I was recently interviewed on a podcast called “IT Career Energizer Podcast”. Phil Burgess is the host of the podcast, and it was a lot of fun.
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Welcome to Test and Code, a podcast about software development and software testing.
I was recently interviewed on a podcast called the It Career Energizer Podcast. Phil Burgess, the host of the podcast. And it was a lot of fun. I think it turned out well, and I wanted to share it with you here with Phil’s permission. Of course, there are lots of other cool people he’s interviewed, so if you enjoy this episode, maybe check out some of the others. I’ll go ahead and leave Phil’s intro and outro intact. So here we go.
Welcome to the It Career Energizer Podcast. For anyone who wants to build and grow a career in It, develop and improve your strengths and skills, be inspired and motivated by the successes of others, manage your career progression, and achieve your It career goals. And now your host, Phil Burgess.
Welcome to episode 123 of the It Career Energizer Podcast. My guest on today’s show is Brian Ockin. Brian is a lead software engineer for Rodent Schwartz. He is also author of Python Testing with pytest from Pragmatic, host of the Test and Code podcast, and cohost of the Python Bytes podcast, and has spoken at Pnsqc and Python. US. So, Brian, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Yeah. I’ve always considered myself a software engineer, but a lot of the making software engineering work better has often been around automated test and code. That’s where a lot of my effort is going in the last maybe 1015 years.
Okay. How did you get into automated testing?
Basically, it was a requirement at work. I work in the test equipment industry, and we do automated tests and regression tests for all of our source code and, of course, the instruments themselves. And getting involved with that myself as well as I don’t know, in the early two thousands when Extreme Programming and Test Driven Development started taking off, I started reading about that and getting involved.
Yeah. So I think you made a good move at the time because obviously things like test automation in particular with the advent of agile, as you mentioned, and also DevOps is making a significant contribution to that movement.
Yeah. It’s exciting to see it getting more attention.
Yeah. Cool. Okay, Brian, can you maybe share a career tip with the It Career Energizer audience, one they perhaps don’t know about and should?
I think this applies to really everybody, but I’ve been working usually with larger companies when I listen to some entrepreneurial podcasts and whatnot there’s this idea that, like, the big companies are, I don’t know, there’s like a separation between the people and the company, and I’ve never really got that. So I guess my tip would be to try to align yourself with the goals of whoever you’re working for if you’re working for a larger company and then always try to be more valuable than the sticker price of your salary so that you’re a good deal. I think everybody should always know about what they’re worth around if they had to leave the company as well.
Sure. So presumably from your perspective, that ties in with understanding how what you do contributes to what the company is trying to achieve.
Yes. I’ve seen people do things where I think if this was your money, would you pay somebody else to do what you’re doing now for your salary? And it better be a good deal.
Okay, Brian, can you maybe tell us about your worst it career moments and what you learned from that experience?
I’ve had so many, but I wanted to bring up a lesson. I used to think that process improvement in making the lives of the engineers around me more effective. And I knew what we were doing within the software team and the pain points we had to try to improve those. Those are always a good thing. But there was a time I was working in Oscilloscopes where I kind of did a stealth mode, stealth mode, product improvement. I was doing this without the knowledge of my supervisor or my manager, and it ended up being a powerful thing to automate the bite and the register settings from an FPGA to the software. There was a disconnect there, but I spent a lot of time making that better and to improve quality and remove human error. However, I did it all in like stealth, and my manager didn’t know about it, and I was spending too much time on it. And the disconnect between the organization knowing what I was doing and the output, it just didn’t go well. From his perspective, I was just not getting my work done that I was supposed to be getting done. And from my perspective, they weren’t appreciating this thing that I was doing for everybody around me. So I think that stealth mode is not a good thing.
Sure. So it’s a bit of a combination of understanding what your priorities are and making sure people are aware and bought into the things that you’re actually doing.
I think there’s always room for don’t ask permission to fix your own process. However, it can’t be a big chunk of your time. If you’re spending over 10% of your time doing process improvement, your boss needs to know about it.
Yeah, absolutely. Right.
Okay, Brian, can you maybe now tell us about your career highlight or greater success?
