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STPCon: Meet Lanette Creamer

Going to industry conferences is wonderful, not just because of the additional learning and professional development that’s available, but because of the connections we make. We go beyond recognizing a name; we have the opportunity to really get to know some of the people who we’ve heard speak or whose blogs or books we’ve read.

I had the opportunity to really get to know one of the conference speakers, Agile test consultant Lanette Creamer. I’d done two pre-conference interviews with Lanette about her sessions, one about pairing programmers with non-programmers, and one about Agile games.

But in order to personally get to know someone, I am always interested in finding out how they started in their careers and what led them to the place they are now. I asked Lanette about her background and what series of events led her to the place she is today. She answered:

In the early 1990’s I was involved in a local bulletin board system and made a group of friends. They helped me put together a second-hand PC from parts at the computer swap meet for a little more than $200, all I could afford at the time, and the sysop (owner of the local BBS) put it together, and taught me enough DOS to get online to chat with my friends and play TeleArena.

Back in those days, it was pretty unusual for females to be interested in technology. In a few years, when I graduated with my AA from the community college, I went to Western Washington University, majoring in Graphic Design, but my favorite part of design was in the use of the computer programs, especially desktop publishing and photo editing. I didn’t enjoy the competitive nature of graphic design, and frankly, I learned that while I wasn’t a terrible designer, I wasn’t that great either. Not awful, just not talented enough to make the cut at that time, in 1995. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Honestly, I knew that I didn’t want to be a Graphic Designer at that point. I just wanted to be on the computer all day, every day, and I knew that. To this day my design background gives me an advantage in testing UI and usability aspects of software. I can identify font inconsistencies, and why something is attractive or not, in more description than before I had experience with graphic design. While I didn’t end up in the field of my major, I credit my love of the arts for getting me over the first barrier to move into a technology career. The creative part of testing remains my favorite.

After college, I was working at a charity bingo parlor, and I was known as the “computer whiz” who made our manual spreadsheet into a self-calculating excel workbook. I was the person who knew that if you had just a “flashing c,” it would tell the panicked manager, “Type “win” and press enter.” Of course, in college I’d already fallen in love with the Mac OS, but something like that was far out of my bingo budget. It took me six months to save up my money to buy my used car in cash, and I’d made myself ill with food poisoning twice my last year of college trying to eat cheaply off of leftovers for too long. I make it sound awful, but besides the stress of not enough money, being poor wasn’t much of a problem. Those were some of the happiest years in my life to date. I had friends and family all around me, and I was in love and newly married. Best of all, I had good health. I felt good most days, and those I didn’t, I believed were temporary.

I started in testing working on Adobe InDesign in 1999. I worked on several Adobe products, and ended up leading workflow testing across the Creative Suite products at Adobe. In 2010, I worked my first consulting job for Sogeti, on a project for a large Seattle based coffee company. It was quite a shift to go from a company that makes software to a company that makes something else, but needs the software to have a good user experience to efficiently deliver coffee. When the project for the coffee purveyor was completed, I had a great opportunity to work as a consultant and Agile testing coach for a great company working in the medical field. That is when I started Spark Quality LLC, my own consulting company! I’m currently consulting for a great company in California called Silicon Publishing, where I’m working with some amazing developers to create custom solutions for clients in the publishing, printing, and design industries.

In consulting, I’m finding that meeting with a client to get a clear picture of their needs is a wonderful advantage if it can be arranged. The more we understand about our users, the easier it is to delight them and target our tests to reflect their top priorities in addition to risk. Getting feedback as a result of your testing from the client is what I love about working with a small company. As much as I loved working on the Adobe Creative Suites, there are some corporate reasons why it is more difficult legally to share demos with customers and have a free and open conversation when you are representing a publically held company. In the context of a small business, we can demo real code for the client just as soon as it is ready with fewer privacy concerns.

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