ProdProfile: Alexander Michaud (ARM)

1. What’s your background that’s led you to your current position at ProdPerfect?

After college, I decided to work in web development. I went to a boot camp where I met ProdPerfect Co-founders Dan Widing and Erik Fogg. They were exchanging mentorship for some resources when ProdPerfect was still in its early stages. They said: We’ll keep you in mind for our company. Lo and behold, ProdPerfect was growing so fast that they called me basically 8 months later. The offer was way too good to pass up: small company, growing fast. I had a lot of autonomy and got to work with people I knew and respected. 

I’ve now been working here for as long as I was working at my old job. I feel so much less burnout and so much more enthusiasm about where I am than I did being a very small cog in an engineering department of 1,500. And that’s very fulfilling.

 

2. What sets ProdPerfect apart from other places you’ve worked?

It comes down to the people. There is definitely a coherent ProdPerfect team culture. Everyone at ProdPerfect is the sort of person I want to spend 8 hours a day with. They’re ambitious and excited about what we do, but also grounded and down-to-earth. There are no caricatures. You don’t get the stereotypes of introverted, overly opinionated engineers or hyper-aggressive salespeople. They’re just real people. And God, is that refreshing to work with.  

Everyone is super dynamic and responsive. I’ve seen situations where unwavering preferences about engineering design make people set in their ways. You just don’t see that here. I’ve seen departments complain to one another in a most productive way. In other situations, you can just sense the egos and the tension of “I need something from you.” I’d be shocked if anyone here were anything but super willing and eager to help in any way they can. Of course, there’s push-back and there is constructive debate and dialogue. But there’s never: “We’re going to do our thing our way.” People are intellectually modest enough to lean on others. Nobody is so entrenched in their biases that they can’t see the greater picture.

 

3. Can you paint for me a picture of what life is like in your role?

As delivery engineers, we produce the final, customer-specific deliverable. We take information that comes from data engineering and use it with tool sets produced by other teams to produce a test suite. This is a big chunk of code which tells the machine to simulate the experience of a user clicking through a site. And we set that code to run on a timely schedule. In theory, if the customer sets it up, it also runs every time their engineers want to make a change to their website before it goes live. We encourage customers to use our product as a final check mark that confirms they’re set with every change they make.

I divide my job into things that are predictable and things that aren’t. Predictable things are part of the regular cycle of spinning up a customer: collecting data, running the analysis, and generating test cases. Once test cases are generated, I oversee the people who write tests: I review their code and answer questions. I also communicate with the customer about the state of the test suite and things we need clarification on. Then we hand it off. All of this usually happens within six weeks. What’s not predictable is we’re constantly monitoring when our tests fail and figuring out why. If it’s a bug, we forward the information to the customer. If it’s a change in the website or something goes wrong with tests, we update the tests. New features, new tools, and one-off things also comes up all the time, so I budget some time in for the unpredictable every day.

 

4. What are some elements of a typical interaction with customers?

With customers, I get brought in as early as the product demo stage. We serve a technical support role alongside salespeople as they walk customers through our product. Being close to the production of the test suites and understanding the data engineering team’s analysis, our team is in a good position to clarify and respond to more specific technical questions. We’re also brought onboard to understand the peculiarities of customer applications to determine if ProdPerfect will be a useful tool for them. Once the contract is signed, we are part of the process all the way through: we get all the information we need in order to access their staging environments to test against them. We communicate with them about the progress of gathering data and the creation of their test suite over Slack channels.

 

“We are part of the process all the way through.”

 

 

5. What intrigues you about delivery engineering at ProdPerfect?

Some engineering departments can feel peripheral and maybe foundational, but not central. We feel central. The organization has a lot of moving parts, but ours is the one that most closely looks like what we describe when we talk about our products and services. We produce the deliverable. Being responsible for the final deliverable has its own privileges and challenges. We are relying on and therefore learning about every other department. This means we have to have a shallow amount of knowledge about everything that’s going on around us. Extracting what others are producing as it’s relevant to us is sometimes the most efficient way to get the heart of what they’re doing. That’s a lot of my day. It’s fun to be able to learn a little bit about all parts of the organization. There really isn’t anything we don’t touch or that doesn’t touch us.

 

6. How do you explain to people the value of ProdPerfect?

We collect information about how people are using your website. And we recommend tests to be created that specifically verify that the parts of the website most people see are working. If the log-in page is seen by 80% of users that visit your site, you want to make sure that your log-in page is working. I often get asked how ProdPerfect is able to support a bunch of different organizations in quality assurance testing. The answer is because we’re making test suites that aren’t trying to support everything. We’re identifying the most important stuff. 