Well, I think my involvement in pytest and getting the book out, the Python testament pytest was definitely the highlight. It’s cool to write a book, but one of the things that when I started working with Pragmatic, I thought I was an expert in my test. But through the process of putting together a complete book, trying to learn all of the corner cases so that I could teach it to other people, the process of writing the book made me an expert so I created my own expertise by teaching.
So the process of actually understanding and finding out more about it must have been beneficial to you and your career going forward.
Anyway, I was going to be the first published book about pytest, and I didn’t want to do this against the wishes or the ideas of the core contributors. So I really was in the open and working with as many bytes, core contributors as I could to make sure that I was representing the project.
Well, right. When was the book published?
It was one of those things where it came out a little earlier in like a beta form, but it was the end of 2017, the first edition was released, and I’m still at a first edition, but we did do some fixes and updated a second printing this last year or this just a couple of months ago.
Sure. And it’s available, presumably online. Amazon and other well known distribution.
Yes. Where all fine books are sold.
Indeed. Exactly. Is it in Kindle form as well?
So, Brian, what excites you about the future of the It industry and careers in It in particular?
There’s actually so much that excites me about it.
It’s hard to pick one. One of the things that I’m really excited about is people talking about how we’re teaching programming and computer science science in schools and even just individually. And this is a topic that we haven’t nailed the right way yet. But I think we’re still working on it and trying to tweak it. And I really like that because when I came into it at University, I thought, you’re just going to learn from smarter people, and we’ve got it and it’s done. But we’re iterating and trying out new ways to teach people and teaching people younger.
Yeah. Are there any particular areas that interest you in particular, or maybe technologies that for you?
You can see a real future with people from all fields. Incorporating programming with all other fields, I think is one of the wonderful things when we start teaching. I know it’s happening in some schools here in the US. I know that’s happening more in Europe and in the UK where there’s more early teaching of programming early on in school will help all other fields.
Learning how a computer works and how to program some simple automation skills is going to help you whatever field you’re in. And so all those bridging of different fields is great. Of course, since I’m focused on testing a lot, I’d like to see people asking the question, how do you know that it works, and how do you know that it’s going to keep working?
And ask that earlier on in the education process, we still kind of teach that at the end.
We do. Yeah. I know from talking to various people within the industry in the UK that still the degree courses are very much or quite light still on QA and testing in general, it’s really seen as an afterthought. And it’s all about design and development and delivery as opposed to necessarily making sure that the product actually works when it’s delivered.
Yeah. For instance, I learned some electrical engineering while on the job. But people that work with electronics, you would never teach people how to do electronics without showing them how to use an oscilloscope. That’s how, you know it’s working sort of stuff.
We’re going to go into the reveal round now. We’re going to find out a little bit more about you and the way you think. Are you ready for this?
Okay. So what first attracted you to a career in it?
When I was early 80s. Somewhere there the TRS 80 from RadioShack came out in the US, and it was a combination game system and little computer that you hooked up to a TV. And one of the things I did was and I used to use it for a game console for the most part. But then I got bored with that. And in the back of magazines you can type in programs. And I didn’t know what they were doing, but one of them was Lunar Lander.
I remember typing that and it took forever. And of course, it didn’t work right away. I think I had some problems with it. So figuring out why it didn’t work. Okay. And then when I got bored with that tweaking, it like, well, trying to figure out where gravity was calculated and mucking with that and trying to increase acceleration. And the odd thing was they had it really tuned pretty well. And it was playable at first. And almost every change I made to it made it like impossible.
But then I kind of let go of it and I ended up entering College thinking I was going to be a fine art major and then switched to computer science at University. Right.
So you made the decision while you’re at University.
Was there a particular reason for doing that?
Mostly student loans.
Yeah. I thought maybe the odds of paying them back were different in a different field than fine arts.
Okay. So, Brian, what is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I think I already alluded to it earlier, but there’s this little book called from O’Reilly called Team Geek. The subtitle is The Software Developers Guide to Working Well With Others. And of course, I picked it up because working with others is sort of been a challenge for me, and I had to learn that on the job as well. But that was where I got the idea of your focus. You need to be spending at least 80% of your time creating the value that makes money for your company. And so you definitely need to do things like dealing with technical debt and process improvement and stuff. But those activities should be under your time, it can go over, but those need to be short, short bursts. So I think that’s good advice.
