Yes before No and Building a Culture of Innovation: An Interview with Hilary Weaver-Robb

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Hilary Weaver-Robb, a software quality architect at Quicken Loans, explains how you can create a company culture that encourages trying new things—even if they fail. She discusses the importance of learning, changing roles as you grow, and testing RESTful web services.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, welcome, everyone, to the interviews for the virtual conference. I'm really excited to be here with all of you again. We have Hilary with us. Hilary, thanks for joining us today.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Thanks for having me.

Jennifer Bonine: And Hilary, you work at Quicken Loans?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: I work at Quicken Loans in Detroit, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: In Detroit, awesome. How long have you been with Quicken?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Four and a half years.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay, so a good amount of time.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, they don't get to see this, but we were talking before we got started here about your history with STARWEST and conferences, so maybe just give us a little background on how you came to STARWEST—and you're a speaker now, so how that worked, for some folks out there that are going, "Hey, I want to do what Hilary is doing."

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Okay, so about six months after I started at Quicken Loans, I found out that we have a training budget, and STARWEST was one of the options. We have a pretty generous training budget.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. For all of those who, you out there that want training ...

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yes, and we're hiring, so if you're ...

Jennifer Bonine: And they're hiring.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, I asked my team leader if I could come to STARWEST, and basically had to put together a proposal: what I was going to learn, and how I was going to bring that back to the company to help the rest of the team. That was in 2013.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: That was my first testing conference, because previous companies I worked at, it was, you don't get a training budget, or you get very little if you can drive there, and you don't have to stay overnight.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: There wasn't much. It was great. It was my first exposure being in this room. I generally live-tweet conferences.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, very cool.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: I got a tweeting award or something. I got a Cars mug for tweeting so much. It was just a great experience. I met a lot of great people and just learned a lot, and that started to spark, my wanting to speak at conferences, because that's something I'd always wanted to do. I do have social anxiety, and I'm an introvert, and it was something that helped me to kind of grow and get better, just to be able to talk to people in general.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. That's amazing, because some folks out there, I'm guessing, they're saying the same thing of, "Oh, gosh, I get nervous doing this. I'm not sure about talking in front of people or if what I'm going to talk about is meaningful." I know your talk's today at three o'clock, but what I've heard from a lot of people is, you've kind of just got to push yourself a little bit into that space.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not going to feel super comfortable at first.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: No, it's definitely uncomfortable. Especially submitting to conferences, sometimes you get rejected.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: But you learn from it, you grow, you get better at what you're submitting, and then you get accepted to awesome conferences.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, no, and that's the thing, too, I think, for people to note. That's a great point to bring up, of just maybe because your first submittal doesn't get accepted, don't stop. Don't stop there. If it's something you really want to do, it just takes time, and it takes time for everyone—all the people who've had success or have been speakers at conferences have gone through that, where they've tried. Even a lot of people that have done it a lot will still submit and won't get accepted to certain ones.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Because, again, the reality is, it's crazy the number of submissions they actually get for conferences, and they can only select a small few. You just have to keep trying if it's something you're passionate about.

Now, that's just great to hear that you have an organization that's so invested in training, and getting people education and coming to conferences. Is that something that you think, culturally, just Quicken really values then, as an organization?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Absolutely, yeah. Learning and innovation, we have four hours set aside every Monday for what we call "bullet time" that is just dedicated to nonproduction work, just innovation, building stuff, playing with battle bots, or artificial intelligence, or we've got some virtual reality stuff.

We do mortgages at Quicken Loans. We don't do games or other software, but we have teams that are coming up with these cool ideas that can help us. Even with virtual reality, we can have this crazy thing that somebody came up with that can help our business in some way, or that is just fun, like people are just learning new stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, it's definitely about learning, and just getting better and innovating. It's a really great culture. It's all in the culture. We have what we call "the -isms."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: It's our -isms. One of them is "Innovation is rewarded, execution is worshiped."

Jennifer Bonine: Wow.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: We have hack-a-thons. You can get crazy prizes for them and everything.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah. It's a great culture.

Jennifer Bonine: That's kind of neat to note, for those folks out there that may be saying, "How do I get to a culture like that?" Or, "My culture isn't like that." That maybe they could try some of those ideas, right? Start small. Try a hack-a-thon, right?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Just got approval to do something like that. Which, once you start to get momentum and you have people seeing that there's some opportunities for innovation for other things, it tends to start to hopefully take hold. If some of you are out there going, "We should do that, and we don't do it."

