitude and the desire to learn and to continually learn, that's something that I'm just seeing, where before, it's amazing, when you looked at folks, they could go into an organization as a COBOL programmer, and they were a COBOL code or a programmer for years and didn't have to learn a lot of new skills. And then when massive ERP programs came in, they were now being forced to learn new skills, new coding, and it terrified them, right?

Jennifer Scandariato: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: That was once in their career, maybe, but now we're seeing that it's not once in your career, it's many times that you're going to have to learn new things.

Jennifer Scandariato: I think you have to be courageous. You can't be too scared. So there's a piece on management to try to encourage that learning and growth, and providing them an opportunity to be able to take some courageous moves without feeling that they're going to get in trouble.

One of the big pieces we talk about is, as these test engineers are doing more automation, they're afraid to make changes because they're afraid it's going to affect the current testing. With all of the tools in place and Subversion and Git, you can always revert back to a previous version, so there's nothing—you have to take away that fear and definitely reassure.

I think the other piece is you really have to congratulate them for something that they've worked really hard for and learning a new skill. Whether it's going back to school or kind of doing it on the job, you've got to give that positive reinforcement.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I think that's a great point. So taking away the, "if you do this, it's irreversible or irreparable," or at the organization, "everyone is going to be angry that you did this"—removing those types of barriers are important for leaders to be able to do in their organizations. So I think that's a great thing to think about, for folks out there that are struggling with maybe ...

Jennifer Scandariato: Making that transition.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and making that transition. And now it sounds like you're in a pretty receptive organization to change, right, where they're okay with transformation, they're okay with you making changes. Were you specifically brought in when you started with the organization to do that, or was it something you had to sell?

Jennifer Scandariato: Both. So I think I was brought into the organization to mature it at a particular level. So just maturing it to have metrics in place, taking the emotion out of it and kind of showing what you are providing, what's the value. Definitely having a return on investment is important, whether it's tangible—from less defects getting into production, from customer satisfaction, or even more engagement within the software development lifecycle. All of that counts.

I think striving for best in class is really important, and what I've done is I've set up a couple of centers of excellence. So it's something unique. They're small centers of excellence around specialized testing. There are like one or two people that can come into, we practice agile, so they can consult with each of our agile teams and help them and guide them, enable them with training and be that support if they need it. So having that level of somewhere to go when you don't know what the right thing to do, it did take a little convincing. I think our CFO said, "How much is this going to cost?" There's definitely points you have to look at.

One of the things that I took care of was I enrolled a few people to teach it who were internal. So we saved on costs that way.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Finding ways to maybe reduce the amount of cost by doing it, you know, finding creative solutions to that.

Jennifer Scandariato: Exactly, exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: That helped. But those little centers of excellence, you mentioned you created a couple of them. What specific areas are those in, just in case someone out there is saying, "Yup, I want to do that." So what are some good ones you found out, starting?

Jennifer Scandariato: Performance is one. Security. Accessibility is a big one that's coming up more and more.

Jennifer Bonine: More and more.

Jennifer Scandariato: We also have localization and globalization. As the world is flat, you have to be able to provide your customers with multi-language solutions.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Now you mentioned accessibility, that is one that's interesting, that topic ,it's funny, it's been around for a long time. It really hasn't hit all organizations in the same way, but I'm from Minneapolis, and so Target Corporation is based there, and they had a huge issue years ago with not having an accessible site, website, and needed to repair that and make some significant changes. So having awareness of that in terms of all of us of what that means and what you need to do is good, just to bring that up, right, so to build that in as opposed to having to re-engineer it in.

Jennifer Scandariato: Exactly. When you have to remediate, you're always under pressure, and your roadmap gets kind of stopped while you remediate something because of an urgency of bringing on a new client or addressing a legal concern. So building it from the beginning and making sure it's part of the architecture of your software and doing it in a proactive way, it's just tremendous, can't even describe it.

