Here are the links to the interview:
- PyDev of the Week: Andrew Knight on DZone
- PyDev of the Week: Andrew Knight on The Mouse Vs. The Python
Here are the links to the interview:
While most of my posts are technical, this one is a personal update:
I have accepted a fantastic new role as a Software Engineer in Test at PrecisionLender! I will be the company’s technical leader for testing and automation: building a strategy, setting up frameworks, writing tests, running tests in a CI/CD pipeline, and educating others. It’s the perfect role for me, and together, we will do great things. PrecisionLender is a very collaborative company that builds a software platform to help banks make smarter loans. They have about a hundred employees right now, and they’re growing. Their Raleigh office is located very close to my home.
With this announcement also comes the bittersweet news of my departure from LexisNexis. After almost a year and a half, it is time to say goodbye. I want to make it very clear that I am not leaving LexisNexis because I am unhappy, but rather to pursue a great new opportunity that providentially found me. My role as a Senior Software Test Engineer at LexisNexis has truly been the greatest opportunity of my career so far. I became a technical leader on one of the strongest test automation teams in Raleigh. I led the development of test frameworks that were shared across the whole company, in addition to writing countless test cases. I did internal consulting with groups across the globe to teach them how to be better testers and automationeers. I even earned the nickname “Reverend BDD” for the many impassioned training sessions I delivered. I grew tremendously in my own professional software skills. I learned from my mistakes along the way with the grace of others. And I found many great, new friends, with whom I will surely miss working. I specifically want to thank my manager, Kalen Howell, Sr., and my team lead, Jeff Wolf, for trusting me to tackle big problems and valuing my expertise. Working for LexisNexis has been a privilege.
My last day at LexisNexis will be Tuesday, April 3. My wife and I will then take a short vacation to Charleston, SC, and I will start my new position at PrecisionLender on Tuesday, April 10. Other than that, I will continue to write this Automation Panda blog and help my wife with her businesses as needed. I will also deliver a talk at PyCon 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio this May entitled, “Behavior-Driven Python.” Be sure to check it out! Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter, too.
I am resolute in my career path to continue pursuing testing and automation. Vocationally, we as creatures made in God’s image ought to seek to glorify Him through our creative work. As software engineers, our form of work emulates the creativeness of our Creator. Much in the way that God spoke creation into being, we likewise speak software into being, albeit in a microcosm. The whole discipline of computer science is itself rooted in language, in instruction. The instructions we issue, and the very systems we construct, reflect the logical, rational, orderly nature of God’s creation. Furthermore, as testers, we likewise recognize man’s fallen nature and our need for correction. The systems we implement will never be perfect because we are not equal to God. In testing, we simultaneously assert the wonders of creativity as well as our need for redemption in Christ – both to the glory of the Good Lord. This is what motivates me to pursue test automation. I thank God for this opportunity. Soli Deo Gloria.
I first started programming back in 2002. In fact, I stumbled into it unintentionally. My high school, Parkville High School, required all students in their Magnet Program for Mathematics, Science, and Computer Science to have a TI-83 Plus graphing calculator. As an incoming freshman, a graphing calculator was a big luxury for me – I spent my entire 8th grade Algebra I class without one, completing all problems by hand. Embarrassingly, it took me ten minutes to figure out how to turn it off the first time! I presumed that my new calculator would be used exclusively for math classes, but in the first few weeks of my computer class, we started programming the calculator. I’m sure we wrote some sort of basic “Hello World” print program, but we quickly moved onto programming math formulas.
It blew my mind.
At the time, I didn’t know what “computer programming” was. In fact, I didn’t even like computers very much. And yet there I was, thirteen years old, telling a calculator how to automatically solve my math problems for me. It was one of the greatest thrills I had ever experienced. I could command a machine to do cool things and make my life easier. I quickly started writing programs outside of class for every math formula I could find: areas, volumes, circumferences, the Quadratic Formula, the Pythagorean Theorem; and I shared my formulas with my classmates. Then, I moved onto calculator games. At the end of the year, our class started programming simple graphics and animations in C++, for which I made a fireworks show.
