Focus on QA: An Interview with Madalina Samoila

As part of our focus on QA, we have talked with Madalina Samoila, Lead QA Engineer at GAN. 


What is your current role and responsibilities?

Currently, I am a QA Lead at GAN. As we often see in QA, the role involves everything between managing a team of 6, leading 2 tribes, suggesting (and sometimes executing) process improvements and team ceremonies, balancing workloads, and last (but not least) promoting team building and cohesion between offices in different parts of the world.

It can be challenging but having the power to push for improvements and seeing the results can be very rewarding.

What was your journey like?

I started off at the age of 20 as a games tester for EA and Ubisoft as a “foot in the door” to become a developer. Funny story, there were so few women in the testing department that we each had our own bathroom stall!

After a couple of jobs as an Android developer and .NET developer, I realised that ultimately I had a lot more fun as a tester, and never looked back. Of course, many QAs find that in our role we often have to wear many hats, so on top of my development experience I also ended up gathering some scrum master knowledge and even BA.

Around 9 years ago, I made the switch to automation, starting off with SOAP UI and Groovy, then Selenium, Cucumber with both C# and Java. My first managerial role was at Elsevier 4 years ago, which helped me discover my passion for mentoring and helping others.

What drew you to the tech industry?

At the age of 7, I enrolled in a free programming course at a local children’s center as an after-school programme. They taught us QBasic and let us play Wolfenstein 3D after class. I enjoyed it so much that I continued throughout school and until today, switching to Turbo Pascal, C++, Java, etc.

Being into video games since the age of 4 (on my Chinese Nintendo NES clone called a “Terminator”) might have also contributed to my passion for tech.

Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?

Over the years I’ve tried to learn from colleagues, as well as managers or leaders. Sometimes they will teach you what to do, sometimes they will show you what not to do.

I think the biggest positive influences over the years have been Catalin Arghiroiu and Victor Vrinceanu (from my last job in Romania at Code Factory), Natalie Wood who was my manager and mentor at Elsevier and without whom I would not be the manager I am today, and my current manager at GAN, Dono Greeff (Dono, if you’re reading this, I’m not trying to suck up!).

How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?

I believe that conflicts, as long as they remain professional and respectful, can be positive and a driver for change. I ask people to remind themselves that ultimately we are all here to build something good, and a different opinion is not an attack but merely a different way of looking at things. Similarly, obstacles can give us the push to improve ourselves, learn more, and maybe think outside the box.

Having said this, I know that work isn’t always rainbows and puppies, and sometimes these conflicts and obstacles can be stressful and daunting, which is why I also make sure my team knows that they can always come to me to vent and ask for advice and that I will always have their back.

What are your current goals?

Here at GAN, my main focus is to improve processes overall, help make communication more transparent, and make quality the primary concern from the beginning of the development process.

Additionally, I am trying to bring our team members from across the globe closer together and move away from silo-ing which has been made worse by lockdowns and working from home.

What are you the proudest of in your career so far?

It’s hard to come up with one specific thing. Probably the most fulfilling has been the mentoring aspect of my role, helping others develop and advance in their careers. I also try to be the kind of manager that I would like to have, and be empathetic and supportive with the people I manage.

Seeing people flourish and achieve their goals makes me very proud and happy to be part of their journey.

What is the favorite part of your job?

Pretty much the answer to the previous question, the mentoring aspect of my role is probably the one I enjoy the most, even though it can be quite challenging at times.

What has been your greatest challenge?

I think my biggest challenge has been (and still is at times) the temptation to be a friend to the people you lead or manage. Especially if the relationship is developed over a longer time it can be very tempting to let it become very casual and become more emotionally invested than you should.

I have learned over the years that this can damage your professional relationship and sometimes make it much harder to deliver constructive feedback, deal with performance issues, not to mention it can make other team members feel like you are playing favorites.

What’s the most important risk you took in your career?

Dropping out of university was probably the biggest risk I ever took, and everyone around me at the time believed it was a huge mistake. However, I did have a plan and have never regretted that decision. By the time my former colleagues graduated, I was already mid-level with 3 years of experience.

What have you learned from your experience?

An important lesson I learned in my career that is also incredibly useful in my personal life, is how to set emotions aside when a clear head is needed. Whether it’s to do with a workplace conflict, delivering difficult feedback, making a decision, or attempting to convince others to adopt a new process/tool.

It can be so easy at times to take things personally or have an emotional reaction to a conversation, especially via text or call, so it’s important to be able to remain calm and rational instead of escalating an already difficult situation.

Do you have a memorable story from your experience you’d like to tell?

During a meetup to get to know each other better at the StarWest conference, we discovered that a surprising amount of testers have at some point in their lives beheaded a chicken with an ax. Think of that the next time you say “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring testers who want to grow in the tech industry?

While honing your technical skills is of course crucial in this line of work, don’t leave your soft skills behind. Even if you’re not interested in a leadership/management role, developing your social/soft skills and your negotiation skills can help you immensely.

Understanding what drives others and how they prefer to interact can make a huge difference to how you and your achievements are perceived, how willing people are to help and mentor you, and how likely it is that your issues will be addressed.