Back to School – 36 years later

Some time ago I was contacted by an organisation called Future First ( asking if I, as an ex-student of Beckfoot Oakbank School, would be interested in joining an Alumni program. Now I’m fairly sceptical in general so looked into the organisation. The first thing that caught my attention was their statement that;

“Our vision is a world where a young person’s start in life does not limit their future”

As someone who grew up with very little and who took a long time to find my place in the world this interested me and I asked for more information. Basically they sign you up and invite you to events where they feel you are a match. My first invitation was to a ‘World of Work’ day where they have a number of sessions on a theme for those in Year 10, age 14 and 15. While I wasn’t given anything to prepare they did ask me to bring something as a clue to my profession. As a test specialist in a software development team I struggled with what to bring. Binary code? A device? Nothing seemed to match well. Eventually I settled for a couple of pictures on a sheet of paper.

On the day and after the introduction I was introduced as an ex-pupil, gave my name and a couple of sentences about my time at the school and showed my clues, the two images below.

A team working on laptops on a long table

A team working on laptops on a long table

A screen with a bug under a magnifying glass

A screen with a bug under a magnifying glass

Guesses were interesting to say the least. Some common ones were IT Technician, but when asked, no one really knew what they meant by that, other than ‘works with computers’. Hacker / Security and bug bounty hunter were in there but my favourites were being asked if I worked for MI5 or if I were a cyber spy! After a couple of games playing related guesses there were a couple who were close with checking ‘things’ work are right. When I told them what I really do and what that meant there was a general look of disappointment I wasn’t an old and chubby James Bond type!

To give them a sense of the things I do I talked about making sure it works for all types of users and of course stressed how important accessible applications are. Well it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t, would it! I also covered how it’s important to think about assumptions and biases and used one of my favourite quick exercises, Mary had a little lamb. I first came across this on where they look at your interpretation of the sentence. Most think of a small girl, with a lamb and have that fairly fixed in their minds. So asking people to question the sentence can be quite eye opening for some. I won’t go through all the variations but will say the greatest reaction on the day was someone jumping up when I asked, what if Mary isn’t human? ‘They gave birth!!!!!’ to which the whole workshop laughed.

Open question time had them ask anything they wanted and I tried to be as honest as possible with each one. ‘How much do you earn’ was the number one question of the day with, ‘do you enjoy your job’ a close second. There were some really diverse things they wanted to know like working routines and flexibility, how many holidays I had and what car I drove. This was a part I was a little worried about but was actually quite fun.

The penultimate exercise was to rank skills for my job from a set of cards. They had very similar findings which matched my feelings with most giving communication, teamwork, creativity and analysis in their top four. This also gave me an opportunity to talk about using both sides of our brains as testers. Creatively coming up with tests and analysing the results.

There were five workshops with a break after the second and lunch after the fourth. By the fifth there were signs that our audience was a bit tired after doing very similar workshops through a very warm day but ‘Mary’ had everyone’s interest each time.

To finish I was asked what would I tell myself at their age? I found deciding what I wanted to do when I left school really hard, so I didn’t really focus on anything. I basically took the first job I saw when I left and it was many years before I really made advances. So, my advice was really straight forward.

“You will have several jobs or careers over your life, so if you don’t know what you want to do, focus on something. You don’t have to stay with it forever but it will help you achieve more in the long term.”

Over the day I had a few heartfelt thanks with some pupils genuinely interested in testing. Of course I pointed them in the direction of the great testing community online and at and I believe they saw my enthusiasm for my craft.

Perhaps I’ve inspired a couple of future testers? Who knows but I do think this won’t be my last time giving back to the school I left behind in 1983!

Ps, it certainly didn’t look this good when I went…

Beckfoot Oakbank reception, a very modern and clean building. A far cry from the 80s when I attended

Beckfoot Oakbank reception, a very modern and clean building. A far cry from the 80s when I attended