Welcome to the next part of our Women and Diversity in IT editorial series. This series aims to speak with women about their experience in the IT and Testing industries. Focusing on their stories, their highs and lows, their role, their advice to aspiring women testers and engineers, and who/what inspired them to pursue a career in IT and climb the ladder, we will explore what is it like for women in tech industries: from the diversity and inclusion to the challenges and successes.
Divya Sharma is a Global Software validation manager at Hollister Inc.
So, we talked to Divya, to find out more about why she joined the tech industry, what was her experience, what are the challenges she faces as a woman in Testing, and her advice to aspiring women engineers and testers.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?
I am currently working as a Global Software validation manager at Hollister Inc. My primary responsibility is to enable Software Validation strategy ensuring manufacturing and IT functions follow the best industry practice.
What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?
I graduated in hospitality management and always had a keen eye for quality from the very beginning. Surrounded by computer engineers at home, I was consistently learning about software development and requirement management, which over time piqued my interest in this industry.
Initially, I was critiquing their plan, reviewing the project plan, and asking questions, which I guess must have helped them and so I was suggested to pursue Software testing as a career. Well, I have a knack for finding faults and devising strategies to solve the challenges; so I suppose testing as a career became an obvious choice.
Did you study IT and if so where and what was that experience like?
I graduated in Hotel Management, followed by an MBA specializing in Human Resource Management. Most of the essential IT skills were acquired as part of academics but finding the first IT gig required taking a variety of professional courses and certifications to prove my credibility and abilities.
The initial experience of picking the new skill set in IT was quite daunting and often felt like a long journey before I could pivot my career. Fortunately, I was able to navigate the right software courses including getting certified in CSTE and PMP, and with great mentorship that was readily available within my close family.
You are a Senior Software Quality Professional; can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?
I started my career as a part-time quality assurance tester while pursuing my MBA. Working as a consultant, I was exposed to finance and e-commerce domains that helped me understand the underlying processes and challenges. After marriage and kids, it was time to settle down.
In 2008, I joined GN resound, a medical device company as a QA engineer, where I spent almost a decade. The health industry was quite different from my earlier experiences, where having a quality product was as important as documenting the process to develop the product.
Over the span of 11 years at GN, I gradually took over the responsibility of managing a large team of 60 engineers as a Senior QA Manager. It was a great educational and motivational experience where I interacted with customers, held discussions with the executive team on efficiency & productivity, created new processes, set up not just new teams but also an entire new offshore operation.
In addition, during that tenure, I completed PMP, Six Sigma Green belt, Operational Analysis, and few other certifications. In 2019, I moved to Hollister Incorporated, another medical device company where I am responsible for Global Software validation.
So far, this has also been a remarkably humble journey and a great learning experience.
What do you think of gender diversity in testing and in the tech industry, in general?
Luckily, my testing team consisted of more females but overall, departments like IT, R&D were male-dominated. In my view, tech industries are still struggling to get gender diversity right.
There are still far fewer females in the engineering field and it is not that we don’t have qualified women engineers but I believe unconscious bias still hinders the hiring decision.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt that your gender affected the way you were perceived or treated? If so, how did you handle it?
It would be delusional to deny the existence of gender bias in the IT profession. I recall many meetings, where I was the only woman manager in the room. Initially, it was a bit of a struggle to be the only female representing an IT team.
In a project life cycle, it is quite common for management to reduce testing time in order to meet the previously scheduled launch dates. This was a constant challenge for me to fight for getting enough testing windows to complete a decent amount of testing of a constantly evolving product in an agile setting.
Well, somewhere I had to change my strategy to make sure I was being heard. I knew I was pretty experienced with the domain, QA methodologies, and testing, but initially lacked the confidence to be assertive. I had the knowledge as my strength and all I needed was the ability to convince executive management to categorize testing as a non-negotiable part of SDLC. I made a few changes in my style, became more vocal & assertive in the meetings, started standing on my ground, and if there was a push to cut off the QA timeline then I would get that officially in the project communication.
It took some learning but after a while, management realized that QA’s time cut doesn’t speed up the project, in fact, it does the opposite.
The key lesson is that these struggles might not be always externally influenced but more internally created due to self-judgment and perception so it’s important to focus on what is right for the organizations and have a competent, confident voice so people will listen, understand and agree.
What do you think are the challenges women come across in that industry?
While it’s hard to generalize challenges as background, social upbringing, environmental, team structure and organization leadership are often factors that give birth to different situational based challenges but in my opinion, low confidence and lack of courage is quite often a common factor among Asian women.
Looking back, I always knew the subject but feared how I would be perceived. Women, in general, often worry about how they will be judged. I believe most women, like myself, overcome this with experience.
Do you have any ideas or initiatives that could benefit women working in the tech industry?
Initiatives need to start early from school. There should be more female teachers in STEM who can be role models and can motivate young girls to take computers, math, and physics as core subjects.
I am part of SWE (Society of Women Engineers Chicago Regional) which provides a platform to women and helps them in networking, learning, and training. Women who are already pursuing careers in technology or want to make a shift should join different technical platforms such as SWE or AnitaB.org.
Have you helped to introduce any other women to the industry?
Yes, as a people manager, I have had the opportunity to hire and train many women. Most of them wanted to make a career in the testing field but had no prior experience. I would hire them as interns, train them for a year or more, and eventually help them find a permanent position within my organization or outside by referring them to my network.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in tech?
Well, for sure it is not boring. I get to work and learn about new technologies. There is lots of flexibility and the pay is great.
What is your expertise and what is a typical day for you?
I started my career as a test engineer so I am well versed with methodologies and processes. I have had the opportunity to set up new QA teams in-house and offshore. I believe my expertise is in creating a self-sustaining team, streamlining processes, standardization in returns improving overall efficiency. Currently, I am working with cross-functional teams creating new processes and defining policies for standardization, and optimizing business processes. Most of my day goes into change management.
What is your favorite part of testing?
I try to understand the overall application and then test the system from the customer’s perspective.
I think testers know more about the application than anyone else. They have all the background information, a better understanding of features, regulations, and defects.
Do you have any advice for women considering a career in the tech industry?
I definitely see more women in the tech industry now than before. My advice is to use resources in hand like LinkedIn. Join different groups that promote women in Tech. such as SWE. Create a long-lasting network and keep updating your skills. This is a field that keeps evolving so to sustain, it is vital to keep learning.
Finally, do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you would like to tell?
Sometime back, one of our biggest clients identified a major edge case-patient risk defect, which my team could not find. I was being told that the client does not trust the internal QA testing results and would be running their own testing. Well, that meant 6 months of delayed-release and losing the organization’s faith in my team.
This was embarrassing and upsetting and I decided to do something. I reached out to my senior VP, shared my plan to connect directly with the client’s team to understand their use case scenarios. This would help me grasp the difference in client’s testing, which my team did not cover during system testing? Initially, he was skeptical but decided to go along. The client’s leadership team was also delighted with the proposal and agreed to support it. I formed a team consisting of QA, UX, and developers to visit different client locations.
Result: That was an eye-opener experience for both my team and theirs. We were able to integrate their use cases in our System test plan and they got to learn about our detailed testing strategy. That small suggestion did not just end up fixing the problem but created a long-lasting relationship between two organizations.
It was considered a strategic move and there were some discussions to put a dedicated Customer-Driven testing and development (CDTD) team in place.
I believe Quality/testing groups should always see the world through their customer’s eyes