“All she could do for all of them was be herself, here and now, as hard as she could.” – An interview with Bruce Hughes
I’m super excited to be sharing a pretty awesome person with you all. I met Bruce a few months back after she did a talk for SW Test which was pretty epic and I knew I needed to meet her! So we met for coffee and spoke about all the great things Bruce has been doing inside and outside of work. Not only is she just a legend but she has a genuine interest and care in diversity and inclusion (naturally, we had a lot to speak about!). I love how honest and real this interview is – it’s a must read for any company who are struggling or have challenges around these types of issues.
SO BRUCE, HOW DID YOU GET INTO A CAREER IN TESTING AND QA?
I kind of fell into it, like a lot of people do. I’d moved to Bristol a couple of years earlier, and had been working multiple part time jobs just to scrape by paying rent and bills, then for six months I had a full time job as an operations manager for a fun science workshop company. I began working 6/7 days a week running the office while also presenting to 3-4 school assemblies, 5 after-school clubs and up to 3 birthday parties every week. I was working myself into the ground for 16k a year, and thought nothing of it until my friends said I should leave and find something better. Not that I had options. I’d always worked either in cafes or in education settings that needed no teacher training, and couldn’t afford to stop even for a week to take a course. It had been so long since I got my degree in earth sciences that it might as well not exist. Where exactly was I going to get a better job than the one I had?
In the end, it was the typical tech story of getting a job through a friend, though he had to really pressure me into it because I thought it to be way too good for me. I am so grateful to the company that took me in, and to the testing community as well, because I couldn’t have carried on the way I had before. Not just the workload, or living from paycheck to paycheck, but the feeling that I wasn’t worth any more than that. I now know how much I am worth, and I will fight and fight and fight to show others who I am. I will give my entire heart to being a software tester, because that’s what the testing community has given me.
WE LOVE HOW INVOLVED YOU GET IN INCLUSIVITY AND DIVERSITY WITHIN THE WORKPLACE – WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES ARE?
Humm, I think about this a lot – being a tester is about finding the problems, right? I’m always finding problems. I’d say the first big challenge is getting the issue taken seriously enough. Diversity and inclusivity are really important, and people generally recognise that… but then they don’t do anything about it. There’s this tendency to think that if you do nothing about a problem but you’re generally a nice person then you’re not part of that problem. No one likes to think that they might be biased, but the truth is we all are. We have unconscious biases that take conscious effort to challenge. A lot of people aren’t willing to recognise the work they need to put in, so you have to convince them of that without making them feel rubbish. You need everyone on board, feeling totally unthreatened by the change.
After you get moving, you need two things: time and knowledge. Unfortunately, those can be really difficult to come by. Startups like the one I work for don’t have the resources for HR or a hiring specialist who could implement or change policies and processes as part of their day-to-day role, so it comes down to the developers and the client team, designers and management. These are people who already have their hands full doing their own jobs, who don’t know what needs to be put in place to make things better. They first have to spend time researching what to do, and then somehow find more time to actually do it, inevitably make mistakes, talk about it, improve again… That’s a lot of time and mental energy you’re asking for, and the ultimate challenge for willing startups trying to do D&I in my opinion.
WHAT’S YOUR ONE BIT OF ADVICE FOR A COMPANY OR TEAM WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION PROGRAMME OR ROADMAP?
Accountability: you need it. Someone or something has to be accountable for the goals, and there needs to be a clear and transparent plan for reaching them. What I did to kickstart the process was to hold a workshop with everyone in the company (fewer than 30 employees). We came up with some definitions for diversity and inclusion, made sure that everyone was onboard with the reasons it’s important and understood that D&I benefits everyone, and then we built the roadmap together. You can see a few more details about it in a company blog post I wrote here or spread out across lots of posts in my personal blog. We decided as a group on which actions were important, and then broke them down into the quarters of the year. By writing the actions down on a board, we made ourselves accountable for completing them. We made a solid commitment to get things done. This was important because if you don’t agree to a plan or write anything down, then the promises you make will disappear as soon as the next big project comes along. This isn’t something you can do overnight – it takes commitment and effort over a long period of time, so you should be prepared.
