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According to the BCS, neurodiversity remains an overlooked issue in the tech industry — employment rates for neurodiverse people remains low and stigma remains. However, a growing number of companies are recognising that it’s not only right to offer opportunities to all, but people who think differently provide a competitive advantage and help to create an inclusive environment for everyone. For example, both Microsoft and Dell have an established autism hiring programme. So, what are the barriers to a neurodiverse tech industry and how can organisations help?
Neurodiversity refers to the differences in thinking patterns, interests and motivations that naturally occur throughout the population. A neurotypical brain functions in the way that the majority expects. However, an estimated 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent. This is an umbrella term that refers to people who have Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and other neurodevelopmental conditions.
Employment rates vary across conditions. For example, according to research conducted by the National Autistic Society, just 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work and many are working in a job below their skill level. Worryingly, a recent study found that half of leaders and managers would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent person. The highest level of bias was against people with Tourettes, ADHD or Autism. In addition, the majority of neurodivergent people surveyed felt their workplace was not inclusive to their needs. Up to 40% of employees in the tech industry have not disclosed their neurodivergent traits, meaning that their needs are unlikely to be supported.
It’s important to firstly point out that stereotypes around neurodivergent behaviour are unhelpful and often cause unrealistic expectations. For example, the idea that autistic people are maths or computer savants. However, there are many benefits that go beyond superficial abilities including:
Software and data quality engineering start-up, Ultranauts, is a fantastic demonstration of a company leveraging the power of a neurodiversity. 75% of the workforce are on the Autism spectrum. The small company is now winning contracts from Fortune 100 companies over established global IT consultancies. The company’s founder credits their success to their neurodiverse workforce, saying that, ‘with different learning styles and information processing models, to collaborate and focus on attacking the same problem, we’re just going to be better at it.’ Crucially, Ultranauts also worked hard to create an inclusive culture that supports neurodivergent people.
Importantly, hiring neurodivergent people has a positive effect on the entire workforce by fostering a culture of inclusion. Accommodating individual needs is a wonderful thing that everyone can benefit from by encouraging both innovation and empathy within the organisation.
Many neurodivergent people will require accommodations in their workspace. For example, Autistic people who suffer with sensory processing disorder may benefit from adjustments in lighting and noise (however, it’s important to highlight that variation exists — one autistic person could be over-sensitive and another under sensitive). ADHD people who experience periods of hyper-fixation accompanied by distractibility may benefit from a flexible schedule. In addition, making interviews neurodiverse friendly will support fair assessment practices and encourage hiring of neurodiverse candidates.
Finally, many neurotypical people overestimate their knowledge of conditions such as Autism and ADHD. Awareness training can help build understanding and avoid further workplace barriers being created for their neurodivergent peers.
There is an increasing pressure for QA testers to automate their processes. This is due to the assumption that automation is an easy way to cut costs and speed up testing — which can often be true. However, depending on the application being tested, automation isn’t always the right call. In some cases, it might not be worth the initial time and financial investment. So, what are the pros and cons of automation, and how can you find the right balance?
When a QA engineer tests software manually, they’ll interact with it as if they were a real end user. They will log any bugs and implement a fix. Increasingly, QA engineers are utilising automation tools, which involve running numerous pre-scripted test suites. These tools include AI bots, which explore an application as a person would (in theory), testing functions and generating data about the process.
Speed: automated testing is often faster than manual testing because thousands of tests can be run simultaneously, and the data can be generated quickly. In large scale projects, it’s essential to automate at least part of your QA testing process due to the sheer number of manual testers you would need to meet turnaround times.
Reduce Human error: people make mistakes — especially on repetitive and monotonous tasks — so automating tests that fall into this category is good for everyone. According to research, organisations that utilise automation in their processes are more likely to be both highly productive and ‘human-friendly’ workplaces.
Efficiency: repetitive tasks such as smoke tests and regression tests are ideal for automation. There’s no real advantage to having a person do these manually, and in the long run this will free up the tester’s time to focus on complex tasks, data interpretation and software fixes.
Set-up costs: Automation can be expensive at the beginning. Specialist QA testers with a knowledge of automation command a higher salary, and you’ll also have to consider the cost of purchasing and maintaining automation tools. However, in the long-term automation should be cost-saving, as fewer engineers are needed to complete everyday testing tasks.
Adaptability: If your product frequently changes, that means the scripts will also need to be updated. Therefore, it may not be worth the hassle of creating automated scripts because you’ll miss out on the time and cost-saving benefits.
Context: Automation is simply inappropriate for many QA tests. For example, automated programs like Selenium can’t recognise video controls, so they’re not useful for testing video streaming. In addition, more subjective tasks like UX testing require a creative human input that can’t be automated.
Considering how the pros and cons of automation apply to your application will help establish the right balance of automation in your testing process. For example, if your product is relatively stable then the automated test script is likely to have a long shelf life, meaning that’s its going to be worth the initial investment.
