Interview with Clare Norman

4 minute read

Clare Norman

Twitter: @clarecatherine6



Where are you in your testing journey?

I have been a tester for nearly six years. I am at a stage where I am starting to figure out my favourite aspects of testing and where I would like to specialise. I’m asking myself where do I turn into a super nerd, what book is my head buried in at the moment, what can I not shut up about in work. I’ve always been more interested in what I label as the ‘human side of testing’. A quote in a talk from a security expert that I saw in 2019 has never left me: ‘If we are to continue to build software for humans to consume, then who should be testing that software? Humans.’ I’m fascinated by the different ways humans interact with our software. I love the idea of quality coaching. I see it as harnessing the power of the people around you to get the best possible quality rather than trying to take on that challenge completely by yourself. I became a speaker for the first time in 2020 on the subject of confidence and mental health in testing and it was one of the best things I have ever done.

The best bug you have ever found?

Recently I discovered if you clicked ‘add to basket’ on a product and then proceeded to the checkout page lightning fast the total cost would be £0 with the product included!

The one that always sticks in my mind though is not a bug that I found but something I missed which was hit by a customer. I was still a baby tester at the time with maybe around 3 months of experience. We had a complaints form which customers filled in and the data was transferred to our internal system for our staff to work on. I was regression testing a new version of this form and in particular ensuring that all of the data from the form was correctly transferred to our internal system. I forget the exact technical workings now but for the text boxes it would take the text that the customer provided, convert it to a JSON file and send it across. There was a character limit on the text box on our side so we enforced the same character limit on the customer side in the complaint form. We received a report from an internal staff member that a customer’s complaint had been truncated. I was dumbfounded, how could this be? I specifically tested for this to ensure we wouldn’t lose this data? It turns out, this customer had used a couple of special characters in their text which were escaped during the conversion to JSON format therefore adding extra characters so the character limit was exceeded! A perfect example of an unknown unknown for me. I hadn’t come from a technical background and I had no idea this could happen. For me that was the point where I started asking a lot more of what I considered to be ‘stupid’ questions and I haven’t stopped since.

Advice you would give to Testers?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Throw some colour into your work. Whatever your version of colour is. Maybe it’s glitter, maybe it’s to assume a character to deliver a message. Communicate with a sense of fun.

Don’t be a gatekeeper but equally, don’t be afraid to stick your tester’s oar in when you see something that deviates from the quality processes which you’ve so carefully implemented.

Never stop learning. If like me, you have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, you’re already working in the best possible place. Indulge that desire to learn something new every day just by doing your job! Every bug you find, every bit of exploratory testing you do is something interesting. Keep a record of those cool things in whatever medium you like, remembering to add your own version of colour.

If you feel comfortable, share your learnings! Even if you think it’s a subject that’s been told hundreds of times, you are the only person who can tell your version of the story. A quote from a Queer Eye episode I loved was from a chef who talked about when groups of chefs get together they try and kill each other with all the food they bring along to feed their fellow chefs. This is what testing conferences feel like! My brain feels so full it might explode after a conference. The testing community is arguably the safest, most supportive place to do that. Full of people who want you to succeed and who raise your voice, I would not be the tester I am today without it.

What does winning mean to you?

Winning for this particular reason is really special. I recently delivered my first ‘in person’ talk on my journey into testing while wrestling with confidence levels, or lack thereof! I talked about letting my personality shine through in my work and for me that’s colour. I also talked about the impact on my mental health during a personal crisis. But it was also about bringing our whole selves to work because we are all human. We don’t become different people when we step into our ‘offices’. My nominator Tom asked a question around what leaders can do to better support their employees in this way. I can’t really remember the answer I gave at the time. I was high on adrenaline from just finishing the talk and it was probably garbled anyway! Having reflected on this question I believe it’s about fostering that environment of psychological safety and demonstrating that it’s ok to bring these things to work. When you remove these filters from yourself you make it safe for others to do the same and this can only be a good thing in my opinion.