Might be cheating, but I have a second important piece of advice. I wrote about it recently, but I’ll say it again: celebrate your successes. When you get something done, make sure people know about it. Tell your colleagues that you finally managed to get a document together about cv redacting, that you found a new online resource, that you got things done. No matter how small the win, celebrate. Good job you! You did the thing! WOOO!!!
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PUSH FOR CHANGE AT FRESH8?
I wouldn’t say that there was a single moment that drove me to it, just the uncomfortable feeling of not fitting in and finding it really hard to make friends. Everyone was lovely, but I didn’t feel comfortable going out and socialising at a pub with a big group of men I didn’t know well. It seemed like the wall I had to climb over just to feel part of the team was so much higher than if I’d been a man. I also had no idea if I could come out to anyone, because in my experience you never know which lovely and kind people might turn out to hold transphobic or acephobic views. I was pretty terrified when I started talking about that stuff, to be honest. I suppose a turning point would be when I saw a talk by Mereen Mohammad at the South West Test meetup about her experiences being from a minority group in the industry, and of seeing some really badly implemented D&I. It got me thinking about where I worked – I started asking awkward questions, for which it quickly became apparent there were no answers, and no plan for coming up with answers either. I’m not really the type of person who can let go of perceived injustices to others, so I just kept talking about it and then eventually got fed up and sat down a manager I trusted and the CTO and told them what was going to happen next… It was a list of demands, basically. And when I’d finished talking, heart pounding in my ears, they both agreed that it sounded fantastic. I definitely recognise how lucky I am to have those two, because as much heart/research/planning as I took into that video call, it would have been very easy for them to turn around and say “well yes we obviously care about this, but we have other priorities for the quarter…”
WHAT’S THE BEST THING THAT’S HAPPENED TO YOU THIS YEAR CAREER WISE?
I don’t really know what my career is doing right now, as I’m at a crossroads between different paths through the misty QA mountains. The one thing I can be totally certain was amazing for my development as a tester was going to TestBash Brighton in April through the Ministry of Testing Scholarship programme (thanks, MoT!). I’d go so far as to say that I likely would have quit the role if not for the things I learned and the people I met at TestBash. It can be super frustrating being in a small company, because the available resources for training and progression are limited, and that conference armed me with the knowledge and community I needed to move forwards. Plus it was super fun. I did a 99 second talk in front of 300 people, from which I’m still not sure I’ve recovered…
FAVOURITE SUPERHERO OR PERSON YOU LIVE UP TO?
Everyone and their uncles know that I’ve been slogging my way through the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but Egwene al’Vere is a big inspiration to me right now. She’s just some country bumpkin like me who never thought she’d go off into the world and learn magic – but in the later books, she goes through so much and carries it with such dignity that people can’t help but follow her. I would really love to be like her in the future. This dignified, powerful and kind person who knows when to use each of those traits, if I could have a tenth of her composure and ability to unify people then I would be very happy indeed.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED?
This is very difficult, because I am by nature both self-loathing and egotistical. I happen to know that I am simultaneously the best and most amazing, empathetic, beautiful, intelligent and driven person ever to grace the surface of the Earth, and also a steaming stinking pile of rubbish someone put out on the curb a day late, which has been attacked by gulls and cats until it’s in bits spread all over the road and everyone’s front gardens. I would very much like to be remembered as the first of those two options, please.
QUOTE OR WORDS THAT YOU LIVE BY?
“All she could do for all of them was be herself, here and now, as hard as she could.”
That’s from Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. I just love Granny Weatherwax a lot, even though she’s this traditional old woman who could probably never abide by someone like me. She was totally, unrelentingly and unapologetically herself every moment of every day. Could not have thought for a moment to be anyone else. I mean, she got bitten by vampires and instead of her getting turned, they got Weatherwax’d. The strength of her will and surety in who she is, no matter what, is awesome. If there is one idea that I live by, it is that I am totally and authentically me. So very, very me.
Amazing, thank you so much Bruce for sharing your incredible story and thoughts.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how you’d like to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace then feel free to give us a call! We’d love to hear from you.
Interview by Charlotte Baker
a voice of diversity in tech.