Something just clicked for me and coding. It all made sense. I could solve any problem. I could make any feature. I could teach myself how to do anything. And doing it brought on this wonderful euphoria – the “coder’s high” – even stronger than the feelings of Christmas morning or playing video games. For me, coding was practically addictive.
When my mom told me that there were well-paying careers in software, I never looked back. I took my first Java programming course as a sophomore (which I still consider my “mother language”) and then AP Computer Science AB as a junior (which was the first year it was offered in Java; I scored a 5/5). I went to RIT for college, where I graduated with a combined BS/MS in Computer Science in 2010. The rest is my professional history.
There were many times along the way that I doubted my path. There were times in high school that my code simply wouldn’t compile or run and I had no idea why (in the dark days before Stack Overflow). There were times at RIT when I felt like the most computer-illiterate student in my sink-or-swim program, and I even considered switching to a math major. There were times when the corporate grind was so tough I considered dropping back into academia. But, every time I doubted myself, I remembered what inspired me to pursue software at the beginning – the spark. The click. The it factor. The undeniable tenacity in my soul to solve real-world problems with elegance and efficiency through the sheer power of logical processes. I’m convinced that one of God’s greatest gifts to me has been the software spark. Though tempted, I have never wavered in my vocational clarity.
I’m not the only one who’s experienced the “spark,” either. In fact, it has consistently been my litmus test for identifying truly great coders. Many people have recounted nearly identical stories to me of how they first got into software – they were hooked at “Hello World.” I’ve heard people say things like, “I didn’t want to do it at first, but I discovered it was the coolest thing ever!” or, “What I love is that you can do anything!” or, “It seemed so basic and almost stupid, but it was so awesome!” Inversely, I’ve seen those who lack the spark struggle tremendously with computing and software. And it’s not a matter of grit or intelligence – these often are smart, hard-working people who just lack that X-factor.
Now, please do not misunderstand me by thinking that it’s impossible for those without the spark to be successful in software. I’m not trying to be elitist or condescending. Rather, based on my experience, I’ve seen the spark to be the single greatest determining factor in what makes someone naturally talented at programming. Furthermore, having the spark doesn’t make the journey easy. A career in software still requires grit and elbow grease. The challenges are tough. Having the spark simply makes it worthwhile.
If you have the spark, you’ll be able to overcome any software obstacle. I encourage you to go do awesome things. And never, ever give up!
This post is dedicated to my parents, who always supported my software aspirations from the very beginning.
There’s often more than one way to solve a problem. Engineers tend to be pretty opinionated about solutions, too. Whenever I see disagreements in design, I typically notice two competing stances: the pragmatist and the purist. Identifying these approaches helps to understand how others think and fosters healthier team collaboration.
A purist is one who focuses primarily on the correctness of a solution. They typically seek a systematic, comprehensive, and verifiable design. A pragmatist, however, favors practical, expedient solutions. They are okay with a solution so long as it works.
The table below gives some perspective on how these two perspectives may differ:
|Focus more on what is correct||Focus more on what is expedient|
|Spend more effort on design and the “big picture”||Spend more effort on implementation|
|Very picky in code review||Less picky in code review|
|Interested more in white-box code quality||Interested more in black-box code quality|
|Favors strong design patterns, even if they are complicated||Favors simpler design patterns, even if they have less-than-desirable consequences|
|Prefers to redesign than to hack||Prefers to hack than to redesign|
|Good at handling long-term problems||Good at handling short-term problems|
|Views software development as an art as well as an engineering practice||Views development primarily as an engineering practice|
|Aligns well with academia||Aligns well with business|
|In test automation, better for framework development||In test automation, better for test case development|
These descriptions are not absolute: many people fall somewhere between the poles of purist and pragmatist. However, most people tend to exhibit stronger tendencies in one direction.
Personally, I tend to be a purist. If I need to get a job done, I feel shameful if I cannot afford the time to do it fully properly. However, I often find myself working with pragmatists. That’s not a bad thing – I recognize the value in each perspective. There is much to learn from both sides!
Warning: This post has nothing to do specifically with software. It is rather a personal musing over communication styles.
Throughout my years in the professional work environment, I’ve noticed a trend that bothers me: the inappropriate use of the ellipsis in textual communication. For example:
Hi Andy… Automated tests from the ABC build job are failing this morning… I don’t know why… Please do the needful… Thanks…
Dot-dot-dot… What meaning did the author intend to convey?
