20 March, 2019

Digit Q&A - Sharon Hamilton


Digitqa SharonSharon Hamilton, MD at Edge Testing, is interviewed by Digit magazine and explains how the company and the specialism of software testing is evolving


How has Edge Testing evolved over the years?

It was formed in 2007 by Brian Ferrie and Susan Chadwick. After a relatively difficult first 18 months (2007/2008) during the downturn in the economy, the company has grown very quickly and, just before we were acquired, our turnover reached £14 million, which was at the end of 2017. Over the past few years we have experienced growth of about 30 or 40%. 

Edge Testing is a ‘pure play testing’ organisation, providing only testing services, not business analysis, project management or development. Our pure testing stance is a unique selling point in that we’re independent. Often, client organisations preferindependence within their testing, and it also means that we have become a specialist. We are not diversifying any of our strategy and we solely concentrate on all things testing.

We offer the full suite of testing so for clients we answer questions such as: ‘Does it work? Is it safe and does it perform?’ Companies employ us to consult and test their systems.


And what have been the latest developments at the company?

We’ve recently opened a Manchester office. That was one of our key strategic objectives for the year. We’re immensely pleased that we opened it in February, not too far into the new year. Six people are working there already and, opening, we already had about 10 customers in the region. Subsequently we have secured another new customer as well.


Why did you decide to open an office in Manchester?

Part of the reason was that we had those customers in Manchester already. As part of our regional strategy we believe that people predominantly buy from people, and having a local office is important to us. We start by servicing a few customers in a region from other places within the UK – our London and Birmingham offices and our head office in Glasgow – but, when we get to a certain size, opening an office in that region is part of our overall strategy.

And you have a recruitment open day in Manchester on March 20. How important will that be for the new office?

We’ve held in other regions. As a company with a fast high growth strategy, we need excellent people to join our organisation. We find the recruitment days are a really good way to see a larger number of people, get our name out there, and enable candidates to come into the office to meet us and understand our company.


How difficult is it to find the right kind of people with the right kind of skills?

We’re not always expecting people to have the right skills. With some of our training programs, it’s more about aptitude andcapability. We work hard to make links with educational establishments at various levels. While it can be difficult. We use lots of different channels to ensure our recruitment pipeline is strong and are recognised as a good employer.


And you have your own training academy. Could you tell us about that?

We’ve been running a training programme – Edge Academy – for the growth of our own company for five years now. We started with four people out of our Glasgow office. That’s really how we helped grow and run company, as well as recruiting people with more experience.

Increasingly, our customers were interested in hiring more of our junior staff who were recognised for their high levels of skills and knowledge. We, therefore, established ‘Edge Academy as a Service’, where we recruit on behalf of our customers. A client will approach us, wanting their own testers, starting with some trainees. We will jointly recruit to ensure that the cultural fit is correct, and individuals remain Edge Testing employees for a year. Then, after one year, they can transfer over to the customer assuming the customer still has the budget and the desire, and the individual is happy to transfer over.

At the start of this year we relaunched that Academy as a Service and we’ve already recruited for six or seven customers so we know the demand is out there.


How do you think we can help technology graduates in Scotland to get the kind of jobs they’re looking for?

I think companies need to be building relationships with organisations – not just universities. We are involved with some schools, and offer work placements.

Also, I think universities need to be more open to building relationships with businesses, and setting expectations for the students. We also feel that, as a pure play testing organisation, students and universities are not always familiar with testing as an exciting IT career, rather than a niche.

We want to change the perception of testing. Students with computing degrees don’t need to restrict themselves considering roles as a developer. Software testing is quite technical and graduates with development skills are highly valued in the testing sector.

I think the IT industry and educational establishments can do more, but we’re certainly seeing progress with the institutions we work with.

Using our experience in Manchester, now we have an established base in the region, we will be able to engage better with North West England universities.


What do think are the biggest challenges with regards to software testing?

I think, a few years ago, it would have been some companies’ perception of the value of testing. I’ve been in testing since I graduated, which is in excess of 25 years ago, and along the way you see different companies in different journeys with their testing beliefs. That is changing with us all being more Internet focused. Not a day goes by without some IT failure in the news where it’s clear that robust testing was not conducted, and the end result is quite dramatic on individuals or their business.

While the perception of testing is changing, there is still a challenge of ensuring that companies give testing the right value and the right level of importance within their own organisation.


How do you think the issue of gender diversity is developing in the Scottish the scene?

In my career, I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never really felt held back because my gender – and I hope other people will back that up – that when it comes to business there isn’t any difference between me or a man.

In Scotland, I do feel there are lots of women in high places. However, I do think that there’s a little bit of imbalance between genders in terms of seniority within the tech sector. I think the average throughout the world is that only 25% of the people working in tech are female. That just seems crazy.

I’m not going to be able to solve that. I can do what I can at Edge Testing, but I think working with schools, for me, is the key thing. I’ve got children myself and re how children are brought up massively impacts what they think they can achieve and what they think they can be good at.

By the end of school, pupils often have decided what they can achieve. I think it’s really important that Edge Testing continues not to have any bias with regards to male or female. Bringing businesses into schools and showing them different IT careers is so important. Schools need to be teaching boys and girls that they are equally capable. This needs to be solved in multiple channels with multiple activities.

Earlier in my career, I can remember being the only female in the room. Sometimes that still happens, which is surprising. That’s not the environment we’re in at Edge, which is great.

A lot of people in the workforce have children and that really does have an impact. Men and women need to be treated the same in terms of having childcare responsibilities, and general parenting responsibilities. Men come into me with childcare issues and I don’t treat them any differently. I don’t assume that, if they’ve got a partner, that the mother should automatically be responsible for childcare. This change in process and beliefs will help females to rise.


What does the future hold for Edge Testing?

We’re hoping for continued, organic growth. Last year, the ownership changed to a company called Eurofins Group. We’re part of the digital testing division within the Eurofins Group. They run a federated business model and the strategy is for us to continue our organic growth projections.

We’re also aware that the types of testing were doing are slightly changing. Automation is becoming much more ‘everyday’ and embedded into business rather than stand-alone. Five years ago, manual and automated testers would be separate. They’re now merging into one service. With open source tools, testing is becoming more accessible and customers expectboth automate and manual testing as part of a complete solution.

We’re looking to find more talented individuals to develop into rounded testers, and help grow our services. And, obviously, security is on the tip of everybody’s tongues, and with our new Cybsersecurity Division, we will be able to help more clients ensure their software, infrastructure and apps are secure.


See the article in Digit here 


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