Jennifer Bonine: So important. It's interesting too that you mentioned performance, and we were having a discussion earlier this week about—performance was huge, right, earlier, like before Y2K, and so people are all about, "Do we performance test?" And then it was like, we got our large ERP implementations and we went, "It's all good, nothing's changing." And now with how fast we move, do you guys have a strategy about all-around performance and building that into your automation so that you're routinely checking?

Jennifer Scandariato: We do, we do. So, I've been at iCIMS for almost three years now, so this coming February will be three years, and what we did is we implemented it more formally. And then as it became more mature, we've slid it left. So now we do in-sprint verification at the unit level using tools like JUnit and other things. And the automation that we're doing, we're trying to leverage that so that we're not creating two separate scripts, but we're creating one script that can be leveraged for both. So there's a lot of great work that the teams have done specifically around performance.

Jennifer Bonine: So another thing to think about getting, I think, educated on is, how do you build in performance testing? You also mentioned security. Security, as we have seen, and security of your products and applications, is so critical. Equifax, there's so many major issues that have hit the news, and that's one also where accessibility, which you don't hear about till it's a problem. It's not one of those things a lot of people talk about till it becomes an issue and legally they're held liable, and same thing with security. Like, we don't talk about it until something major happens, and then all of a sudden it becomes an issue. So any advice on that front?

Jennifer Scandariato: We've done the same thing, just what I explained with performance, we've done it with security as well. So we have in-house tools that allow us to scan our applications. We do that at the agile level within sprint. As all of our CoEs that we've set up, we have an outside kind of industry partner we rely upon to double-check and give us those certifications. So we try to do that proactively so that they're not finding things we already know about and we do address. So very similar.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and building all that in farther up front, as you mentioned.

Jennifer Scandariato: Even up until requirements.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Easier to fix in the beginning versus waiting till the end. All those types of things, I think, are great advice for folks out there that are saying, "Where are some areas I should focus or some things to think about?" I love the concept of those. We've heard of centers of practice or centers of excellence for a while, but really nice to hear about how to employ that in an agile world and how to have those experts that can kind of go in and coach and mentor on very specific topics that teams may not necessarily have the expertise on but want to learn how to do that in an effective way. So I think that's amazing, and great too that you have that.

So for some folks, if they want to get in touch with you and say, "Hey, you know what, Jennifer, I have a ton more questions I'd like to ask and we didn't get into them," what is a good way for folks out there if they're interested to find or contact you?

Jennifer Scandariato: I think Twitter is a great way to locate and communicate. It's @jscan, it's pretty easy, J-S-C-A-N, pretty easy to get a hold of me.

Jennifer Bonine: J-S-C-A-N, so that's how you can find Jennifer and talk to her about maybe some of the concepts that she mentioned today. Any last little tidbits or words of wisdom to folks out there that are saying, "Hey, you're here you're presenting, what should I do if I want to do that?"

Jennifer Scandariato: I think just having the initiative to go out and learn and grow and knowing that there's no right way or wrong way. I've worked in several companies, you can't just apply a cookie cutter to one company and all companies. You really have to assess the environment, the industry, and what you're trying to accomplish and how quickly to do it. It differs.

Jennifer Bonine: Yup, absolutely, great advice.

Jennifer Scandariato: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks, Jennifer, for being here with us. Stay tuned, we'll be up next with some more interviews, so we hope you guys stay tuned in to our interviews this afternoon.

Jennifer Scandariato: Thank you.

Jennifer SJennifer Scandariato is the director of test engineering and leads the Women in Technology initiative at iCIMS, the leading provider of innovative software-as-a-service talent acquisition solutions. Jennifer has more than twenty-one years of experience developing technical solutions to drive growth and profitability while increasing customer satisfaction through high quality and overall engineering effectiveness. She is a frequent keynote speaker at schools, as well as women and leadership conferences in the New York metropolitan area.

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