Experienced software tester, Shilpa Chatterjee Roy, suggests that selecting appropriate test cases and calculating return on investment (ROI) are key to adopting automation in your testing process. How you do this will depend on your application, but she suggests considering attributes such as the purchasing and licensing cost of the tool, time to develop the scripts, time to maintain the scripts, time to analyse the results manually and automatically, time and cost to train the resources, and management overheads.
To summarise, automation provides a host of time and cost-saving benefits, but it’s not a sure fire way to improve software. Automation is not an all or nothing proposition, but a tool to maximise efficiency and allow QA testers to focus on the more complex tasks. Ultimately, you should evaluate your tests on a case by case basis and make the decision to automate on a micro level.
Several major employers, such as Twitter and Facebook, have announced that remote work will continue indefinitely. For those who enjoy the flexibility and lack of commute that working from home offers, this will be welcome news. For others who thrive in an office environment or who lack a suitable home-working space, a remote future could be a nightmare. There are also growing concerns about what remote work will mean for training, teamwork and sustaining company culture.
The hybrid office is being touted as a solution, where employees split their week between their home and the physical office space. However, this comes with its own set of problems. For example, there is concern over a two-tier system arising between office and home workers, and a possible breakdown in communication as a result. Luckily, there are a number of innovative new technologies being designed — could they help build a hybrid office that people want to be part of?
One of these new technologies is Yonderdesk, a custom digital workspace. One of the main issues with a hybrid office is that it lacks the ‘sense of togetherness’ created by physically being in the same space. This means employees miss out on socialising and are less likely to ask their colleagues quick queries. Yonderdesk is a digital floor plan that can mimic the organisation’s actual office space. Employees are given an avatar and a desk, so that it’s easy to see where your colleagues are at (e.g., in meetings, available or working on a task). Digital floor plans have been a key element of online games, such as Habbo, for years because they are fun, engaging and make people feel like they are having a shared experience, so it will be fascinating to see whether ideas like Yonderdesk prove popular.
On a more tech-heavy futuristic note, there is plenty of development in virtual and augmented reality technology. Digital start-up, Spatial, are working on augmented reality filters that create the illusion that your co-worker is right in front of you (similar to Pokemon Go). The avatar has facial expressions and can even sit down on a chair. It also works on existing virtual reality headsets, but Spatial are particularly excited by the idea of lightweight glasses, which are likely to be far more practical for everyday use. In addition, Spatial allows your avatar to interact with virtual tools. In their words, ‘Your room is your monitor, your hands are the mouse.’ There are plenty of other virtual reality meeting applications, such as the ones on this list, but Spatial is one of the most immersive.
A more controversial development is the increase of monitoring software, sometimes known as ‘Tattleware’. Some of these products can be used without employee knowledge to spy on emails, software use and more, which can have serious data privacy implications and undermine trust. Given that, on average, people have been working longer hours during the pandemic, it seems unwise to use monitoring software in this way. However, when used ethically and transparently, such tools can provide a rich understanding of employee behaviour that can improve productivity, engagement and prevent fatigue and/or burnout. For example, software like Time Doctor has time-tracking features that can help employees and managers gain a better understanding of how long tasks actually take, which can be fed into future estimates and used to reshuffle schedules.
Last but not least, collaboration tools. If you haven’t done this already, finding and implementing effective collaboration tools is vital to successful remote and hybrid working. You are probably most familiar with services like Slack — instant messaging chat rooms are a great way for employees to show their availability and engage in more casual conversations. Take this further with tools like Donut, a slack channel that makes introductions with a random employee every couple of weeks and encourages virtual or in-person meet-ups. This helps build a cohesive company culture by structuring those random encounters from the pre-pandemic days.
Clearly, it will take time to build a hybrid office that suits your organisation. Exploring new tools is a great way to avoid complacency and ensure the hybrid office experience is something your employees want to be part of.
QA testing is an evolving world. Digital transformation means there’s more demand than ever for high-quality software to be delivered at record speed. In addition, QA professionals are being asked to adapt to Agile and/or DevOps approaches, take an interest in AI and automation, all while working from home. It’s a lot to keep up with, so here are the web’s favourite resources to help on your QA journey.
A testing checklist is an essential tool for any QA tester. Maintaining a checklist of the most useful, reusable test cases means that the most common bugs can be quickly and easily identified. Software Testing Help have provided a master list of 180 (and counting!) test cases applicable to a variety of web and desktop applications. Test scenarios include those for GUI and usability, filter criteria, result grid, a window, database testing, image upload functionality, sending emails, export functionality, performance, security and other more general functions. They recommended you continue to build a checklist tailored to your own needs, but this will save you lots of time getting started.
The Google Testing Blog is a QA gold mine of expertise. Each article deals with a topical issue or new challenge encountered by the Google testing team and provides a breakdown of how the problem was dealt with, clearly communicated with screengrabs, diagrams and infographics. Recent articles have covered Test Flakiness - One of the main challenges of automated testing and Fixing a Test Hourglass. Keeping up with this blog is a sure-fire way to expand your QA knowledge.
A recent TechBeacon article highlighted the need for more API-level tests — but many testers lack experience in this area, being more familiar with GUI-based automation. Bas Dijkstra offers an API workshop focusing on REST (which most modern APIs are developed by). This free workshop, hosted on Github, covers RESTful APIs, REST Assured and provides hands-on exercises to get you up to speed. It’s a great resource that has been well received by the testing community.