Yeah, very much so. Yeah. So, Brian, if you were to begin your It career again right now, what would you do?
I would definitely not dismiss the Web so fast.
I knew the Internet was going to be a big thing.
I was in graduate school in the early 90s and remember playing with the early Mozilla browsers and whatnot I learned HTML, and we actually used Pearl on the back end back then, and that was fun. But I thought I think at the time they were also going through these automated systems where you could drag and drop windows. And I thought the actual crafting of web pages and websites and applications is going to be either done by robots or monkeys in the future. So I kind of dismissed that as a career path.
Now I’m relearning it. So I relearned it about ten years ago and learned some PHP and some other things. And now I’m jumping into the Python version of websites as well.
And what career objectives are you currently focusing on?
I think I’ve got a good take on how to pragmatically use software testing to make software development faster and make great quality products and not slow things down. Right now my focus is on broadening the reach, doing more teaching, doing more talking, getting out there, teaching within my own company. I’m trying to teach more people within my own company, just broadening my reach outside of my own work group. That’s what I’m focusing on.
Right. Okay. Any thoughts about more writing or conference speaking?
I love speaking, even though it’s terrifying and going to conferences. I submitted a bunch of talks to Python. I don’t know if that will be around. I’m kind of a homebody, though, and a family person, and so traveling is even something.
I definitely will. But there’s always that’s one of those things of doing conference speaking as a side job is all those plane tickets and everything. Those are all just out of my pocket, so it’s a tough thing to try to do, but I want to do it anyway.
And what’s the number one nontechnical skill that has helped you in your career so far?
Learning how to listen to people and really listen to answers and empathize?
Yeah, that’s definitely a skill a lot of people probably ought to develop further. I think that there’s often too many people thinking about what they’re going to say as opposed to listening to what the person who is actually talking is trying to communicate.
Yes. And in the act of podcasting and interviewing people, I write down things I want to talk about, but it’s on the spot. There’s been so many times where I’ve listened back while I’m editing an episode, and I realized the second question that I had for somebody, they already answered it. If I would have just listened closer to the answer. So the act of podcasting has actually made me a better listener throughout my whole life. I think I do better at work now and also through my personal life and at home.
Okay. Brian, can you maybe share a parting piece of career or advice with the it career Energizer audience?
I want to encourage people to teach.
I think the act of writing things down and trying to explain something to somebody else, people know that teaching is the best form of learning, and blogging is a platform that everybody has access to, And I think more people ought to be doing the personal blogs again. I’d like to have those come back more.
Yeah, that’s a good point. I think getting your message out there and telling people what you do and what you’ve learned, I think is valuable, Certainly for the people reading it, but also for yourself as well. So, yeah, I totally agree.
A great way to find an answer to something Is to write down that you have the right answer. And even though you know it’s not right, the internet will tell you wrong and tell you the correct answer.
And Brian, finally, what’s the best way we can find out more about you and connect with you?
Well, if you can spell my name, it is Ocken, but it’s O-K-K-E-N but I’m usually all over the place. But the main place right now is if you go to Python testing. Net, you can link to everything else. So that’s a good place. I hang out on Twitter a lot, so Brian Ock and Twitter is there too.
Great. Brian, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. It’s been great chatting with you.
Oh, thank you. This has been fun.
A quick thank you again to my guest on today’s show for sharing their career tips, advice and experiences. You’ll find a show notes page for today’s episode on the itcareereenergis website, which will be itcareereeneghs coma and then the number of today’s episode. Now that there are three new episodes of the show every week, make sure that you’re subscribed to the show so you don’t miss out. And don’t forget to join the new it career energetic community group on Facebook. If you’re enjoying the podcast, It would be great to hear from you and to learn about your own career journey, your successes, opinions and thoughts on the future of the industry. Thanks for supporting the show. And remember, if you’re not growing your career, you’re slowing your career.
Thanks for listening to the It career Energizer podcast. To find out more about building a successful career in it, visit itcareeregizer.com.
I hope you enjoyed that. I have a whole bunch of really amazing people lined up the interview for test and code, so stick around to this podcast also. Thanks.