Archive: May 2016

Getting the MIT Education I Should Have Gotten After High School

Today, I am glad. I am so very glad that I took this week off for a much needed vacation. It’s not exactly a vacation. I am helping my husband complete our state tax forms and working on home renovation stuff like scraping paint off an old window and doing a new paint job on the room that will be our son’s new bedroom when it is finished. And to mow the lawn because the grass had gotten about 18 inches tall. Definitely not the kind of vacation that inspires the envy of one’s co-workers and friends, so I won’t be posting any photographs of my family looking obnoxiously happy in an exotic locale. I might post the photos I took yesterday of my son looking tired and hot and my daughter chewing enthusiastically on an empty water bottle at Edaville, a local amusement park for the younger set. I don’t know how other parents manage to get photo-perfect moments of their toddlers and preschoolers. My kids had a blast, but I could only take photos that gave the impression that my kids wanted to give the world a pint-sized middle finger.

I have not written more than 100 lines of code since I completed the localization support for the page objects two months ago. Since then it has been manual testing all the time. QA Director had a heart attack two weeks ago, which I partly ascribe to the pressures of the job. By the time this happened, he had stopped talking about all the great things that were going to happen for our team. A few months ago, he said there were plans to expand the team so that we could do the kind of career building projects that ambitious people salivate over. I think he’s getting the same kind of bait and switch as my old boss. When my old boss recruited me, she was in the process of building out a team of QA super stars whose mission would be to implement a top notch system testing infrastructure. That never happened. We are still doing the same old manual regression testing we were doing four years ago. About 1/3 of the way through the team-building process, her open requisitions were yanked out from under her and she never got them back. My company, like many, loves to talk about much they want great QA, but they want it all for next to nothing. It is clear that the QA function is the last in line where resource allocation is concerned. We still have not closed the deal on our POC Sauce Labs services, a measly 10 test VMs that can barely service a half-assed regression suite for one simple application. Unfortunately, there are security implications to opening up our test environments so that they are accessible from the Sauce test VMs. Getting over this hurdle requires cooperation from another team. They have to configure the environments before we can use Sauce to test against them, and we are probably on the bottom of their list of priorities.

Before his heart attack, QA Director told me that we would be getting a dedicated support staff to support the test environments, which is great news. The shitastic state of the test environments has been a giant source of frustration and there is literally no one in the company who thinks they are properly supported. Up until now, we have all had to rely on the support staff for the production system and a cadre of volunteers to keep them up and running. Otherwise, I doubt there will be much additional investment in our function. Whenever there is money to hand out, every function is competing intensely to get it for themselves and QA does not get a VIP invite to that kind of party. We were even displaced from the space we were given in the new office they moved us into last week. Product Operations and Marketing were unhappy about the spaces allocated for their groups, so they were allowed to take our space from us and now we are no longer located right next to the development teams. Colocation of QA and Dev was highly touted as one of the great benefits of moving to the new office space. When the employee engagement survey results came back last year, there was some ‘concern’ at how terrible the morale for our group was and there were a fair number of earnest promises that these issues would be addressed. I am dying to know what the results of this year’s survey will be.

All of my spare time these days is devoted to MIT OCW. I am working my way through the readings and lectures for Mathematics for Computer Science. I am making Anki flash cards for all of the material as I progress through the course. It is highly labor intensive, but the effort will pay off in that I will thoroughly learn all of the material in the course and I will have spaced repetition flash cards that I can use daily to ensure that I don’t forget any of this material over time. After I complete this course, I am going to go through the intro to algorithms course and do the same. Afterwards, I am going to try out the harder programming problems posted at LeetCode and HackerRank. If I can quickly solve those problems, then I will consider myself prepared to tackle the coding interviews. I found that as I got into the harder problems, I was missing the core algorithmic knowledge they were designed to assess. I could cram, but I don’t want cram-style knowledge. I want a thorough and solid grounding in these concepts. There is no short cut really.