I know I’m not the only one standing on this soap box – a friend recently triggered me by tweeting about the same problem. Blame my minor in creative writing.
This is not merely a minor nuance. Ellipsis abuse causes ambiguity, doubt, and stress. It can cause uncertainty in office relationships. Terse textual communication is already crude, and every jot and tittle implies meaning, whether intended or accidental.
In professional environments, always strive for clear, concise, and direct communication. Good communication skills are more than just a resume tagline. We should all pay close attention to how we write. Be on point, not on three points.
Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.
From “A Passage to India” by E. M. Forster
Back in July of 2013, NetApp sent me on an awesome business trip to Bangalore, India. I had already planned to take a personal trip to China during a company shutdown, and I convinced my senior manager to send me to Bangalore on my way back to the States. The main reason for the trip was to help our offshore contractors build up their test automation skills for an upcoming release. While they benefited from my assistance, I likewise benefited from a much deeper appreciation for international workers. This article documents my experiences and the lessons I learned from my trip.
My connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur (on Malaysia Airlines – gasp!) landed in Bangalore at around midnight, local time, on a Monday. NetApp provided a private cab for my whole stay. I felt a little bad because he spoke minimal English with a thick accent, but he was very friendly. I couldn’t see much on the drive to the hotel except a bunch of road blocks and a half-constructed highway. When he dropped me off at the Hyatt, I slipped him a few crumpled rupees my aunt had given me before my trip – she had visited India the previous year and implored me to always leave small tips.
Every morning that week, my cabbie picked me up from the hotel at 8am and returned me at 8pm. (The days were long.) He drove a crossover-like vehicle that felt like a minivan but drove like a small SUV, with flowers and Hindu statues over the dashboard. Even though the office was only a few miles from the hotel, a one-way trip took about 25 minutes. And I saw everything: “two-wheelers” (bikes with or without motors), “three-wheelers” (auto-rickshaws), “four-wheelers” (what we could call “cars” in the USA), pedestrians young and old, buses with people hanging on the side, and even cows just moseying through the streets. It was freaky to see not only everyone driving on the left side of the road, but to realize that the roads did not have any lane markings painted on them. In traffic, you just go with the flow, rather than obey specific conventions. Going to lunch one day, my “substitute” cabbie (not my typical driver) actually hit a two-wheeler, tearing off part of the cab’s bumper. Thankfully, the other guy just spat some pithy words in Hindi and sped away.
NetApp had a huge company site in Bangalore, but I spent all but one day at Mindteck, a nearby contracting firm hired by my organization. My team in Raleigh worked extensively with our group of Mindteck contractors. I felt delighted to meet them in person – they became more than broken voices and blurry profile pictures. And the team graciously welcomed me as one of their own. Every afternoon at about three or four o’clock, they tapped me to join them on the roof for masala chai (tea). There was never any shortage of Kinley water bottles, either. Embarrassingly, the team was so large that I struggled to remember who was who, but they never forgot who I was.
During my visit, my team and I worked a lot. Every day, we had meetings, meetings, and more meetings, all about the “big A” – automation. Hearing my Raleigh team mates on the other end of conference calls felt like a strange reversal. I led automation workshops to teach our contractors a new framework we had developed in Raleigh. They also shared a number of problems with me, in the hopes that I could somehow help. Some were simple programming problems that took nothing but a simple proofread to correct. Others were out of my league. One evening, I sat locked in a conference room with an IT guy trying to figure out some obscure network failure, while two managers stared at us silently for almost two hours. I did my best to not feel awkward, assuming this style of management-by-pressure was cultural.
One problem I couldn’t solve for Mindteck was red tape. NetApp put a lot of restrictions on what the contractors could and could not do. They were restricted from accessing certain systems. NetApp’s Bangalore site also wouldn’t give them a direct network connection, which slowed down their network speeds to the point where test scripts would regularly crash from timeouts. Mindteck showed me their lab in disarray and admitted that they didn’t always get the hardware they needed for proper testing. Most frustratingly, I learned that the contractors were not even permitted to ask engineers on the parent team in Sunnyvale, California for help! In Raleigh, getting help from Sunnyvale was always a struggle, but at least we never had our hands slapped for asking. We all vented loudly about that ridiculous rule.
