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Spotlight: Graham Gilmour - Senior Quality Engineer - Virgin Money

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I like to build Lego models when I get the opportunity. Normally the Technic, or the bigger Creator sets. My favourites have been the Space Shuttle Discovery and the James Bond Aston Martin DB5.

Tell us about your career journey so far.

After leaving school, I was offered a place at Napier College to study for a BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and was also offered a job with Clydesdale Bank, and took the job in the Bank.

After about 10 years, and moving to a life insurance company, I had the chance to join the testing department because of my knowledge of the systems, and my aptitude of being quite technically minded. Here I performed manual type tests, comparing the expected and actual outcomes of the tests that had been written for system changes.

I moved on through various companies, and at each one, was able to use my existing skills, but also learn new ones. I also started to create automated tests, where you program one computer to run the tests on another.

I had never formally learned how to write code, it was something that I learned on the job.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

My favourite subject was physics. I had a really inspirational teacher in my 3rd and 4th years, who was a bit like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I learned about problem solving, and how to carry out experiments, keeping notes of the results and comparing these to what I expected. I think it also helped me to learn about why things worked, like gravity, friction, laws of motion and such which helps with a wider understanding of the world.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

Maths is quite a common one, but algebra in particular can help in writing programs. The ability to solve problems, or be curious about what is going on with a system when you are testing it. Tests don’t always work the way you expect them to, so you need to be able to investigate why. A good attention to detail is also important. Being able to spot subtle differences in test results can be quite crucial, and depending on what is being tested, can be the difference between a success or a very expensive failure.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

The favourite thing about my job is that every day is different. You are maybe testing different parts of a system every day, and finding things that are not quite right, or actually go wrong is why I am there. Sometimes, because you think about things differently from a developer or an analyst, you maybe spot something that they didn’t, like what happens if you don’t do what is expected, does the system keep working, or does it make it break.

What is a normal day in your role like?

A typical day at work for me normally starts with looking at what my plan is for the day. I will have a meeting with the team to discuss what I am working on, what I got done yesterday, and what I plan to get done today. I maybe after, I will have other meetings in the morning to look at work the team expects to come along in the coming weeks, how complex it is, and how we break it down. There can be other meetings to discuss issues encountered, and work out how to resolve them.

Afternoons are normally always meetings free. This is when you can get on with running or creating tests, and the absence of meetings means that you can concentrate on one thing without distraction.

And what does your job title mean?

As a Senior Quality Engineer, it means that I maybe have a team of more junior Quality Engineers who I look after. I also represent the testing team within the project itself. A Quality Engineer means that we have responsibility to check that software and systems used by colleagues and customers work in the way they expected to, and don’t have any unwanted behaviour that could cause issues.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

One thing you can do is to take a simple example of a calculator. We might use them a lot of the time, especially in school. Now think, what are the things I would want to test if I had a new one. You might want to check basic functions like add, subtract, multiply, divide, but what more complex calculations should it do? Also, is it easy to use, are the buttons set out properly, can you read the screen, is it too big, or too small?

You can apply similar thinking to other devices that you use to check they work as you would expect.


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