We’re not trying to be the be-all and end-all; we’re trying to provide a very targeted kind of value. It’s not worth your time to put the same amount of effort into resolving a niche edge case versus things that are more visible or that iterate on your product. We explicitly don’t do that. Everything is a trade-off of time. Choosing this trade-off gives us the ability to maintain the test suite in a more robust and dynamic way, which is a really unique principle that ProdPerfect operates under. 

 

7. In your own words, how would you differentiate ProdPerfect from competitors?

The major thing that distinguishes us is data collection. Anyone can give a contractor access to their application and tell them: “Go through and make a bunch of automated tests based on whatever you think should be tested.” It’s another thing entirely to give people the power to say: “We’ve got the top 70% of our workflows covered.” People appreciate that knowledge and sense of security. They appreciate that we integrate with their development workflows in a way that can mean that they never push a bug to production. We have customers that testify to that.

We are also very focused on the kinds of customers we are working with right now. We’re not doing a lot of mobile or native desktop testing; we’re focused on web applications. So our customers are usually Software as a service (SaaS) companies—usually smaller, start-upy kinds of companies that are iterating quickly and are more liable to make mistakes, but will also suffer more because of mistakes. In this sense the customer we’ve started to target in the space we occupy is getting more specific as we mature as a company.

ProdProfile: Nicola Molinaro

1. What’s your background that’s led you to your current position at ProdPerfect?

I’ve been working in technology sales for the past 13 years and previously was at a company where I successfully sold to ProdPerfect cofounders Erik and Dan. Erik and Dan ended up in NYC last summer because they were accepted into the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) program. We’d hang out, get drinks, eat, and really got to know each other. And because I had sold to them and they enjoyed working with me, they said: “We want you to come sell for us.” 

Working at ProdPerfect has been extremely exciting. I accepted not only because it was an awesome opportunity for career growth and learning where I knew my opinions and feedback would have a real impact, but also because ProdPerfect is doing something absolutely revolutionary in the industry that shines through in the work that I do every day.

 

2. Can you paint for me a picture of what life is like in your role?

I meet with CTOs, heads of engineering teams, directors, and heads of QA regularly and speak with them about how we can improve their regression testing efforts, increase efficiencies, save their team time, and better accurately test. I often hear healthy skepticism from them: “This sounds like magic/Does it actually work?” and then I get to show them it’s not magic and it does work. It keeps me on my toes and is exciting to demonstrate that our solution can provide them a bunch of benefits they never thought they could have. It’s also fun to hear people get elated and say things like: “How has no one thought of this before?!” 

 

3. What are some elements of a typical interaction with customers?

Organizations don’t want to feel like we’re adding in more work or hindering their processes, but that we’re taking this work off their plates and helping them. So we make it clear that we’re integrating right into their Continuous Integration (CI) tool so our tests run with every build automatically, as if they had built them in-house. And because we’re driven by data, we’re able to take on the maintenance of the code as well: we fix broken tests build-to-build and add new tests as the web app evolves over time. Our model alleviates concerns around how much work they’re going to have to do.

Typical reactions after the first call are: “Wow, this definitely seems valuable.”  “This seems like magic.” “Everyone should have this!” And of course: “I like the promise that you’re making, but I need to learn more.” Sometimes, clients are skeptical that there’s a particular area of their platform that we’ll be able to support. I’m a big advocate of being honest and upfront. Having a demo of the client’s platform as a step in our process to assess what we can and cannot handle and being transparent about that helps to 1) level expectations with the client, and 2) instill confidence in working with us.

 

 

“We’re integrating right into their Continuous Integration (CI) tool so our tests run with every build automatically, as if they had built them in-house.”

 

 

4. What intrigues you about your role in sales at ProdPerfect?

I get to challenge the way people think about testing. In regression testing, coverage has always been: “What percentage of the application is covered?” We’re asking people to philosophically change the way they think to consider: “What if we could guarantee that the majority of observed user behavior from production is being covered by our testing suite?” Challenging people way more technical than me, who’ve been doing engineering for 15, 20+ years.  

We also challenge perspectives that existing test suites encompass the “right kinds of tests.” One company had built 1,000 of their own test cases, which took hours to run, and they couldn’t run a regression test with every build as a result, which meant they’d see bugs in production even though they had many tests. Our response to this dilemma was: “How do you know those 1,000 test cases you’ve created are the right tests?” And to help them see it as: we’re going to build a lean test suite based on user behavior that runs with every build and catches more bugs” because we’re testing accurately for how users are using the platform.

