Tree of the Month: An Interview with Jenny Bramble, Senior Software Test Engineer at WillowTree’s Durham Office

This is the first installment in our monthly blog series “Tree of the Month,” which will profile various team members from our different offices to provide insights on what it’s like to work at WillowTree, as well as the many job roles we offer in technology. I talked with Jenny Bramble, who is a Senior Test Engineer in the Durham office, about her career, why she chose WillowTree, and why she does what she does.

How would you describe your role at WillowTree?

Essentially, I want to verify the expectations that everyone has of the system under test, I want to make sure it does what the developers think it does, what the PMs think it does, what our clients hope it does, and what our end users actually need.

I don’t like to think of my job as “breaking things”, because I feel that’s antagonistic, and I don’t like to think of my job as “making sure it fits the requirements”, because requirements are only one level of usability for a program or a product. There’s the requirements, which basically define what the business wants the application to do – and sometimes when we start doing that in real life, we get an application that doesn’t do what the end users need. So I like to think of my job, especially as a Senior, as looking at the expectations people have of the system and making sure it meets those, or helping to reset those expectations as needed.

Why did you choose to join the team at WillowTree?

I found the Test Engineer job posting for WillowTree on a job board. And I applied. I jumped into WillowTree because they were offering me what I was looking for at that point in my career – a change of pace, the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different software, different styles, different developers. I could work on Android, iOS, a Java project, a React project. A tvOS project. Do you want to do Roku? Sure, that is a possibility. Embedded systems? Okay, we’ve got a few of those lying around. And the idea that you could have this one company that was a microcosm of everything going on in the software world, blew my mind – and I was IN.

I’ve been at WillowTree for two and a half years. I started out as a software test engineer and worked my way up to Senior, which is a lot of fun for me.

What do you enjoy about working at WillowTree?

One of the interesting things about WillowTree is that we are a client services company. We have lots of different clients, lots of different verticals. So you could be working on anything, at any given moment. If there’s a product out there that we don’t support, Biz Dev is going to be trying to sell someone on an app for it.

And what that means for me personally, is: I come from a background of a lot of legacy software. Someone else created it, it’s been around for a while, you can move around within that software, but it was always going to be the same stack, similar people, similar types of requirements, similar projects overall. And with WillowTree, it could be anything at any given moment. Does Kanban work best for your project? Let’s do it. Do we want to go complete Scrum? Let’s do it. Do we need to have a Waterfall-esque thing for our client? OK, let’s have that conversation.

“The idea that you could have this one company that was a microcosm of everything going on in the software world, blew my mind – and I was IN.”

And what that’s let me do, is experience a lot of different styles of projects, and management, and has really broadened my ability to work within a team – because all the teams are different. What’s really fun, though, is that there really are a lot of different projects, using a little bit older [technology], to brand new, to things that are still in Beta. I could be exposed to any one of them on any project I’m on. And that’s what I love best about WillowTree, and one of the ways it’s helped me grow as a test engineer, as a thought leader, and just as a person in general.

Tell us when you made a difference at WillowTree. What are you proud of?

At WillowTree we have the idea of a DRI, or Directly Responsible Individual. This is a person who is responsible for making sure something gets done. It doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself, but you’re responsible for making sure that it gets done. One of the things that I DRI at WillowTree is [Test Engineering] Office Hours. This is a time for the Durham testing group to get together and talk about our craft and improve ourselves. It’s about an hour long, it happens once a week, and I work really hard to source speakers internally. I’m a conference organizer. I speak at a lot of conferences, and I do a lot of speaking mentorships outside of WillowTree. One thing that I’ve been really passionate about this year is bringing more of that into WillowTree. Find the talent that we naturally have in our groups, bring it to the forefront, and allow them to display their expertise. This does a couple of things: helps other people know who to ask questions to, and it gives these people an opportunity to shine.

Conference speaking is a passion of mine. It’s not a passion for everybody. But I think you should be able to give a talk to your peers. By identifying people who are interested in speaking and bringing them in to Office Hours to have a talk lets them show that they can do this thing: put a set of thoughts together, present them. And because we are a client services company, being able to string your thoughts together into a reasonable, logical way is really important. As test engineers, believe it or not, we have a lot of interaction with the clients. Anyone on a WillowTree project could have contact with clients: doing a demo, asking a question, presenting new information… and having a time like Office Hours where you can practice giving presentations is going to make you better at doing that - it’s going to give you more confidence and it’s going to improve the quality of the humans that we have at WillowTree.

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