Featured Woman in Technology: Katy Kneale

Katy2 Katy Kneale is a Test Lead for the Online Management Platform and Solutions group at Microsoft.  She owns testing the user interface for several management products, like the Microsoft Update Catalog, the Asset Inventory Service (part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack), and the Microsoft Update website.  Katy leads a team of 4 fulltime employees and 3 vendors in China. 

Among other things, Katy's team works on finding new and creative ways to automate user interfaces, which is a tough problem.  “We’re always looking into new tools and new testing methodologies to help us become more efficient at our job.”  She is currently exploring pixel comparison - taking a screenshot and comparing it to a golden version (which is known to be correct) to make sure that nothing has changed.  However, she works with dynamic data which creates some challenges that they are still trying to solve. 

She has also utilized model-based testing.  This constitutes building a model of your user interface which describes the different code paths through the application or website.  She has done prototyping using a tool developed by Microsoft Research called Spec Explorer.  This tool takes a specification written in Spec# (which models the user interface) and automatically creates test cases based on it.  “If you code it such that the output of Spec Explorer is the input to your automation code, you are able to explore new code paths, find bugs, and stress your system very easily.” 

Katy also recognizes the importance of evaluating the customer experience when testing.  It is important not only for the system to work, but to make it easy for users to accomplish tasks.  "Get to know your users," she advises.  "They won't think that a product is high-quality if it's difficult to use, even if all of your underlying functionality works flawlessly." 

Of course, there are some situations when it makes sense to simply test manually, rather than automating your test suite.  In that case, Katy looks for testers that are "very perceptive, with a sharp eye for detail", so they notice when little things change. 

What gets Katy out of bed in the morning?  "The best part of my job is working with my employees.  I love thinking through problems, both technical and career growth related.  How are we going to test our products?  Are the proposed solutions the right solutions?  I ask a lot of questions to figure it out.  I also enjoy helping them grow in their careers and thinking of creative ways to give them the experiences they need while still getting our work done." 

Katy manages her work/life balance by making a loose schedule for the week.  One night per week, she stays late at the office.  One night per week, she goes home early and "tries to hit Happy Hour" at one of her favorite Seattle bars.  Another night, she goes to the gym.  Katy also hardly ever works from home; she stays late if she needs to work.  "On nights and weekends, I don't even turn on my computer if possible.  My time at home is for me and my husband."   

Katy's mother was a computer engineer, and her father was an electrical engineer.  Katy was gifted at math and science from a young age.  In college, she took an Engineering 101 course and learned to program in C.  Programming felt natural to her.  "I was really good at it, so I took additional programming courses, and I was good at those."  Katy found her career path not by falling in love with programming at a young age, but by discovering that she was good at something that is hard for a lot of people.  "I liked that I was different...I'm not a geeky boy, but a cool girl" (Katy was a varsity cheerleader in high school) "...and I could program well.  I enjoyed the challenge and liked proving that you don't have to be someone who sits inside their dorm room all the time to get a Computer Science degree." 

Katy's advice to other women in technology: "Try to stick together as women.  Most of the women in technology that I know are amazing.  I love having a network to run ideas through.  Seek out the women that you work with or go to class with - have lunch and see if you have anything in common.  Knowing that there are other women out there, and supporting each other, really helped me."