I am about 2/3 of the way through the Mathematics for Computer Science, which is MIT’s introductory discrete mathematics course. Compared to my UMass Boston introductory discrete mathematics course, it covers more material at a deeper theoretical level. Calculus is also a two semester affair at MIT, rather than the three semester program at UMass Boston. There are a few things I wish I had done in my life. I wish I had applied to MIT and chosen to go there for computer science rather than comparative literature at Harvard. Barring that, I wish I had just sucked it up and taken private loans and gone to school full time at UMass Boston for computer science. I tried to cut down on my debt burden by doing school part time and working full time, which in hindsight was a terrible idea. I did not give myself the opportunity to gain the kind of education I should have gotten there. I missed too many classes and focused too much on just getting the degree. The better choice would have been going to MIT for computer science from the beginning. I blame my indecisive and feckless youth for the meandering and unfocused I path I took to this point in my life.

I want to get into data science or machine learning as a developer not a QA jockey. I have given up on quality assurance as a career that is going to offer me any real serious engineering challenges. Most companies just want someone to verify that buttons are enabled and that 1 plus 1 equals 2. They tell potential new hires that the positions they’re offering will be engaging, challenging career-building automation and infrastructure opportunities, but in reality, they want all that amazing automation and infrastructure for nothing more than the cost of a glorified button clicker. Verifying that the button is present and clickable will be the new hire’s first and foremost responsibility. There will be thousands of buttons too, and lots of input boxes to test. Only after the QA engineer laboriously writes all the test cases related to the clicking of buttons and entering of text into input boxes will they be permitted to even open an IDE to write code for automating away that soul-sucking, mind-destroying monotonous shit. Except there will never be any time for automation because they will have run the regression suite of button clicking tests over and over and over again.

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Swimming Upstream In Molasses

I am demoralized today. It’s as if my previous post was a preamble of sorts for the trajectory my work life would take. I’ll start with my arrangement to work from home 2 days a week. Last week, QA director asked me to come to his office. After closing the door, he opens with, “Do you remember when we agreed to revisit your work from home arrangement in April?” This comes as a surprise to me because we did, in fact, revisit this subject during my performance review in which QA Director told me that he was fine with allowing this arrangement to continue and that he would defend it if questioned about it. I reminded him that we had revisited this issue already and that he had agreed to allow it to continue indefinitely. I did not remind him that he subsequently made the case to me that I had been granted some monumental favor. He brushed this aside like the consummate gaslighter that he is and complained that other people had been ‘asking him for things’ and it was getting difficult because our department has a stated policy that employees only get one day a week to work from home. This incident is not the first time that QA Director has said something only to later pretend that he never said it. He asked me if this was ‘demotivating’. I sat there trying to figure out what I should say to this, since there is a constellation of issues that serve to demotivate me and since I am actively preparing to exit this job within the next 2-3 months, I said simply that this alone was not a demotivating thing. I did not say that adding it to a growing list of things which I find objectionable about working here was basically confirming to me that the time had come for me to move on.

We had a discussion in which I said the policy itself made no sense and reminded him that another employee had been granted full time remote work. I didn’t mention that this kind of privilege seems to always be granted to male employees. I am saving that one for my exit interview with HR and the Glassdoor review I will be writing after I leave. He hemmed and hawed and said that this kind of arrangement is given to employees only when the role is ‘right’ for it and QA roles just aren’t that kind of role because QA people need to go to standup meetings. I guess creating a conference call for a 15 minute meeting once a day is just too hard. The only difference I can see between a QA role and any other technical role at the company is that it is the one technical function which is performed mostly by women.

After he jawed on a bit about the difficulty of handling employees who aren’t getting all the same perks and how everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, the meeting took an interesting turn because he asked me if I thought things in the group were better now. I know that this kind of open-ended question typically means that he is on a fishing expedition, so I asked what he wanted to know about specifically. He asked me if I thought things between me and Principal SDET were better, which was funny because she has been on maternity leave for three months. I said that we had not spoken to one another after The Great Test Case Labeling Shouting Match. This rang my unspoken subtext radar and made me think that the reason my work from home arrangement is being revoked because Principal SDET wants something similar now that she has two small children, one of them a 3 month old nursing baby. I don’t personally like Principal SDET and I definitely don’t think much of her technical prowess, but given her situation, I think some more work from home time would be a reasonable thing to ask for. It really screws up breastfeeding to not be able to feed a baby on demand. It made me sad that QA Director’s response to this situation is to take away a perk that I was told I could keep just to avoid giving this flexibility to a nursing mother.