I spent only one day with the employees at the NetApp site. When I arrived, nobody was ready for me, so I poked around the cubicles until I saw plaques with names I recognized. Thankfully, everyone was friendly there, too. I don’t remember much of the NetApp site except meeting a few friends, seeing the Engineering Support center, and getting evening snacks at 6pm.
NetApp approved only two or three hotels in Bangalore for travel. Arbitrarily, I chose the Hyatt, and they treated me like a king. Every manger, director, and VIP with a business card greeted me throughout the week. Bellhops always assisted me with luggage. Room service was always quick. And it was definitely a luxury hotel. Later, I learned that I was the first NetApper to stay there, and they sought to impress me in the hopes of future business from NetApp.
The evenings were the only chance I had to explore Bangalore. As much as I wanted to hop an auto-rickshaw, I feared getting lost or scammed, so I stayed near my hotel on foot. Around the corner was a fancy shopping mall. The first store I entered was Big Bazaar, India’s version of Walmart. As a dumb American, my first mistake was attempting to enter Big Bazaar through the exit doors – a pair of armed guards quickly corrected my mistake by pointing me to the real entrance. Inside, I meandered through the store amazed by the essentials of Indian life, most of which were not much different from my own in America. When I tried to buy a few snacks from the grocery section, I made my second mistake by presuming the cashier would give me change – nope, I lost a few rupees. Before exiting through the proper exit doors, I detoured through the clothing department and bought myself a souvenir: a black kurta with red embroidery on the collar. I’ve since worn my kurta many times at Indian festivals in Raleigh.
Across from Big Bazaar was a movie theater. Since I had nothing else to do, I moseyed over to see what films were playing, hoping to see a Bollywood movie with English subtitles. Instead, they had Despicable Me 2 playing, which I could not resist. The ticket plus samosa and Slice mango drink cost only a few dollars – a fraction of the typical movie cost in the USA. However, when I entered the theater, an armed guard who didn’t speak English forcibly patted me down. In public places, Indians took security very seriously. My coworkers told me the security was necessary to protect against Islamic terrorists.
Bangalore had such stark dichotomies. Near my hotel on MG Road were modern buildings with posh stores and fancy restaurants and security guards, while right around the corner were dilapidated houses with refuse burning on the street. Next to billboards for mobile phone plans were temples with innumerable statues. Two constants, though, were the crowds of people everywhere and, sadly, the pollution they left behind.
It’s a good thing that I loved Indian food. At work, my Indian counterparts showed much hospitality through their food. Every day, they provided lunch for me. One day, Mindteck catered a full lunch buffet as part of a meeting marathon. On the day I was on-site at NetApp, a friend bought me lunch in the cafe – 100 rupees, or about $1.50. For the remaining two days, both NetApp and Mindteck planned off-site lunches at delicious Indian restaurants. I ate it all: rice, naan, roti, curry of every color, chicken, lamb, paneer, aloo, palak, and gulab jamum for dessert. Nobody was surprised that I was “non-veg”, but they did appreciate my culinary adventurousness. For me, I was surprised to discover that, in India, eating with your bare hands is normal.
In the evenings, I had two fancy meals on my own. The best was my last night at the hotel. Since NetApp covered all travel expenses, I chose to eat dinner at the Hyatt’s fancy restaurant. It was totally empty, but that meant I received the best service. After serving my chaat and my curry, the head chef himself came out to greet me. The other fancy dinner was at a South Indian restaurant on the top floor of the nearby shopping mall – prawns, yellow-green curry, and round flatbread washed down with a Kingfisher. When the waiter served the food, he put the napkin on my lap for me. A third dinner I ate at the hotel’s standard restaurant while they played live music. On the night I went to the movies, I ate a Chicken Maharaja Mac at McDonald’s – let’s just say the Big Mac is better with beef. (Come on, I’m a red-blooded American.)
