Focus on automation: an interview with Paul Farrell
As part of our automation focus, we spoke with Paul Farrell, Head of Quality Automation at Gear4music.
Can you introduce yourself and your current role?
My name is Paul Farrell and I’m Head of Quality Automation Engineering at Gear4music.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got there?
I started my testing journey in the gaming industry. I did a short internship at THQ UK, formerly known as Juice Games in Warrington, during my university studies. After graduation, I worked at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as a Functionality Tester in the First Party Quality Assurance (FPQA) department.
My first web application testing position was for a company called Inventive IT, where I was introduced to cross-browser testing, APIs, and Agile processes. After that, I became a Test Lead at an e-commerce company called Beauty Bay, where I was responsible for building their QA processes and automation frameworks from scratch. After 2 years I was approached by Gear4music for what seemed to be my dream job at my dream company.
What prompted you to get involved in the IT industry?
It was inevitable that I would end up working in IT because it was my strongest subject in school. I still remember the first computer lesson we had in high school and everyone was amazed that I could type so fast. I walked away from technology for several years to focus on music across the country, but eventually came back to computing.
Why did you decide to specialize in automation and testing?
Marek, one of the developers at Inventive IT, demonstrated how to automate actions in the browser using Ruby. This immediately piqued my curiosity and I was happy to use it to aid in regression testing.
Do you have a favorite part of your job?
In the past, I’d point to something too cool that I’d built. But the best part of my job is watching other quality engineers themselves use automation to help them with their own tasks.
What makes a good team leader?
In my opinion, a good leader inspires those around them and knows who to talk to and who to talk to to get the job done. A manager doesn’t need to know everything or be a technical expert, but they do know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
What challenges have you faced during your career?
When I come across something technical that I don’t know yet, I really blame myself. I have the usual thoughts of impostor syndrome: “You are a leader! You should know how to do that!” and doubt why I have the current position I have. But I look forward to those moments now because when you go through them and something finally clicks, that’s a huge reward and it’s a humble reminder that you should never stop learning.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
One of my proudest moments was saying “yes” to everything and dealing with the consequences later. Long story short, it led to me being invited by Postman to speak at Post/Con in 2019. I was flown to San Francisco, which was my first time flying alone, and spoke to hundreds of people on their main stage on API testing. At the time, it was completely irrelevant to me. I still think back to that moment and feel like it was a defining moment in my career and my personal life.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
Take risks. Failures are only bad if you don’t learn from them. Own your own development! Don’t wait for someone else to coach you or teach you something. There are so many free resources online to learn things.
What are you aiming for in the future?
To continue to love my work. I really haven’t had a single morning where I dreaded coming to work at Gear4music. I also plan to continue mentoring other testers so they can become self-sufficient with all things test automation.
Do you have any tips for budding testers?
Automation isn’t the only tool in your “tester’s toolbox” that you should aspire to. There are so many different test paths such as security, performance, accessibility, etc.
Finally, do you have a memorable story or anecdote from your experience that you would like to share with us?
I remember while working at Sony I found a game-breaking bug that none of the other testers or developers could reproduce. This resulted in Sony sending me the next morning on the first train from Liverpool to Brighton to reproduce the bug in front of the developers. I managed to reproduce the bug within 15 minutes of arriving at the studio. Turns out I was pressing buttons faster than 0.1 seconds, which the developers didn’t consider a possibility. Paul Farrell, the fastest thumbs in the gaming industry!