StickyMinds is an active community of software testers. Signing up gets you access to a large archive of the Better Software magazine, more than a decade of TechWell conference presentations and regular articles on what’s new in software testing. Best of all, there’s a lively Q&A forum where you can ask questions about best practices, industry hot topics and more. It’s free to join but, as with most online communities, you’ll get out what you put in.
If you’re looking to boost your testing skills, then Nikolay Advolodkin’s site, Ultimate QA, might be just what you’re looking for. It offers a combination of paid (but not expensive) and free courses covering all aspects of QA testing. Popular courses include Complete Selenium WebDriver with Java Bootcamp and Selenium WebDriver Masterclass with C#. Ultimate QA also provides a number of articles and resources — their collection of websites to practice automation is a particularly useful one you’ll want to bookmark straight away.
QA testing revolves around a cycle of finding, reporting and tracking bugs (anything that stops software operating correctly). Spreadsheets and emails quickly become inefficient to manage larger projects, so you will need to turn to a bug tracking software — a good one will save you countless hours and make communication across teams much easier. Software Testing Help provides a fantastic breakdown of the best bug tracking options. Their recommendations include Airbrake, which is the most popular bug tracking software with over 50,000 users, and Mantis, which is free and one of the most easy-to-use systems.
Diversity remains a key issue for the technology industry. According to a recent BCS report, 18% of IT professionals have BAME backgrounds. BAME people are also less likely to hold senior positions — only 9% are directors and 32% are supervisors (for comparison 43% of white employees have a supervisory role). The lack of diversity becomes even clearer when considering specific ethnic groups. For example, black women make up just 0.7% of the technology industry — a representation rate that is 2.5 times lower than in other industries. Clearly, the technology industry is still struggling to achieve true diversity, so what can companies do about it?
It’s easy to say the right thing, harder to put this into action. Setting targets, continually measuring diversity and reviewing progress helps organisations to commit to change. For example, some big companies like Facebook and Pinterest have tried to use the ‘Rooney rule’ where at least one woman and one person of colour are interviewed for director positions within the company. However, progress has been limited and concerns about it being a ‘diversity tickbox’ exercise have been raised. More recently, it’s been emphasised that targets need to be set at all levels of seniority, and that there needs to be external accountability for failure to meet targets.
On the other hand, sometimes companies fail to say enough. Statements of diversity support are important to attract new staff and ensure existing employees are reassured by an inclusive company culture — both those with BAME backgrounds and beyond. For example, Unilever recently pledged their support for a campaign working to end discrimination against hairstyles associated with racial, ethnic and cultural identities. Given that this kind of discrimination often happens in the workplace, a major employer taking a stance sends out a powerful message.
Many people from under-represented groups have concerns that a career in tech is ‘not for them’. This can be reinforced by a lack of people who look like them in senior positions. In addition, some BAME communities prioritise traditional jobs such as medicine, law and finance over technology careers. Companies can participate in outreach in schools and other settings to expand on what a technology career looks like and address concerns someone might have about entering the world of technology. Outreach can help to shed a light on available opportunities while also sending a clear message about the company’s commitment to a diverse workforce.
There’s been a recent discussion about diversity training — particularly the low reliability of the implicit association test and its lack of impact on reducing real-world biases — to the extent that the civil service has stopped all unconscious bias training. However, while certain tools have been criticised, research shows that ongoing diversity training is successful when it combines a range of techniques and is complemented by other diversity initiatives. It’s clear that diversity training needs to be ongoing and not seen as a substitute for wider policy change.
After the Black Lives Matter movement put the spotlight on diversity in 2020, many companies turned to their staff for advice. There have been several instances of people from BAME backgrounds being asked to speak about and advise on diversity practices amidst a climate of emotional trauma and, in some cases, fear of later reprisals from the organisation they were asked to defend. It’s important not to place the burden of improving diversity on individuals — especially if they are unsure how to refuse and are not being compensated for their extra work. Diversity — like any other organisational strategy — should be managed by qualified professionals and engaged with by interested employees.
The technology industry’s track record when it comes to diversity is far from perfect. However, changes are being made. It’s clear that actionable, long-term strategies are needed to truly support organisational diversity in tech.
We surveyed more than 1,500 employers to gather data on current hiring trends, changes to the size of the workforce in 2020, skills in demand, the impact on salaries and rates, the rollout of the vaccine and looking to the future and whether the scotch egg is a substantial meal, or simple snack. We are pleased to be able to present the results for December below:
Our Technology Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2020 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our Technology Recruitment Teams, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.
Our Scotland Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest salary data collated by our specialist Recruitment Teams covering:
Our England Regions Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest salary data collated by our specialist Recruitment Teams covering:
Our Technology Market Insights Report & Salary Guide 2019 provides the latest insights on the market collated by our Technology Recruitment Teams, and from data collected from surveying our clients and candidates.
Lastest Report on the IT & Change Trends within Financial Services:
- Regulatory Change
- Recruitment Trends