Steven Boutcher
Quality Time

Quality Time

My Tech Career Origin Story: Part II

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Steven Boutcher
·Jul 9, 2022·

14 min read

For Part I, go here where I tell my story from 2017 to 2020. What follows is everything that has happened since then, up through July 2022.

Recap

I started off my story talking about how I had big dreams for myself growing up, but eventually found out that finding my path in life was harder than I thought it was going to be. I hopped between many entry-level jobs, chose a major in college that I'm not using in my current career, and I had to claw my way into a QA role through self-advocacy, hustle, among other things. I left off talking about how I was getting ready to be hirable as an SDET on my QA team, and that I thought it would be good to try that out before going for some feature developer role. My end goal was a front-end developer role, which is the skill set I had been teaching myself for almost 3 years at that point.

SDET: Getting that first developer job

Spoiler alert: I got the SDET job! But it took another 6 months after my first blog post left off. Between August 2020 and February 2021, I was busy learning enough to become hireable as an SDET:

  • I made it known to my manager and the QA Automation manager that I wanted to be an SDET
  • I asked the managers questions about how I could prepare and what to study
  • I took a course on Ruby on CodeCademy
  • I took a course on RSpec on Udemy
  • I studied QA Automation team's workflows and project repos
  • I made a calculator app in Ruby that I tested using RSpec

I did all of this while still excelling at my Functional QA Analyst role, and that meant using some of my nights and weekends studying this stuff. That was fine with me, though, because I was enjoying it. I often used some of my workday hours to study, too, because that's the kind of company Fetch Rewards is. They value education and professional development. I think it's becoming more popular for companies to champion upskilling during business hours, anyway.

When they finally transitioned me to an SDET role, I was over the moon! I was finally being paid to write code! I was still tasked with helping with functional testing like in my previous role, but it was heavily deprioritized so I could focus on learning how to write automated tests for the mobile app. I talk more about what I learned during my first few months as an SDET here and here.

I ended up becoming an essential player on the QA Automation team, writing tons of documentation that served to speed up onboarding for half the team as it exists today (I'm the one who onboarded them, too). I learned how to write mobile automation tests, API automation tests, and I even improved upon the mobile automation framework's reporting. By the end of 2021, I was starting to feel the itch for front-end development again. I knew I could have a career in QA, but I couldn't fully move forward with that until I had given front-end development a fair shake, and there was only 1 way to do that that made sense at this juncture.

My Greatest Achievement

Before I launch into how I gave front-end development a try, I wanted to talk about something else that happened at the end of 2021.

I GOT MARRIED!!!

Sam Martylewski, my amazing partner in crime and best friend, finally traded in her title of "fiancée" for the new title of "wife". Our wedding was small with a few close friends and family, and we held the ceremony and the reception in the same spot. We rented a cute little AirBnB with log cabin vibes out in Door County on a lake and had the wedding on October 30, 2021. We wrote our own vows, we did the whole thing outdoors where we could be near all the beautiful fall foliage, and we even held a Zoom meeting for friends and family (and even coworkers) who couldn't make it...or who just didn't make the tiny guest list we'd made for the in-person gathering. What can I say, we weren't excited about hosting a large group of people, and I have a very big family.

It was perfect. It was exactly what we wanted! We hired a photographer and an officiant who were willing to do a small non-religious outdoor wedding, and we loved working with both of them. Rev. Joan Shiels and Heidi Hodges, in case you know someone who wants to have a Door County wedding ;) Our photographer took us over to Cave Point County Park for photos, and it was just gorgeous weather that day. We got some shots with waves crashing behind us over the cliffs, some with us walking through the autumn foliage. I remember it like it was yesterday.

The greatest achievement I've ever made will always be marrying this woman, because she is my person, and I couldn't have done any of this career nonsense without her by my side cheering me on and supporting me during the hard times. I'm grateful we get to have adventures every day and share our very own adventure together. And now, it's official! We're happily stuck together for life :P

wedding.jpg

The night of the wedding, we had s'mores with the folks who were staying the night at the AirBnB, and admittedly threw a whole bunch of things into the fire that maybe shouldn't have been set ablaze. It was silly, it was beautiful, it was a reflection of the love we shared. We stayed up until October 31, our favorite holiday, like the Halloweenies we are.

