Sprint’s Journey from Testing Organization to Quality Advocate: An Interview with Aaron Haehn

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Aaron Haehn, the director of quality assurance and release at Sprint, explains how the telecom giant has evolved during its long lifespan. He details the company’s new focus on software quality and how the mobile industry has changed so much over the years.

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back with more interviews today. I hope everyone is tuning in again with us for these. I'm excited. We have Aaron with us—he's our first one up today for interviews. Aaron, thanks for joining me.

Aaron Haehn: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: For the folks out there who haven't met you and maybe didn't get to see your session, can you give us a little bit how you got here? Like, how did you end up at this conference?

Aaron Haehn: My name is Aaron Haehn. I'm the director of quality assurance and release at Sprint. I ended up here because we started talking about the journey that we've been on of Sprint transforming from a testing organization into a quality advocate. How do we really improve the level of quality of the software that we're releasing to support our subscriber base as well as our internal customers? Some of our partners from CAA suggested to come and attend and that people will be interested in our story, so we took advantage of it.

Jennifer Bonine: I think that's an interesting topic. I've heard a lot about you. You talk about the quality advocate, and we talk about being that voice of the customer, and the QA, I think, is uniquely positioned now in some of the transformation to be that.

Aaron Haehn: Yeah. It works out really well, and we're very fortunate at Sprint. Sprint has been in the headlines for decades, and whether good or bad or just in transition, it's a great evolving story. Part of the evolution center is very specific about what we're trying to do and we really mimic the larger effort of Sprint within our QA group. We've really noticed and we've been afforded the opportunity by our leadership. We have Scott Rice as our CIO and Jeremy Anderson, who's the vice president that I report up through, they're very supportive all the way up to our chief operating officer, about improving the quality and the experience of the applications that we release. And when you get that kind of support from top, you literally can move mountains, and that's where we find ourselves.

Jennifer Bonine: You think that's been a key in your transformation, is just that supportiveness also from that leadership team to understand the value?

Aaron Haehn: Definitely, and I think ... I'm very proud to be here and just able to represent, kind of be the face of the organization that I'm here on behalf of, both from Sprint as well as our testing organization at Large and our release management folks. And to be able to articulate the value that they add as well as the journey that we find ourselves on, it makes it pretty exciting. And then, for all of the efforts that we've done over the years, those efforts continued to occur. Now it's an added benefit of having executive understanding and appreciation, and once they throw their support behind you, there's nothing that we really can't accomplish.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. Now, you've been with Sprint, I think you said twenty-three years?

Aaron Haehn: Twenty-three years.

Jennifer Bonine: A long time.

Aaron Haehn: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: Any themes you've seen from starting with Sprint to now, around pace of change technology? Obviously there have been a lot of changes in the last twenty-three years and in that, but just some thoughts from you on how you've seen Sprint evolve and kind of where you're at and where you see it going?

Aaron Haehn: When I started, it was in the ‘90s, and we were predominantly mainframe with a lot of mature applications, and it was also very centralized and focused as a ... billing was our primary and wire line long distance was our primary offering. And it's really evolved, as a telecom, is it has evolved, matured and we've moved to wireless handsets and on demand data and just cutting the cord, what it's allowed us as a society to achieve, let alone what it's meant for the change of the infrastructure within Sprint.

Sprint been extremely successful at expanding the network. They've invested a lot of money in it, and it just highlights the need for the IT organization to keep up with it so that we can support all of the new features and technology and capabilities that that expanded network has.

Jennifer Bonine: Because I would even imagine, you used to see, maybe years ago, where people had a home phone or were using, like you said, the long distance as the primary service. Now you've got almost all consumer spending on the market. I'm sure you're talking about more than one mobile device; cell phones, tablets, all those things, plus maybe multiples. Some people carry multiple sets of those. There's the work usage, there's personal usage, needing accessibility to those devices, not wanting downtime. People want to be able to use those devices.

And I heard a statistic, and I wondered if you guys had heard it, that on average, most people are no farther than an arm's length away from their mobile devices at any time. They're always accessible to them.