 

5. How do you explain to people the value of ProdPerfect?

For someone with no tech experience: when you build software, you need to test it. A lot of companies test their software manually or build automation. But automation needs to be maintained. That takes time and money. Figuring out what to test is one of the hardest jobs in the testing world. Humans are guessing what to test and then spending time building and maintaining tests as the application changes over time. Yet, they’re not always testing accurately. ProdPerfect’s solution automatically builds and maintains test suites based on real user behavior so companies don’t have to do it or maintain it themselves.

For someone technical, I’d ask them questions like: “Hey you have a web app, how are you testing it? What’s a pain in the butt about it? How much time are you spending manually testing or building/maintaining automation? Let’s talk about how we can automate the whole process so your team doesn’t have to spend effort or mindshare on it.” Just higher-level, taking it off team plates so they don’t have to bother with it. I’ve never heard one person say in the last year that they enjoy doing regression testing. Customers know we’ve got them covered.

 

6. What are the top few frequently asked questions people have about us? About our product?

One common question is about things that won’t get picked up from data, which is what’s used to build our testing suites: “We’re worried you’re not going to get enough traffic around what we need to be covered. You won’t pick up on this really important edge case or mission-critical feature.” We solve for this by allocating a certain amount of wildcard test cases for each client: custom test cases they can hand off to us. And we’ll build out those tests, incorporate them into the suite, and maintain them alongside other test scripts that were generated from the data.

Some people are wary about letting us control maintaining and updating the code. Recently, we’ve come out with new functionality in our test results summary web portal that allows clients to request to skip a task if they know a big User Interface (UI) change is coming. This new functionality removes that test out of the suite and adds it to a queue to be fixed by the delivery engineer (proactively rather than reactively) so that when the client deploys, that test failing doesn’t block the deploy.  

Privacy and security is a concern as well, as we’re asking companies to put a data tracking snippet onto production so we can collect clickstream metadata. Once we explain and/or prove that our snippet avoids collecting PII (by not collecting any keystrokes or info about the dom) and that we don’t have a performance impact on production, we can normally circumvent lengthy infosec processes, but we also have a ton of experience going through them as necessary.

 

7. In your own words, how would you differentiate ProdPerfect from competitors?

We’re the only tool/service in the industry that’s solving the most critical challenge of testing: knowing what is important to test. With other tools and services, you still have to define test cases or user stories and hand them off for crowdtesting, or build and maintain automation. Humans approximate what they think should be the test cases, then build a bunch of tests, some of which aren’t important. This increases deploy time and sometimes prevents us from running a regression on every build. Bugs still make it to production because we’re not accurately testing for how users are using the application.  

ProdPerfect uses live user traffic to both 1) build an automation suite and in the process catch more bugs before production. And 2) maintain the suite. Teams put dozens to hundreds of engineering hours into fixing broken tests and maintaining automation suites. Our model allows us to automatically evolve the suite and keep the code maintained for clients, all the while providing real-time feedback to QA/dev teams on every single build.

Power and Liberation in Humility

Humility is the absence of ego.

Humility is not modesty. It is not an act, it is not an etiquette by which you under-sell yourself in order to secretly impress others with how “humble” you are. Attempting to show others how modest you are is an act of your ego, and it is not humility. I have never been modest, and I do not plan to become modest. I seek instead to become free of ego. I have in the past been tortured and consumed by ego; I have hurt others and failed them by believing and acting upon the stories my ego tells. I have had painful failures that were just jarring enough to force me to consider whether I needed my ego to succeed, or whether it was actually holding me back. In my current business, I attempt to role model humility—an absence of ego—sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. 

What is Ego?

What, then, is ego? Ego is simply the part of you that believes a falsehood that you will find fulfillment in getting what your mind thinks it wants. Your mind thinks it wants power, recognition, money, pleasure. The ego shares pictures of you and a curated life on social media, thinking that evoking envy or awe in others will make you happy. It seeks a job title and social status, thinking that by having others think you are better than they are, you will be happy. It seeks to impose your beliefs on others, thinking that by showing others that you are right and they are wrong, you will be better than them, and you will be happy. It seeks to put down or seek revenge on others that slight you, thinking that if you diminish them, you will be happy (and it lies to you, telling you this is “justice”). It seeks titles and honors bestowed upon it by others, because if you have those titles, others will think you are better than they are, and being better than others will make you happy. It seeks to have what others cannot afford, because if you can have something that others cannot, you will be better than them and therefore be happy. It seeks to insist that others put your name—a fleeting pair words—onto what you do so that you can feel important, thinking that feeling important will make you happy.

