Leading the Way in Software Development and QA Automation

- Iskra Antonova, QA Automation Lead

It is our great pleasure to introduce our colleague Iskra - a Lead QA Automation in Software Development who holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Automation. She has played a key part in the Plan A dream team since March 2023 and has over 15 years of experience in the tech industry.
Iskra excels at developing comprehensive testing strategies, as well as leading and mentoring teams in test automation, and with her enviable expertise and resilient team spirit, she is unmatched in driving projects to success.

Could you tell us about your journey to earning a Ph.D. in technology as a woman? Were there any challenges you faced along the way?

Iskra Antonova: Since my Ph.D. thesis is in the field of industrial automation, which has traditionally been considered a predominantly male specialty for years (and still is), one of the most challenging aspects was overcoming the stereotype that women do not possess the necessary mindset and are not suitable for engineering. Another significant challenge was related to the lack of understanding of the topic of my PhD thesis when UML (Unified Modelling Language) was not widely used in the field of software engineering or in industrial automation. Over 18 years ago science and practice still struggled to find common ground, so almost no one saw the value of my research. I often heard phrases like, "I won't bother to read this UML" or "There's no benefit from these drawings" (referring to various types of diagrams). A while after that I secured funding, and part of the experimental research in my thesis was conducted in Germany, where I had the opportunity to see how science can be applied in practice, which gave me additional motivation not to give up. 

In what ways do you think having a Ph.D. in technology has helped you in your career and what challenges have you faced as a woman in this industry? 

Iskra Antonova: Having a Ph.D. is important and necessary if you have the desire to pursue a career in the scientific research field. A little over 8 years ago, I was engaged in research and teaching activities, so it definitely helped me. During this period, I also did a several-month postdoc at TU Munich, and the research team I had to work with was predominantly male. The biggest challenge for me was to learn to not allow to be ignored and prove that my ideas for certain studies and experiments were no less important than those of the other team members. This helped me learn to stand firmly behind my ideas and not be afraid to speak up on topics on which I have expertise. Today, I am a confident leader that knows that ideas have no gender and that in a team, the only metric on which one should be judged is merrit.

Can you share your experience applying your Ph.D. knowledge to your work at Plan A? How has it influenced your approach to software development and QA automation?  

Iskra Antonova: As a Ph.D., I had to read and analyze a large volume of specialized publications, as well as experiment with various approaches related to experimental research. The skill I acquired and find most valuable in my work now is the ability to quickly process and analyze new information. Just as during my Ph.D., where I had to try different approaches to achieve the desired result, my current work on Client projects necessitates the use of new and diverse technologies.

People often hesitate to try something new, fearing that they won't achieve the desired result. I myself am not afraid to try, even if the desired outcome is not guaranteed.

In such situations, one of my favorite quotes comes from the great inventor Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." 

How do you make sure the solutions you create at Plan A meet our Client's specific needs and expectations, considering their diverse perspectives and requirements? 

Iskra Antonova: Ensuring that the solutions we create at Plan A meet the specific needs and expectations of our Clients, it's a comprehensive and collaborative task. The first and most crucial step involves communication with the Client to understand their goals, expectations, ideas, and requirements. To gather all perspectives, we engage with business analysts, developers, QA, managers, etc. Additionally, 

  • We utilize flexible and transparent methodologies that allow for iterative feedback 
  • We provide proof of concept to demonstrate the applicability of the proposed solution to the Client's objectives 
  • Regular status updates and milestone reviews are integral parts of the process, providing opportunities for the Client to assess progress and provide feedback.
  • By incorporating stakeholder perspectives, we can refine solutions to enhance user experience and address any unforeseen challenges.

This approach ensures that our solutions are perfectly tailored to our Clients' specific needs, and guarantees a transparent and cooperative environment throughout the entire process.

How can we encourage more women to consider careers in science and technology? What advice do you have for young women who want to pursue higher education and careers in this industry?

Iskra Antonova: The stereotype that certain professions are masculine and others feminine has long been shattered. If someone is interested in fixing cars, assembling computers, engineering machines, or simply writing code (testing software products), they should be motivated to be the best in that field, be persistent, and continue learning to achieve that goal. There are no impossible things - when someone has the desire, they find a way; if there's no desire, there are always excuses.

 

Thank you, Iskra,

for sharing your journey and insights. Your dedication and expertise are empowering for women in tech and beyond.

Join us in honoring all the women and girls who overcome barriers, and inspire the next generation in software development!

 

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