Aaron Haehn: I hadn't really heard it. But then again, I have teenage daughters, so kind of I get it.

Jennifer Bonine: They're attached to them then. They are probably closer than an arm's length.

Aaron Haehn: If it gets beyond an arm's length, I think there's like a proximity alert that goes off.

Jennifer Bonine: Panic sets in.

Aaron Haehn: Yeah, it is. The environment's changing, society is changing. And one of the unique things is, how do we position ourselves to create the capabilities and the experiences and make sure that they're solid and quality every time? Because when you do go and you sit and you take a look at the industry and you take a look at where we're moving as a society, people want the instant access. And you get one shot at it, and if the quality of what we're delivering doesn't create and keep those individuals happy, then we've lost them. That's how serious I take my job. How serious the organization takes their job and what we're trying to accomplish.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, you have to because now, there's been a major shift, I would say, even in the last year and a half, two years, where there aren’t the same contracts. We're not locking people in for multiple years, so if I have a bad experience with a provider, I just say, "Forget it. I'm going to a new one." And there are other options. So you have a lot less locking people in, at least from a consumer perspective is how I see it, than what you used to have for that loyalty.

Aaron Haehn: The challenge that we see is that, before, it used to be, "How do I get you as a customer?" And anymore, it is, "How do I keep you as a customer?" It's not just enough to get somebody in the door and get them a device. It's once they get there, they have to continue to have an experience, because there are other options. And folks aren't afraid to go and investigate other options.

Jennifer Bonine: And change.

Aaron Haehn: And change them. Because it literally is about, "What have you done for me lately?"

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. Consumers have a short attention span. I found lately, in lots of areas where, to your point, you have to keep them, and you have to keep them engaged and be on the cutting edge of what they're looking for and provide it. We were talking before we started, so you guys didn't get to hear this conversation, on some new technology, for example, that you guys are developing around the, I believe it's the Magic Box?

Aaron Haehn: Yeah. Marcelo, our CEO, had basically highlighted that one of the challenges that we have is a lot of times density of signal in certain areas. How do we extend that? One of the announcements that they made had to do with Sprint's introduction of the Magic Box, which is basically a wireless cell site and instead of having to plug it into your internet or your high-speed internet attachment, you actually just have to plug it into power and it extends that coverage. It's a wonderful device.

Jennifer Bonine: Literally, you can take it anywhere.

Aaron Haehn: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: So it doesn't have to just be in your home or whatever. If someone was traveling and they were going a place that didn't have great signal, we're going to grandma's house, we bring it with, we make sure we can still access.

Aaron Haehn: Yeah. It's really exciting. I have a daughter who is getting ready to go to college, and the college dorm that she's in doesn't have very good Sprint coverage. It's an older, full stone building.

Jennifer Bonine: The bunkers.

Aaron Haehn: And those are hard to penetrate a lot of times. We're really excited about seeing, when she goes to college, we will send one of these with her and see what it does.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. But some fun new stuff in that space, and you guys are obviously going through a massive transformation, if some of the folks out there say, "Hey, Aaron, I want to know more about this." You obviously are seeing some trends, some things that they have questions for you on. They didn't get to see the presentation, for example. How can they get in touch with you to ask some of those questions that I maybe didn't get to?

Aaron Haehn: If anybody has any questions, either about the transformation, about some of the choices that we've made along that path, why we've made them, as well as some of the things that we're seeing with the challenges in our fast-paced industry, I'd more than happy to answer questions or definitely discuss it. You can reach me at my Sprint email account. I'm at [email protected].

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. That's easy. I guarantee it's going to be getting 200 emails, get ready.

Aaron Haehn: Fair enough. I have to set my filters though, because if my bosses don't filter to the top, then I don't want to hear him complaining about, "You're just dealing with all those stories, questions."

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thanks, Aaron, for being here with us.

Aaron Haehn: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: I appreciate it.

Aaron Haehn: I appreciate it.

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