Then, 3 days later, we took a 2-week vacation to explore Seattle and Las Vegas for the first time in our lives. Just to name a few things we did:

  • Enjoyed a "flight" at The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle
  • Viewed Seattle from atop the Space Needle
  • Went on a harbor cruise
  • Ate chowder at Pike Place Market
  • Stayed in a fountain view suite on the 30th floor of the Bellagio
  • Got our pictures taken with a couple of Vegas showgirls on the strip
  • Experienced our first Cirque du Soleil show
  • Gambled a little too much
  • Rode a helicopter into the Grand Canyon

We'll never forget our honeymoon, and we're still totally psyched about our decision to marry each other almost 9 months later, so, I'm gonna take that as a good sign ;P

Coming Down From Cloud 9

With our wedding festivities and extravagant honeymoon in the rear view, we had to find a way to readjust to our work routines, and I had to figure out what I wanted to be doing in 2022. I started giving some thought to the prospect of doing front-end work as a full-time gig, and I approached my QA manager about it. He told me I could potentially do an apprenticeship over there if one existed, and if there wasn't already one, it could be created, but I'd have to be sure I wanted to go that route. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided there wasn't a future where I'd be happy never having tried front-end.

So, it was a go for early 2022.

Going for the Gold: The Front-End Apprenticeship

I had proven myself to excel as a Support Agent, QA Analyst, and SDET at this point, and arguably, a Technical Writer, even though that wasn't ever an official title of mine. My managers were more than happy to give me the opportunity to shine as a Front-End Engineer at the company, especially because I'd already made 2 web apps that improved the QA Analyst experience and team culture. This opportunity came in the form of an apprenticeship on the Front-End Engineering team.

It would be the first of its kind, because nobody had ever tried to transition to that team internally before me. I knew I could hack it as a hobbyist at this point, and my code had been good enough for the company to let it into their private repositories, and I really wanted to see if it was something I could be paid to do full-time. I let my manager know I was interested in it at the end of 2021, and in January 2022, I was thrust into an informal mentorship on the FE team to help with the company's new B2B website that would eventually see public eyes.

At first, I was just tasked with writing UI components using Svelte, TailwindCSS, and TypeScript. These were all new to me, but I picked them up pretty quickly, and with a little help from the team. This was fine. Then in the same week, I was given 2 other projects to get going on, one of them being a web scraper (vanilla JavaScript), and the other being a new workflow in an existing web application (React/Reflux). The static website was the least scary because all I usually made in my free time were static websites (I hate back-end development lol). The scraper seemed similar to my SDET work, because web scraping is essentially the same as E2E automated testing, except the end goal isn't verification, but utilization of the data found on the page for some other purpose. The web app workflow was terrifying, and I avoided it like the plague because I had no idea what I was doing.

A couple months went by and I found myself abandoning the other 2 projects for the web scraper, because it had a deadline in danger of not being met while the other 2 didn't (or so I thought). Before I ditched the static website, I had created a component that still lives there today (yay!). For the web app workflow, I had literally made the navigation menu link with a simple dropdown before leaving it to gather dust. The web scraper was fun, and I managed to optimize login scripts for it and mentor the new web scraper apprentice so she knew what I knew. I felt like I really shined in the web scraper space.

Just when I got comfortable with the web scraper, I was told there was a deadline nobody had mentioned for the web app workflow, which was the exact manifestation of my worst fears. Not only did I not know what I was doing, but I had a timeline to deliver by. Admittedly, this pressure helped me rush my take-home assignment, which was the only way into the formal FE Apprenticeship, and when I finally turned it in, I passed! I was going to be promoted to a FE Apprentice role!

During the chat that preceded the apprenticeship, I was given feedback about my take-home assignment. I was told that while I went above and beyond by adding an E2E test and used a wizard format instead of a single-page format typically used for the assignment, I was a bit sloppy and left out some key details that would have made it better. Of course, there's always room for improvement, right? I was told that my strength was clearly static websites, but that I would want to use the apprenticeship to improve on my unit testing and web application infrastructure skills.

After I was given the promotion, I was promptly moved to a new pack (our word for cross-functional teams). That meant I had to drop the work I was doing on the pack I was on for my informal mentorship, and pick up new work on the new pack. I managed to tie off the work I was doing on the web scraper and cleanly hand it off to their web scraper apprentice. I had already tied off my work on the static website and it had been handled by 2 other engineers for at least a month at this point, so I wasn't concerned. The web app, however, I felt bad about how I'd left that, and I knew someone else would need to pick it up because I couldn't balance that work with my new pack's work.