However, rich people do not tend to be happier than middle-class people. Powerful people are not more comfortable and fulfilled than individual contributors in society, and they have insecurities about all of the other people they worry are more powerful than they are. Famous people are unusually likely to get divorced, require drug rehabilitation, and commit suicide. Those considered beautiful are more likely to have body issues, even as others celebrate their beauty. Why are all these seeming contradictions observably true? It is because getting what you think you want does not make you happy. Getting what you think you want can give you temporary pleasure, but that pleasure will fade. Let us differentiate what we think we want from what we need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sums it well: we need food and shelter, safety, human connection and love (which do not come through impressing others), self-esteem (which also does not come through impressing others), and finally self-actualization (which does not come from believing we are better than others). The ego does not pursue needs, it pursues what it thinks it wants. 

The ego, therefore, is somewhere between slightly and destructively insane. It compels us to seek out things that do not make us or others happier. It is an addictive entity that seeks continual highs in drugs of thought (“I am better than others”) or drugs of pleasure that all fade, returning us to a base state of happiness or lack thereof, seeking more of the drug over and over until we die, or until we stop letting ourselves believe that what the ego thinks it wants will make us happy. If you have your core needs met but still have problems with anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, frustration, excessive pride, drama, conflict, or other avoidable psychological pains, the ego is the cause. You will be free of these when you set it aside.

To set ego aside, you must first admit that you have a problem and wish to be free of it. The problem is not you, it is not your fault—such judging of yourself is an act of the ego—but it is your responsibility to commit to changing. 

What Occurs As Ego is Set Aside?

Humility is the absence of ego. Imagine being free of the seeming-need to impress others, or to be recognized, or to be envied, or to tell yourself that you are better than others. Imagine being free of constant craving or feeling that you need some new toy, piece of clothing, exotic vacation, status symbol, or sexual partner. What could you do if you could feel satisfied with who you are and what you have, as long as what you have meets your real needs? Imagine how powerful you could be if you let go of even a little bit of this cycle of addiction to psychological and experiential self-inflation. Imagine the focus, passion, and quality you could devote to a purpose greater than what your ego thinks it wants. 

It is through humility that you finally become free to meet your ultimate need: self-actualization. Through humility, you can ask, with a clear mind, “what does the world require of me?” And quietly let the world and your heart provide you an answer that is not clouded by what your mind thinks it wants. If you start a business, it will not be in order to see yourself as someone’s boss, see yourself as a successful person, buy a boat, or be pictured in the media so everyone can know how “great” you are: you will start a business to go build something that the world and your heart are telling you the world needs. If you join politics, you will not join it to have power over others, to be lauded as a hero, to be added to the annals of history, or to spread your ideology: you will join politics to help your city or nation or world become a place where more people are free and enabled to meet their own needs. If you enter a romantic relationship, it will not be to use another person to make you feel better about yourself or to give you pleasure: you will enter a romantic relationship to give both you and that person human connection, love, and attention that does not keep score or seek any payment in return. 

Humility at Work

Imagine if you go into work every day with a humble heart. Instead of obsessing over, “is someone else taking too much vacation and not pulling their weight?” or asking, “how can I extract the most economic return from this organization through the least amount of effort?” or saying, “if people don’t listen to my ideas or do what I tell them, they are bad and must be put in line,” you will instead go to work every day asking, “how can I use this opportunity at work today to use my unique gifts and talents to make the organization and the industry and the world better, and to help and inspire others to move closer to self-actualization with me?” When there are setbacks, you will not rage, or seek blame, or fall into despair because the setback diminishes the fragile ego: you will ask, “what is the action this situation requires of me now?” In moments of triumph, you will recognize your contribution to the success, and you excitedly celebrate the contributions of others as well: their success does not diminish yours, because your ego is not convincing you to play a game of “who is best?” You recognize that their success is your success and the world’s success, and that by succeeding together you have done more than you could do apart. 

And if you find that you are in an organization that discourages or blocks you from using your gifts to improve it and the world, then you will not complain. You will not say, “it’s not fair!” You will ask, “what does the world need of me at this moment?” And you will either attempt to make the best of the situation that you can, change the organization from within, or move to one that will help and enhance your mission.

Humility is also the greatest catalyst to learning, something critical for every successful career or business. When our ego is involved, feedback (regardless of its form) feels threatening. We dread feedback because it is a reminder that we are not omnipotent and omniscient. It reminds us that we have limitations, that we can’t do everything on our own, and that we need one another to truly succeed.  Avoiding feedback means that, we resist the opportunity to learn and grow. When we discount feedback, we justify and rationalize our previous actions, presume that the person giving us feedback must be wrong, and choose instead to reject a learning opportunity. But if we lay our egos aside, we are able to recognize that feedback does not threaten us as individuals, but only helps us to grow and enhance our gifts and strengths. If we practice humility, we will be eager to receive feedback, eager to find opportunities to improve, and eager to seek out the people and information that can teach us most. Imagine what power you will have when you have taken away one of the greatest barriers to learning.

