Careers Spotlight – James Sheasby Thomas, Test Analyst
Job title: Test Analyst at Inviqa
What do you at Inviqa?
I work across multiple project teams that are building content management systems, e-commerce sites and custom web apps. As Test Analyst, I test new features and fixes as they are developed and deployed, and collaborate with my colleagues and our clients to clarify requirements, assess risk and identify potential edge cases. I also do my best to emulate the mindset of the user, to ensure that the products we build are enjoyable to use and will handle anything that a user might throw at them. In a full-service digital agency environment, the technology stacks and business requirements can vary dramatically from project to project, so as a tester I have to constantly adapt my approach and tools to match.
How did you get started in tech?
I studied Music at Cardiff University. I’ve never been that good a performer though, so my aim was to get into Arts Marketing – ideally working for an opera company, arts venue or orchestra. I took on a volunteer marketing role for a student-led opera company and did a placement for Welsh National Opera, but unfortunately, it never led to any full-time work. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but in the post-recession environment, the pool of arts jobs was ever-decreasing as a result of funding cuts and a slowdown in art donations. Instead, I did a short work placement with a software company called LexAble. This started out as a standalone website job (retrofit a static site into a CMS platform), but during my placement I got involved in copywriting, dealing with suppliers, office admin, IT support and a whole host of other things. At the end of the placement, I was delighted to be asked to stay on permanently! As the company grew in size and hired more people, I started to specialise in marketing and digital communications. As well as writing content for printed marketing materials, user manuals, blogs, social media, and direct communications, I also managed our relationships with suppliers for marketing materials and graphic design, and project managed a full website build and the creation of promotional videos.
You might be reading my story and wondering why a Music student took such a dramatic change of career path after falling at the first hurdle. The truth is that I’d always been interested in computers and websites, but had never found a practical route into a tech career until I did that work placement with LexAble. I’m very grateful to LexAble’s director for giving me that initial opportunity, and for trusting me to get involved in so many aspects of a technology-driven business. One of the many responsibilities I took on in that job was software testing, which helped me to get into testing full time. I liked working for such a small business with constantly evolving challenges, and the same is true of the digital agency environments I’ve worked in as a tester.
Looking at my fellow Music students that I knew in Cardiff, a surprising amount of them have gone on to work in technology roles such as web development and digital project management. I think there are two main reasons why this is the case:
Both technology and music involve taking something abstract (code, pixels, notes, rhythm) and turning it into something tangible (software, music) that others can consume and, hopefully, enjoy.
Musicians are also an enterprising bunch – to put on a concert or any type of performance you have to collaborate with others and make use of your own secondary skills to plug the gaps. The same could easily be said of technologists – we all have our specialisms, but we also need the ability to put on additional hats when circumstances require it.
Can you describe the route into becoming a Test Analyst?
At the end of 2013 I decided to move to Yorkshire to be with my wife. While crashing at her parents’ house, I spent a few months applying for jobs in arts marketing and marketing in general. I think I did well in interviews, but I kept ending up in second or third place behind candidates with more straightforward arts and/or marketing experience. At the same time, I kept my ear to the ground for digital roles that would match my skillset. I spotted a Testing role with Numiko on Twitter and decided to go for it, emphasising my love of the web and the soft skills that I’d developed as a musician and working for a small business. At Numiko I worked on a range of CMS and custom web app projects for charities, broadcasters and nonprofits, and also had the opportunity to do some UX research and accessibility testing. Testing was a new role for both me and Numiko, so it was a great opportunity to learn on the job and evolve my processes as I gained more and more testing experience.
At the end of 2015 I joined Byng, a software consultancy. As with Numiko, I was Byng’s first tester, so it was an opportunity to take what I’d learned in my first testing role to develop a testing approach that worked for me and the business. Byng specialised in CMS and custom-build web app projects too, but I also had the opportunity to work on a hybrid mobile app project and some early Angular/NodeJS web apps.
In Autumn 2016, Byng was acquired by Inviqa, a leading technology partner based in the UK and Germany. This was the first time I’d worked for a larger business, and I was quite wary at first. But despite the unexpected change in employer and company size, it’s worked out really well for me. Our office in Leeds has grown to accommodate our new Inviqa colleagues, and it’s given me the opportunity to get involved in new technologies and learn new strategies and skills from other people from all parts of the business. One thing I love about Inviqa is that, despite being quite a large company among its peers, it’s managed to keep the energy and enthusiasm of a small digital agency. I’ve also enjoyed having other tester colleagues that I can speak to and collaborate with.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
Moving from Cardiff to Yorkshire with no job lined up was a massive challenge, but it also gave me the opportunity to get into the web industry that I’d admired from afar for so long. So despite the hardship of temporary unemployment and having to uproot my life, I’m so glad that I decided to make the change.
Being a solo tester, as I have been for most of my testing career, can also be quite challenging.