Corporate Training helps Charleston company move to automation

The company name lives up to the incredibly hot industry.

BoomTown, an online real estate marketing platform, is a tool agents use to manage leads and marketing for buying and selling homes. BoomTown started as a small start-up but has grown to around 250 employees. Business is, excuse the pun, booming.

Brian Baumgartner leads the quality assurance team at BoomTown. The team is responsible for testing all new features in the BoomTown platform, guaranteeing the product is the best it can be before going into market. In the early days of being a nimble start-up, all quality testing was manual with the QA team scrambling to get the products in market quickly. The company grew from the scrappiness of start-up culture to a more mature company and began to look at ways to streamline their processes.

“I’d been slowly trying to change the way QA was perceived at BoomTown. We’ve come from a largely manual testing shop, so people still see us as manual testers,” said Brian. “Now that our product and company as a whole really has matured and become more complex, the testing needs have changed. So several years ago, we identified that automated testing was the future of quality assurance.”

Three years ago, Brian enlisted a senior software engineer to build an automated testing platform. The team began implementing automation and slowly introducing it into their testing process. The move to automation would require a new set of skills for a talented group of employees that had never programmed professionally. Brian describes his QA team as “being able to configure environments and test anything that comes their way,” but BoomTown now needed them to be able to contribute to the code of the new automation.

“Automation is an effort that requires a lot of maintenance, and with that you need people to maintain the code. The automated tests can break, so you need people in there actively owning and maintaining it.”

The change to automation was well received.

“We have a very talented group of people here that are very driven, and they were like, ‘What is this automation thing? Let me contribute. Let me help,’” Brian said.

But the varying skill sets of the team was a challenge. Some people had dabbled in coding, others had never seen a line of code. It was difficult to set standards for the entire team.

“We realized that it was hard to take people from varying backgrounds and set expectations for them, because it wouldn’t be fair. What we were asking them to do was not part of their job description. We couldn’t just snap our fingers and be like, ‘You’re an automation engineer now.’ Some people would have loved that. Others would have probably felt like they were drowning,” Brian said.

The idea was to get the team to think like quality analysts and software developers. Brian started some internal code training with his team to little success. The skill gaps in the team were too broad.

Brian reached out to The Iron Yard Corporate Training team for a hand in reskilling the team. BoomTown worked with The Iron Yard trainers to tailor a curriculum especially for this group of employees.

“You could tell that this was a priority to them. They knew what they were doing. It was handled very well.”

The Iron Yard team worked with BoomTown for three weeks of intensive training, particularly in the coding language Ruby, which BoomTown had used to build the new automation software.

Brian and his tech lead brought a list of must-haves for the training to The Iron Yard with specific objectives. Corporate Training then curated a class specifically geared to those objectives.

Reskilling the employees established a new baseline for the team. Expectations, goals and new projects could be set with the confidence that every team member would be equipped to work with the code for the new automated system.

“It was huge. It was even more important than we thought going into it, because now people, at the end of class, they felt empowered to get into the code, whereas maybe less experienced people were a little bit shy or hesitant to get in there and make changes, [make] mistakes and do that kind of thing that you need to grow as an individual. But now we could say that you’ve done this. You did it in class. You know what you are capable of. Now let’s see it. That’s been so empowering for everyone on the team,” said Brian.

After completing training, BoomTown employees received a new job description and title change.

“Automation is the standard. It’s the first thought, not the afterthought, so what I wanted to do was essentially have a paradigm shift in the way QA is viewed. We are automation engineers. That is what we are focusing on, and that is what our job description is.”

The newly trained employees are now Associate Software Engineer and Test. The shift in title and job description has changed how team members view their jobs and how others in the company think about the team.

“It’s development work just like anyone else [on the development] team coding for a product, except we’re coding to test the product. So really getting that respect that we’re writing code too…everyone sees the QA team as an engineering shop now,” Brian said.

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