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah, one of our other -isms is "Yes before no."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I like that.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: It's the idea of, just try stuff. Failure is okay, fail fast. Try a bunch of stuff and see what works, because that's how we learn and get better.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, absolutely. And really embracing that's important, right? I love that one. I'm going to take that back. I need to give that to my boss, "yes before no." I have to tell him that.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: We have a whole day training on the culture, so if you're interested, we allow guests to come into the training.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome. I'm going. So, I'm going to go to the training. See, guests can come. That's awesome, but it's great to have that type of environment, right? Then people get excited. They get excited to come to work, they get excited to do things. Like you said, even if you're not a company that does cutting-edge AI or gaming software or you're not into IoT or any of those things, you can still create an environment where it's positive. You have the opportunity to do creative things, and people can leverage their talents and gain new skills.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: There's no reason you can't. So that whole "yes before no" doesn't mean you can't just because you're in a certain industry or sector.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Right. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool. And now, your talk today, it's this afternoon at 3. We didn't talk a little bit about your role, but you're an architect.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah. So, I'm a software quality architect. That generally means that I help other teams with general testing stuff. "How do we test this?" "Can you help us figure out an automation strategy?"

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: But I also write some test automation, as well as support a couple of teams with their testing needs.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. Fun. So you get to dabble in a lot of stuff.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And train and mentor.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, when you came to Quicken Loans a couple years ago, is that the role you started in, or have you changed roles?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: No, I changed roles. So, I started as a software quality engineer.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Then just grew in the company, and that's another great thing about—sorry, I'm turning this into the "Why I love Quicken Loans." But, it's another great thing there, is that you can really make your own career path there and find what fits.

So, I found a team that was doing, that was quality architects for the entire company, and decided that's really what I want to do, and building culture—or, building communities, sorry, and mentoring—I wanted to move into that, so I just was able to move into that team and learned as I went. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: That's really neat. I think what's good for people to hear is what's possible, right? Because sometimes, you get bogged down in what you are today, and not what's possible and what could be. Right? And we get stuck.

So, I think that's one of the great things I've seen coming to these conferences, is just opening your eyes to possibilities, to other things that are out there, that it's really a choice, and you choose your path. If you're not happy, there's other paths you can choose. It's always good to have awareness of that.

Now, the session this afternoon, then, is on testing APIs.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: RESTful web services.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. So, any good tips for folks out there that are saying, "Hey, we need to do that," and, "We do that in our organization." They won't get to see this session, because it won't be broadcast, but what will people get to hear about in your topic?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, I'm going to cover, basically, how RESTful web services are a little bit different in that you don't have the same kind of view in them as you do, like a web app, but you can still apply the same principles that you know, the same heuristics that you already have, to testing web services. You can do exploratory testing of web services.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: You can do crazy security testing. The SQL injection is not just for a form on a webpage. It's for the web services, as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, some of those things that just, how you can change your mindset a little bit and apply that to web services. Then, we're going to talk about some automation, as well. Just walk through just building a couple of test automation in C#.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: I have all of that on my GitHub repository. Everything is public and available for everybody that wants to go through it. The slides are on there, too. So, if anybody wants to check.

Jennifer Bonine: Nice. So, if people want to get in touch with you or want to, I know you said you live tweet, as well ...

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: So, where can they find you if they want to follow you?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, on Twitter, I am Geek Lady with threes—so, @g33klady is my Twitter, and that's what I am all over the internet, is g33klady. So, that's how can find me.

Jennifer Bonine: So, that's a good way to find you.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And then, if you want to follow her on Twitter, and then to find your slides, your GitHub repository is out there?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah. So, GitHub.com/g33klady.

Jennifer Bonine: There you go. Makes it easy. It's easy to find you.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yes, very easy.

Jennifer Bonine: So, you can find her out there on that. That would give them some of the basic scripts to get started with the C# automation pieces for web services and API testing, because I think it's, part of it is, just get started, right?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: So, try it. Explore getting into it a little bit. Now, do you guys have any hesitation or resistance at Quicken around that, or are people pretty much embracing it?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: No, it's really whatever the best tool for the job is, and whatever the best application is. So, we're doing a lot of, you know, we've been around for over twenty years, and we built a lot of our software in-house, and we change with the times. We become agile, we decide that we really need to take some of these monolith applications and turn them into microservices, for instance.

