Unit 203 Maling Exchange Hoults Yard Walker Road Newcastle‑upon‑Tyne NE6 2HL

Career pathways into tech #11: test automation engineer

Neda Vazharova

Neda Vazharova is an Opencast test automation engineer. She explains the career pathway that has taken her from her native Bulgaria to Byker.

What does a test automation engineer do? 

“The job – also known as quality assurance engineer – covers a wide spectrum of skills. It includes responsibilities for assessing the quality of specifications and technical design documents, designing test plans, logging defects, then communicating any of the above with the wider team and SMEs. We automate software that runs tests, generating detailed test reports for the system under test. All of this is done to ensure the system’s under test quality.”

How did you end up doing what you do now?

“I have always known that I love technology, it was very restricted in Bulgaria as it was quite expensive for my family to support my interests. I was an au pair when I first arrived in England until I learned the language and got into university. At university I opted for a more managerial undergraduate degree, thinking that software engineering was a very male-focused industry. After I graduated, I found it very difficult to find a job so I decided to brave it and give it a try so I did a computer science masters at Newcastle University and I loved it! I did my masters over two years because I was also working to support myself. After the first year I applied to be a software engineer intern at Opencast. They were so supportive – I have never questioned my decision to join the Opencast family.”

What makes a good test automation engineer?

“A multi-skilled critical thinker, attention to detail and good approach to communication. Add to this software engineering knowledge and experience in functional and non-functional testing. As with any other software developer this role, in my opinion, needs a constant aim to better yourself. There’s a lot of languages, frameworks and tools that evolve all the time so you need to keep up to date to deliver the best quality software. At times people might think that I am too picky but I owning that with pride.”

What tools do you use?

“The technology we use depends on the projects but it includes Cucumber, which is an open source testing tool and Gatling, which is a very powerful open source load testing tool for performance testing. One of the most popular security testing tools is OWASP ZAP and network protocol analyser Wireshark. For DevOps I use Jenkins which is an open source automation server and monitoring tools such as KibanaGrafana and Splunk.

“Since all the work we do at HMRC (see below) complies with web content accessibility standards, we also use an extensive number of accessibility testing tools including JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver for screen reader and the Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition tool, as well as automated testing using aXe and Wave. There are some great in browser testing options via browser extensions - and one of the best is Pattern Checker, developed by Adam Liptrot, one of my colleagues at Opencast. Other browser disability simulators include Funkify. I can go on for ages, simply because we really care for the quality of the service we deliver and do our best to extend testing in all aspects of our work.”

What are you working on right now?

“For the past few years I have worked on government projects at HMRC. It is challenging and demanding since most of the projects have a lot of publicity about them and there isn’t a lot of room for mistakes. I have developed my skills there because they have adopted true agile ways of working and extended those to deliver great services. When I think of all the project I’ve been on at HMRC I love the fact that they consider all users and are true thinkers in user-centred design. Working in their teams, I’ve had the chance to work on projects from discovery stage through all the phases and directly challenge decisions and make things better for users based on research and analysis. I take my work to heart and  HMRC is a place that respects that and acknowledges people’s opinions.”

What do you particularly enjoy about the role? 

“One of the best aspects of my role is that I get to participate in all stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). I collaborate with cross-functional teams to find ways on how automation can improve the workflow. I also liaise on a daily basis with researchers, designers, business analysts and project managers for feedback. I do end-to-end testing and communicate with a lot of external teams. It is a demanding role where communication, analytical thinking and a critical mind are key. 

“People listen and respect QAs since we are the ones who find all the issues whether it is about the quality of the requirements or of the code. It is rewarding that we are involved in each stage, but also a little bit scary when it comes to making mistakes. At the end of the day we are only human and we miss things - but it is important to own and resolve them promptly.

“If you’re passionate about software engineering and the quality of code don’t give up. There’s a need for people with the skills and companies like Opencast love to give the opportunity to people to develop and better themselves with great clients and challenging but rewarding projects.”

Day in the life

“A typical Neda day involves a lot of coffee. I start around 8.30am and finish around 5pm. Sometimes when things go wrong I may have a longer day, but I prefer to stay longer and have a clean start next day. In agile we have a stand-up meeting in the morning and throughout the sprint other team meetings such as refinement, retros and show & tells. I am also highly involved in a lot of system requirements meetings. Other tasks involve test automation, testing, reviews of tasks in development and showcasing them ready for deployment.”

“I know it sounds cheesy but outside of work I love to upskill myself. I am learning more about other technologies I like and am currently doing DevOps training. Apart from that I love sports. On a normal day I go for a long walk - when Covid started I found a great escape in walking so I had months where I walked in the mornings before work and I did over 150 miles each month. I love playing squash and swimming and when I find more time I spend it hiking. Opencast has a hiking group that I really enjoy and we’ve done some great routes.”

Test automation engineer links

I believe that the best way to learn about a role is to work with a great team – but recently when Spotify released my top podcasts for the year I learned that I am an undercover geek!

My top podcast is the TestGuild by Joe Colantonio - it has some great guest speakers and it’s always interesting to learn what’s happening in the testing world and about new tools used around the globe among testing professionals. 

Eagle Tech Talks and Qualitest’s Testing Show offer a range of talks and Medium publishes interesting reads around software engineering, testing and the software development life cycle. I also like Dan Ashby’s ‘blethering about testing’.

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