I suspect he also was trying to find out if I knew that Principal SDET’s minion has been grumpy and insecure about our new hire because he thinks she is getting paid more. I know that The Minion spoke with QA Director and wanted more money. The Minion has been positively insufferable with the new hire. He has been acting like he is her supervisor, dumping tasks on her and demanding that they be done within a specific time frame that he pulled out of thin air. He gave her the task of writing UI automation for some dashboard application and said she should be done in three weeks. She went looking for test cases in JIRA Zephyr and found none because The Minion and Principal SDET are just too good to do something as lowly as write test cases. She began writing them, but the Minion told her to stop and just start coding.

Junior Engineer Who Should Be Senior and I had a good laugh going through all the test automation code in Stash that The Minion and Principal SDET wrote. We are both bewildered that Principal SDET and The Minion are treated as if they walk on water by management. The Minion claimed that he spent three weeks writing UI automation for the dashboard application that was made obsolete by changes in the application which is why he dumped it on the new hire. Neither Junior Engineer Who Should Be Senior nor I could understand how a couple small page objects and ten simple tests could take three weeks. Junior Engineer Who Should Be Senior is inheriting an automation project that was written by Principal SDET. The developer is over the moon because Junior QA Engineer Who Should Be Senior has a great reputation for getting automation done. He complained that the automation that existed was terrible and that he constantly had to patch it up just to get it to run, so he as delighted to be getting an automation engineer to re-write it.

But I digress. There is something interesting about QA Director’s sudden about face on work from home because for the last two and a half months he has hardly been in the office at all himself. His dog is sick and he needs to be at home a lot to take care of him and ferry him to and from doctor’s appointments. He has even stopped alerting the rest of us whether he will be in the office or not on any given day. He is burning through PTO like there is no tomorrow. It makes me wonder, given his employment history of short stints at several jobs in row, if he will flame out and be out of this role within another year. He reminds me a little of another boss I had who also had a similar employment history and condescending attitude towards female subordinates. He flamed out spectacularly in under two years.

I think the thing that pisses me off most about interacting with QA Director is that I always have the sense that he is just waiting for me to stop talking so he can start talking and push whatever agenda he has. He has taken to interrupting me during my status reports in team meetings several times to remind me to keep things in mind that a retarded monkey would know are important, like, “Make sure you focus on the highest priority stuff” and “Stay focused on what’s important” and or to ask a question that reveals an assumption that I don’t know basic shit about time management and task scheduling. I really dislike people who talk down to me. At no time have I let a higher priority task go undone so I could noodle around on something I liked more. Another habit I have noticed is that he addresses female employees with ‘Young Lady’. This would be charming, maybe, in a totally different context, but not in the workplace. It has a weird, diminishing quality and if I wanted to unwrap it even more, it has a lot of weirdness in it regarding ageism and women too. I’ve come to the realization that the only direct supervisors I’ve ever had who treated me like an equal, took me seriously and listened to me are women. Every male boss I’ve ever had has been very dismissive, quick to assume I don’t know what I am talking about or listened to me only halfway with that “Waiting for my turn to talk” attitude.

So, now we have a new manager who, predictably, is also a man. He has hardly said a word to any of us since he started, but has been going to lunch and interacting a great deal with upper management. Not that I wanted him to buddy up with anyone because that kind of thing makes me not trust a new supervisor, but it does reinforce the feeling that this place is a boy’s club. Once thing I need to keep my focus on is getting a few more years experience and then striking out with my own consulting business. I am sick of working for patronizing dudes who themselves are not particularly competent and who want to hire people like themselves. I am still pissed that the only people who got fired are two women over fifty. Another manager in different location was not fired, but demoted to Principal SDET despite having a terrible track record. All five of his senior engineers quit and they were vocal on their way out about how little they respected his management style. Yet, he still has a job and my boss was sent packing.

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