So, it's been a huge push, and having the testing and the quality as a big focus of all these projects has been great.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: I've done some trainings, but we have a lot of team members that are just like even further than me, they just need to be speaking in conferences, too. They've got a lot of great ideas, too.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, that's awesome.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah, there's really no, I mean, it's yes before no. There's really no, "No, we can't do that."

Jennifer Bonine: I love that.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Another -ism is "It's not about who is right, it's about what is right."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, whatever really works.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: It's not like, "This guy went to a conference, and he got some cool swag from a company, so that's the one that he wants to use." If that's not the right thing, then that's not what we're going to use.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You go with what's right.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I love that. Those are some great principles for folks out there. And then again, just for the folks out there that haven't ever been to a conference or had this experience, maybe just give them your version of what you really value about being here in person, or what helps while you're here, or some of the things you try and take advantage of when you're here.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Okay. Yeah. I mean, especially as an introvert, it's a different kind of experience.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: So, I find some people that I know, that I have that advantage that I know some people, so I can stop and say hi or whatever, but being open and walking up to people and saying hi. If you see someone with, like, we have a little speaker ribbon on our badge, so that you can say, "Hey, I saw you speak on this topic, I want to talk more about it," or, "Hey, you're a speaker, what are you talking about?" Just being open to those. Going to the networking events, for sure, because that's how I met so many amazing people that I wouldn't have met.

Jennifer Bonine: Had you not, yeah.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: I still have those relationships now, so it's the biggest part of it, I think. The hallway conversations are the huge part of conferences. Obviously, going to the sessions and learning.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is great, too, but you do get those hallway conversations, and one of the nice things I think people sometimes don't realize is, when you are at these events, all of the speakers are accessible, all of the people who are talking on topics are here, they're more than willing to talk to you. They have tables at lunch, they have sessions in the hall where you can sit down one-on-one and have dedicated time. They're wandering the halls, so if you just want to grab them, like you said, and say, "Hey, let's talk about this topic," or, "I want to know more," that's possible.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: The other neat thing you mentioned, I think, that's really fun about conferences is, you do build relationships with people, and you meet people that are in a similar industry or space as you, and can forge those friendships over years. So, any time you have a problem, a question, anything, you can reach out and say, "Hey, what do you think of this?" or, "Have you seen anything on this?" People are more than willing to help and get engaged and have those conversations.

So, it's pretty neat to be a part of that community, I think. It creates a community, I guess.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: So, for those folks that haven't had a chance to come, hopefully you'll be able to write your business case and justification to get here.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: It would be good if you went and checked out the GitHub repository and some of the information that Hilary has. So, that would be awesome, as well. We learned a little bit more about Quicken Loans, which was fun. Stuff I didn't know before, the -isms. So, I'll remember that, and I want to go with the training, so I'll have to do that, too.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Okay.

Jennifer Bonine: Any last thoughts or words of wisdom for the folks out there that you want to give to them?

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Just keep learning. The fact that we have the free virtual conference is amazing. Just go to YouTube groups. Just keep learning and growing. That's really all I have.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thanks, Hilary. So, take advantage of, like Hilary said, all those opportunities, all of the free mind-share that's out there that people have created that you can access. Great things for all of you.

Hilary, thanks for being here with us today.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Thank you very much.

Jennifer Bonine: And I hope you all check Hilary out on her Twitter account, then also in her GitHub.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Okay.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks, Hilary. Good luck this afternoon.

Hilary Weaver-Robb: Thank you very much.

Hilary WRHilary Weaver-Robb is a software quality architect at Detroit-based Quicken Loans. She is a mentor to her fellow QA team members, makes friends with developers, and helps teams level-up their quality processes, tools, and techniques. Hilary has always been passionate about improving the relationships between developers and testers, and evangelizes software testing as a rewarding, viable career. She runs the Motor City Software Testers user group, working to build a community of quality advocates. Hilary tweets (a lot) as @g33klady, and you can find tweet-by-tweet recaps of conferences she’s attended, as well as her thoughts and experiences in the testing world, at g33klady.com.

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