Steven Boutcher
Quality Time

Quality Time

Violin, World Languages, Parkour, and Coding: How My Hobbies Nurtured a QA Mindset

Steven Boutcher's photo
Steven Boutcher
·Dec 8, 2020·

12 min read

I've been plagued by FOMO all my life. I have many interests, and for a long time, I never understood what they all had in common. I figured I was never going to feel excited enough about any of them and I'd be doomed to be an Undecided major in college.

Little by little, I'd start to understand myself to be excited about problem-solving. I discovered I have a love for challenging myself and finding creative solutions. I liked breaking down barriers for myself and others and honing skills with a kind of perfectionist attention to detail. I delighted in the details of both problems and their solutions. This is how I ended up in software QA, but this mindset had been nourished for almost 2 decades before my first day testing software.

When I was in 4th grade, my parents signed me up for orchestra. It wasn't my first choice, since I just wanted to play the biggest instrument, but I realized later that I actually totally lucked out. Violin taught me a lot about myself. First of all, that I am detail-oriented. I care when the note is just a little bit off. I always want it to be perfect, and will repeatedly try until I hit it just right. I also enjoy trying to play melodies more quickly, or to try changing up a melody to be a little different. I am a creative person and enjoy coming up with variations and little tricks to perform more efficiently.

A lot of this ties into QA. While quality is the most important, velocity is also good to have so you can push items off your backlog. Enjoying the process of refining something until it's high-quality while also enjoying the speeding-up of that process is what I think makes QA a good fit for me. I don't try to take shortcuts but I don't sacrifice speed if I can help it. Creativity is also important for coming up with unique test scenarios and realizing where edge cases could live.

When I was in 8th grade, I had my first serious exposure to world languages. We were forced to take Spanish, French, and German for a semester to sample them. I ended up pursuing Spanish in high school for 3 more years and then going on to get a Bachelor's degree in it too. What I learned is that I love finding patterns. I would start any language by trying to learn conjugation and grammatical patterns instead of just words and phrases. I figured if I know the pattern, I can replicate it to make learning the language go faster and cost less mental overhead. I also obsessed over achieving a native-sounding pronunciation and always wanted to know if what I was saying was what a native speaker would say.

This kind of obsession over details and getting things right show up in my QA work all the time, and it's usually appreciated. The fact that I love searching out patterns makes it enjoyable for me to do a root-cause analysis on a bug that I find, and so I tend to have really detailed steps-to-reproduce on all of my bug reports, which I'm sure helps developers a lot. I've never heard complaints about it, at least. Also the fact that I always want to be sure that I'm recreating what's expected shows up in my endless curiosity about whether or not I've got the correct expected behavior in my head. I'm never afraid to ask for clarification.

When I was in 10th grade, I started learning how to do parkour. I loved the sense of freedom I got from it, and the way it made me feel in control of my destiny. I think it was the first hobby I had that showed me I'm stronger than I think I am, and to always question my assumptions about my own potential. I doubt I would have tried learning to code if I hadn't had experience teaching myself how to do something challenging like parkour. It gave me that confidence in myself as a self-directed learner. What's more is it gave me a hunger for new skills and techniques. I realized I loved the novelty of learning each new move that I hadn't tried before, and that with each success, I felt more confident and was able to share more with others who wanted to learn too. Parkour, most of all, taught me that I don't need to start out as "the type of person who typically does this sort of thing" in order to become that person. I just need to put in the work.

For someone like me who moved to QA after a short stint on the Support team and who had no college degree in the field, it would be normal to have massive imposter syndrome. For me, that was tempered by the knowledge that I would grow into the role eventually. I had done something like it a few times before, I was stronger than I thought, and I knew that my hunger for new knowledge and technologies would get me where I needed to go. My willingness to be a self-directed learner would help me too, and my love of sharing everything I learned would make me a good teammate. This idea of freedom from the constraints of my environment never left me, either. I was determined to find a career that would enable me to live life to the fullest, and I knew QA was a career path that could do that for me.

When I was 23, I decided I was going to learn to code. My experience in learning the violin and parkour had taught me that I didn't have any real limits, and that with enough practice I could get good at all sorts of things. I knew I was able to find learning resources and teach myself complex skills, so I just gave it a shot. I found out that web development was a good fit for me because it offered a creative outlet that relied on logic and language to produce something that worked. It drew on my desire to make things perfect, but let me fiddle around with the styling and organization to suit my creative tastes. It challenged me to find solutions to logic puzzles and gave me unlimited possibilities as long as I was willing to learn the tech needed to solve the problem.

In QA, creative problem-solving coupled with self-directed learning has done wonders for me. I've been able to go above-and-beyond in ways that aren't normally seen in QA. Front-end and back-end development experience have no doubt been useful for my understanding of API testing and UI testing since I had experience working with Postman for testing a MERN application and knew what ways CSS could break a UI. On top of that, my domain knowledge made it easy to become fast friends with designers and developers right away, since I had something to talk about with them. My innate desire for things to be excellent and to move quickly has made QA an obvious fit for me, too.

I wrote this article not to brag about my hobbies and accomplishments, but to illustrate how seemingly unrelated hobbies can be hints for us. In our lives, we may sometimes explore several activities and find a piece of each one that we like, but we would never do any of them for a career. I wanted to write this to inspire you to do an audit of your likes and dislikes, of the activities and interests you have engaged with throughout your life, and to see what it is that you might be drawn to in terms of soft skills and technical abilities.

I struggled for over a decade trying to pick the right career field. I didn't know about QA until I landed the interview for it, to be perfectly honest. I had spent years wanting to be a musician, psychologist, counselor, translator, interpreter, language teacher, gym teacher, parkour teacher, intelligence analyst, etc., etc., the list goes on. I had never once considered tech as a career field. It only made sense once I had gathered together the various reasons I enjoyed my seemingly unrelated hobbies.

  • Creative outlet
  • Linguistic analysis
  • Self-directed learning
  • Logical problem-solving
  • Helping others
  • Using a specialized skill set
  • Working with things more than people

If you're struggling to find the right path for you, I challenge you to do a similar kind of introspection and audit your life for what really gets you going.

Share this