On my last day in Bangalore, I wore my kurta. As I left in the morning, the front desk lady at the Hyatt shouted out, “Very nice kurta, Mr. Knight!” My Mindteck team planned a proper sendoff in the afternoon. We took group photos, and they gifted to me a small desk clock that I keep to this day. And they offered one final treat – an ice cream bar. There were six small scoops of various colors, and I had to taste each to guess the flavor. To everyone’s surprise, I got them all right! I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I suffered from lactose intolerance. My belly ached during the whole flight home, but the experience was well worth it.
My flight out of Bangalore departed in the wee hours of the morning. My cab picked me up from the airport shortly after midnight. I flew to Qatar, then NYC, and finally to Raleigh for a nearly day-long transit. My biggest regret was not having enough time for sightseeing in India.
I gained a genuine appreciation for our offshore teams after my trip. Oftentimes, I hear American workers complain that offshore workers are “stealing jobs,” and “you get what you pay for” in quality of work. But I learned firsthand that these folks are good people just trying to make a living. They aren’t trying to steal our jobs – they’re taking the opportunities in front of them as part of a global economy. Frankly, big companies hire offshore resources so they can throw more bodies at their projects. And quality suffers greatly when any team is not co-located due to challenges with communication, time zone, technology, bureaucracy, etc. Moreover, our guys and girls wanted to be more than just hired help: they sought to learn more, improve their skills, and increase their contribution.
Overall, I was very grateful for the opportunity to visit Bangalore, and I hope to return some day!
This post is dedicated to all of my friends from India.
Why am I an automation engineer? The answer became starkly clear to me one Tuesday morning that should have been like any other. At that time, I was a “Software Quality Engineer” on the QA Framework team of a fairly small software company. I arrived at the office at my normal time around 9am. The following two hours I spent in my daily groove with my headphones on, blissfully unaware as our director started escorting engineers out the door with boxes in hand. After an interrupted 11am standup, I found myself, heart racing, in a conference room with my manager and the VP of engineering who had flown in from our other site. On the table, I saw a pile of key fobs and bejeweled company phones. By this point, anyone who knows the software industry could predict what would happen next: the dreaded layoff. However, that’s where the story becomes more interesting.
I wasn’t laid off. Surprise!
In a daring reorganization, the VP eliminated all QA positions in the company. The justification given was to make teams purely Agile with no silos of division between development and quality. Everybody would own quality. Manual testers would be removed in order to prioritize automation. I also suspected that company finances may have encouraged the re-org. As a result, people lost their jobs. However, a few QA engineers, myself included, were spared the layoff and rebranded as regular “software engineers.” In that conference room, as the adrenaline rush subsided, the VP outlined a high-level plan in which I would move to a product development team that desperately needed automation help. Apparently, this team didn’t even have unit tests, and their product was weeks behind schedule. Once they got it going, I would become a regular web developer with the others.
So, why me? The survivor’s guilt bothered me, but the answer, apart from God’s grace, was pretty obvious: automation skill. I was the company’s automation champion, and everybody knew it. I consulted with each team to help improve their testing efforts. I gave a lunch-and-learn on behavior-driven development. I wrote several wiki pages and even example projects. Now, that’s not to brag on myself or belittle the skills of others, since many of the engineers who were cut also had automation talent, but my skills had been made highly visible to the people in power. And my skills continued to afford me great opportunity.
However, the last part of the VP’s new plan disconcerted me – did I want to become a standard web UI developer? I pondered the question deeply, but my gut answer never changed: no. Test automation was my specialty. It was the product I made, and I made it well. I knew the ins and outs, the frameworks, the best practices, the fundamental problem of test automation and the lowercase problems that derive. And I loved doing automation because it gave me the opportunity to set things right: to find an eliminate bugs, to protect the code line, and to make it look damn good. I could indeed switch over to web dev, but why? I didn’t have interest in web dev. That would be like making a hardwood floor installer do painting instead. With automation, I had both a specialty and an opportunity.
To conclude the story, I didn’t stick around much longer at that company. I quickly found a better opportunity as a senior-level automation engineer on an exciting new project at a different company. That’s the software industry – so it goes! Ironically, that layoff may have impacted me just as much as if I had actually lost my job. It forced me to make a choice. I definitively chose to be a software quality engineer. Automation was no longer merely a skill set but a career identity.