The Inside Track on EuroSTAR 2023 Conference

August is Women’s Month in South Africa and we’re featuring our own female thought leader in Software Testing and Quality Assurance, Ezanne Grobler.

We all know that women need more representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industries but how can we achieve this?

It starts with inspiration!

Ezanne, Quality Assurance Advisor to iOCO, leader in learnership successes and principal consultant, lecturer, and Course Developer for FTI, has just returned from a very successful Software Testing Conference in Europe.  She presented a paper “Embracing Adversity, A Learnership Story”, to an international audience of over 1000 delegates. By all accounts her presentation was exceptionally well received.

Ezanne was involved in a groundbreaking learnership in South Africa to qualify young automation engineers. When faced with a skills gap in the Software Testing, Quality Assurance and Test Automation space and huge unemployment in the young population, Ezanne was part of a team that decided to train their own automation engineers.

The team designed a learnership programme that consisted of SETA accredited training aligned to the International Software Testing Qualifications Board. Delegates attended an intensive two-month full-time bootcamp, a subsequent 9-month part-time training programme and assigned to real clients to gain workplace experience and develop their technical skills and abilities, within a supportive mentorship environment.


Ezanne Grobler at the EuroSTAR Conference 2023

We caught up with Ezanne in this very insightful Q&A style conversation. The main elements discussed were the conference itself and the future of testing and getting young people and women inspired and involved.

The answers below have been shortened and paraphrased for readability.

The STAR Testing conferences are very big in America and about 15 years ago, I attended one. Ever since, I was very interested in presenting because the who’s who of the testing world goes to the STAR conferences. Over the past few years, myself, and my colleague Leela Putin, have been communicating with the EuroSTAR Conference Coordinators and Leela presented a paper in 2022. Attending a conference in Europe is of course more practical for us as South Africans.

When the topics came out for this year, I was really interested in presenting as there was more on the soft skill side of testing, and that immediately spoke to my heart. I submitted the paper around our learnership, which fitted into diversity and inclusion (the conference theme) and happy to say my paper was selected and I was one of 65 people that became a speaker at the EuroSTAR conference. It was absolutely a dream come true.

These conferences are huge, about 1500 people attend. In the testing industry, these guys are who I look up to, and to rub shoulders with them was a bucket list moment for me, it was amazing.

My talk was on embracing adversity, a learnership story. It was literally around the adversity we faced in iOCO to find automation engineers. The scarcity of automation engineers makes them unaffordable, fit for purpose automation engineers really come at a price in the market and it’s difficult to retain them. A lot of our competitors source the skill from India. But it’s an ethical issue because if we look outside of internal EOH and we look at South Africa, then the skills gap is still one of adversity and high unemployment of graduate youth. We said no, let’s create jobs for our own people. Given that “unicorns” are so difficult to find, we decided creating them was our best option.

We literally sat together on 1 June 2022, and we needed the programme to roll-out in August. One of our team members developed a beautiful roadmap. The first issue was what syllabus to use. I had been involved with developing FTIs SETA accredited NQF level 5 qualification. We made this the backbone of the syllabus. I felt like a conductor in an orchestra, everyone and everything came together within four weeks. Where there were gaps, we created master classes and we had to find a solution to the technical training (which was not available or affordable in South Africa). We partnered with a company in the United Kingdom who had the courses and within two months we made the impossible possible – we had a curriculum.

We received over 5000 resumes from potential candidates in a week – these were in response to a WhatsApp message that went viral, not even an officially advertised opportunity. We finally managed to get 15 candidates, and on 1 August 2022 we started the bootcamp training.

I was intentionally part of it, not just coordinating it.  I shared my personal experience with these learners as well and that, I think, is probably why I feel there’s so much passion in the story, it’s not just something that you read about in a newspaper or in an article. This whole experience is part of a legacy – this is part of something that you live.

It’s my story, but it’s our story because it was such a team effort and literally miracles of things that just fell in place to make this work.

When I presented, the audience couldn’t believe what I shared with them and the challenges we face. I specifically remember how many cameras came on when the syllabus was up and what the content of the syllabus was and what we trained. And afterwards, even the discussions that I had illustrated that we all struggle with finding automation engineers that are affordable and fit for purpose, these “unicorns”… And an engineer is not the same as a developer, he remains a tester and he needs to have the background of testing. It’s extremely important to have the core principles and understanding of testing embedded in that person long before you give him a tool to go and script.

Apart from amazing video testimonials by the delegates where they described the overall value of testing, which is their own futures in testing, I think more broadly testing is going the route that Testers will need more soft skills and cognitive skills like “critical thinking”, which we want to try and build into our programmes or offer as masterclasses.

Another aspect is AI. I recently attended an online conference on artificial intelligence and machine learning and testing, and what was amazing was that the role of the tester is not going to disappear with artificial intelligence or machine learning. Don’t just trust artificial intelligence for being correct, it’s still software and the software can still be full of bugs. There is also the fact of how do you test artificial intelligence and how do you use artificial intelligence as an enabler in accelerating your testing?

That for me in terms of your question on the future gave me a lot of food for thought that the testing industry is not close to dying, in fact it’s just another thing that is thrown at us like way back with Agile and DevOps. We need to be able to think about these things not to fear them and accept them.

It continues to be important that the tester is a technical tester. You won’t ever replace the end user with artificial intelligence. If there are humans on earth that use software, there will be User Acceptance Testing.

My own background will give you a very good idea of how women can enter the sector. I was in the privileged position to be raised in a family that raised strong headed women. So, I never actually felt less equipped in terms of what I can do in comparison to a guy. But I have seen a difference in the type of training now in testing and the role women play. Women seem to have a gift for being natural coordinators and facilitators, we bring that skill to the table without even thinking about it. Now that women are in the mathematical world, we have skills equal to men, but we are natural mentors, we excel, actually quicker than men – I see it in my own teams and I’m the head of an advisory team. The women in my team can multitask, handle pressure, bring things together and Project Manage.

If women have the confidence to go into these fields, they’re more than capable.