Employee Q&A

Life as a System Test Engineer


"Managing to move from the manufacturing role into the test role efficiently and immediately getting stuck in to the difficult task of improving test coverage was a good high point."

What did you study (and where), and what attracted you to work at Calnex?

I first studied Physics at Heriot-Watt university, afterwards finding a job manufacturing laser systems. Sounds cool, and I did enjoy the job and working with the people. I kept going in this role for two years, eventually realising it was a good job but with limited career growth potential. So I decided to go back to university and studied a Masters in Renewable Energy at Dundee University. I found the renewables market tough to get in to – need a job to get experience to get a job… and with only a years exposure to the industry it wasn’t enough. So I went back to my physics roots, combined that with my experience building lasers, and found Calnex had a manufacturing role available.

How long have you worked at Calnex and how has your career developed?

I started back in November 2013 in the Manufacturing department; testing, shipping and occasionally repairing the units. This suited my skills very well and I stayed in manufacturing for a good, enjoyable 3 years. I have always enjoyed learning new things though, so when the opportunity came up of a secondment into the Test team I went for it. 6 months later I agreed to make the move to the Test team permanent. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and I still try to keep my skills in manufacturing up in case they ever need the help.

What is it that motivates you in the morning and gets you energized about your role?

The work is quite often hard going. I’ve heard it quoted “we do difficult things well” and this definitely holds true in test. If I’m having a bad day in the office, I just remember that this is not an easy job, and we are doing it well. This seems to be reflected in how the company is seen by our customers which we get exposure to through the trip reports from conferences our team attends. The flexible working hours also allow for personal circumstances to be accounted for, and gives everyone the opportunity to do extra-curricular activities such as sports, pilates or going out for a meal at lunch time, or leaving a bit earlier in the evening. This breeds a great working camaraderie in the office which only comes through good social interactions. And the prospect of being able to beat The Boss in a badminton rally always appeals…

Talk us through a typical day for you at Calnex?

There’s no such thing as a typical day! A good chunk of our testing is automated to run overnight, so I usually start the day going through results from the previous night (or weekends) run, analyzing any problems that appear, making a stab at a possible cause, then passing this information on to the development team for further investigation and fixing. Following this it’s on to the manual aspect of testing which will test anything that cannot be automated, or investigate and verify any fixes to defects that have been identified. If I have time I can try to develop new test cases to increase the coverage we have or patch any gaps in the testing. I usually manage to set aside a bit of time each week for personal development which the management team are keen to support. Once all this is done, it’s setting up the units for the next round of overnight automated testing, ready to start all over again the next “typical” day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The fact that the job always changes means there is always something new to learn. That is a big driver for improvement, whether personal or professional. We have a very diverse team at Calnex, but everyone is more than happy to take time out to help you with a problem. If you find something wrong, you know who you can ask about it. And if they can’t help you, they will do their best to point you in the direction of the person who can help you. In this way problems are dealt with quickly as a team and you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Most challenging aspects of your job?

There are a couple of things that stand out for me here. Firstly, it is accepting Rule number one: “You can never test everything”. I always want to do the best that I can, and we do start with a very high coverage of testing. But there will always be something that has been missed – some particular use case scenario that one customer half uses once every other Tuesday that you did not know about. All we can do in that situation is try to anticipate the customer needs, learn from the missed use case, and include that in our testing going forwards. Secondly the test team are the last line of defence before the software is unleashed on the world. So when we are close to release times we can often be under a lot of pressure to get everything tested. Counter to that, when we are waiting for development of new features to be completed we are under a bit less pressure. Learning how to cope with this waxing and waning of pressure, how to spread our tasks out appropriately is another challenging aspect of the job.

What skills do you need to succeed in the job?

Patience. Communication. Thoroughness.

What has been your biggest success at Calnex?

Managing to move from the manufacturing role into the test role efficiently and immediately getting stuck in to the difficult task of improving test coverage was a good high point. Also back in my manufacturing days, I was in charge of testing and shipping the largest volume single order the company has seen (yet). Both these have been very challenging times, but really rewarding.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone who wants to work in System Test?

Always remember Rule number 1. And never be scared to ask the daft questions.

What do you do for downtime?

I am fairly active and enjoy doing sport of many kinds. Particularly I run a lot, occasionally I pretend to play football (really just another excuse for a run), and am very heavily involved in Canoe Polo - one of the more obscure/bizarre paddle sports. I have been secretary of the SCA Canoe Polo Committee for the last 5 years. I also spend time helping my wife study for her university degree – and have learned a lot about dentistry that I never really expected to. Beyond this I also enjoy exploring, whether it is in a city or out in the wilds of Scotland.


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