Fast-forward a couple of months and I was neck-deep in Svelte/Tailwind/TypeScript again, but this time, for a new internal web application. Another FE engineer had picked up the dashboard workflow I had left behind and finished it. I had done a few odd jobs for other packs without FE resources and increased unit coverage in 3 different project repos. I was getting the hang of it, but something was beginning to feel off.

A Moment of Disillusionment, but also Personal Growth

I had felt mega-stressed for the 6 months I'd been in this front-end engineer apprenticeship. I had figured it was simply growing pains, because let's face it, I had to pick up a new JavaScript framework, a new CSS framework, TypeScript conventions, how to write unit tests, how to work in a codebase that used Reflux when I had never learned any state management system like Redux before, how to do web scraping, and it was just a LOT. So sure, I can't blame myself for thinking that spending January 2022 through June 2022 constantly being challenged to grow would leave some scarring.

The more challenges I conquered, though, the more out of alignment I felt with myself. I wasn't as excited about working on the 2 static websites I made for QA, or about my own side projects. I felt drained. Even when I felt drained in QA, I would still spend some time putzing around with my web development side projects. In short, I had come to the realization that I might not actually want to be a front-end engineer full-time. It might just be a hobby for me.

I felt shocked when this thought kept occurring to me over the course of May and June, and when I was told that my apprenticeship was going to be extended 4 weeks so I could work on a couple things, I knew the feelings were justified. That's because, these were the 2 things:

  • Prioritize work according to what the team needs, not what you enjoy the most
  • Only work on 1 thing at a time

These things weren't an issue in QA, because my priorities always seemed to naturally align with the team I was on. That's because all QA stuff was interesting to me all the time, even if some of it frustrated me. I would happily power through and finish the job without ever wondering if QA was for me. In my heart, QA was my calling, at least in the tech industry. I just didn't feel the same about front-end development. I'd much rather do projects:

  • How I want
  • When I want
  • With the technologies I want

I realized that web development for me is a creative outlet, not a profession. I didn't want to ruin the thing I enjoyed for the sake of play by making my work fit into the boxes created by others. I'm 100% fine with QA not being a creative pursuit. For me, that's not what it's about. It's about serving the user and finding the bugs that could break the user experience. I'm not gonna be upset if I can't use my favorite tools, because, well, usually I can, but also, that's not what I find valuable about QA. As long as I can do testing, I don't care what tools I'm given. I'll make it work.

Coming Home

On June 17, I confronted my FE Apprenticeship manager, and I told him what my heart was feeling. I told him I wanted to go back to QA. To my surprise, he and my QA managers all understood, and so did my mentors and manager from the mentorship. They all understood the value of doing what's best for you, and that the company was a champion of the individual finding their best fit role. He did admit it was a bit out of left field, and who can blame him? It was out of left field for me too. I certainly would have enjoyed more advance notice, but this is the way it needed to be.

On June 20, I returned to my role as SDET on the same pack I was on when I left QA 6 months prior, and ironically, it was the same pack I had been moved to for the apprenticeship, so I didn't have to switch packs when I moved back to QA. I got to pick up my backlog where I had left off, and to my pleasant surprise, the SDET who had taken my place during the first half of 2022 had completed some very important work for me that I could now cross off the to-do list I had left behind.

A Few Weeks Later...

I'm happy with my decision. It turns out I have zero regrets about leaving front-end, even though I probably would have gotten the full-time role at the end of it. It just wasn't what my heart wanted, and I'm already excited about my work again! I'm adding an Android 13 device to our mobile automation framework in anticipation of our app supporting the new OS version in August, and I'm a happy camper.

I've closed the front-end engineer chapter of my life ("at least for now" some of my teammates will insist). Some of my coworkers even joke about me trying Design out in the future because of the way my career has trended upward on the SDLC (Support -> QA -> QA Automation -> Feature Developer -> (Design, the next step)).

I imagine I'll start building my career in QA, and continue working on my latest side projects. I'm in the middle of making a course on Udemy that helps people get promoted more quickly based on how I think I've done that at this company. I'm also making a web app that helps grocery store cashiers learn PLU codes faster and in a fun way that doesn't feel like flashcards. Sorta like the Duolingo of grocery stores.

We'll see where things go, but for now, I'm happy closing this "origin story" thread. From now on, it's just "my journey", and "the next chapter". I started this journey to become a front-end developer, and ended up finding more joy in QA. I'm sure it's not the last experience I'll have, and I look forward to all the growth that's waiting for me down the road.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

 
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