Those who have cultivated some humility are less attached to ideas or beliefs. They recognize that they have in the past changed their minds in light of new information, and that far from being a bad thing, it is a wonderful thing: they have not gotten their ego tied up in “being right.” They know that, having changed their minds before, they might change their minds again. This allows them to be more curious and recognize that what they think is true may not be reality. This makes them more able to objectively process new information and incorporate it.

A humble person can learn even from those who give feedback in an unpleasant or harsh way (such as, “you are an idiot”); you will ask, “what was the thing I did that contributed to them reacting in this way?” We do not need to accept fault, feel shame, or internalize negative labels others may impose: these are all games of the ego. In practicing humility, we are free to simply consider the facts, observe and understand what has happened, and archive this datapoint for future interactions.

Humility is the absence of ego, and humility is the path to being liberated from the never-ending cycle of drama and addiction to recognition, “being right,” pleasure, status symbols, and the like. Imagine being free of the terrible burden of constantly chasing after an ever-changing “bar” or goal after which you give yourself permission to have happiness and self-love and peace. Imagine being free of constantly trying to prove to others that you are good enough or better than, in order to feed your ego’s need for external validation. Imagine the liberation that comes when you realize and accept that after all of the accolades, the credit, the standing ovations, the money, the arguments you “won,” the fancy clothes and cars, the news articles, the romantic partners, and the social media likes, you are no happier than you were before. That nothing about you has actually changed. When you realize and accept that none of it really helps you, you stop believing your addictive ego when it tells you that you need it all so badly, just one more time, and then you will finally be okay. You realize that you’re okay now. That you’re not intrinsically more or less worthy or worthwhile than anyone else, and nothing you or anyone can do or say to change that. In that realization, you let go of all of these false promises, and you let go of your ego just a bit more.

Humility is the path by which you may seek self-actualization, as by putting aside the obsession with all of the petty things you think you want, you are left with only one question at every moment and forever: “what does this situation and the world require of me right now?” Or, stated differently, “what can I do at this moment to share my greatest gifts with the world?”

Humility is the path to unlocking our greatest power: through humility, we stop worrying about who is best at what, and we can objectively consider our strengths and gifts, as well as others’, in service to the greater need we have chosen together to fulfill. In this way, we can align our strengths and others’ to whatever the moment does require of us. We quit the games of “who gets credit,” and spend less time wondering how big our bank accounts will become, or when we’ll be featured on Forbes, or whether we’ll be envied or awed or remembered for what we do, and much more time and energy thinking of the impact of our actions on our own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of the moment, the person, the business, the industry, the world. 

And indeed, are not the people living in such a way happier than those that are chasing scraps of pleasure and ego satisfaction?

How Can I Cultivate Humility?

Any leader seeking the power of humility in their organization must absolutely cultivate humility in themselves first: it will never take root if we leaders do not first learn to model it. If this is not yet a regular practice, it will initially feel painful. In order to find the power and liberation that comes from humility, we must commit to feeling the pain that comes from seeing how our egos have hurt ourselves and others in the past. We will need to confront and question how we have used our time and energy previously and recognize that much of it was not truly in pursuit of what we or the world actually need. We may need to seek feedback about our mindset and behavior from others around us, and that feedback will likely feel threatening to the ego. We will need to accept that feedback—though not necessarily always correct, is usually valid and helpful. We will need to, repeatedly, feel the defensiveness and resistance of our egos well up in us, and the carving of new patterns will cause psychological pain. 

I cannot pretend to have a clear answer for any individual person about how to cultivate humility, and I will not pretend that I am fully free of my own ego, but I can share a bit of my story. I believe that very public failure and the pain of my reaction to it, as well as very direct feedback from some wise mentors, were catalysts for investing the time and energy to begin learning about ego and humility. This might be called “The Way of the Cross,” and I certainly hope others can take alternative paths to making the choice to understand ego and humility. 

When I had made that choice, my understanding of both ego and humility came from a whole lot of reading. Not everyone has time for a lot of reading. I rely on audiobooks when doing laundry, cooking, driving, taking a train, and the like. If the reading resonates with you, then you will over time begin to seek out experiences and people that help you to recognize your ego and, action by action, moment by moment, recognize when it is creeping up. 

You can begin to ask yourself questions. When you want to get in an argument, you can ask, “how does this really help me?” When you crave recognition or credit, or a status symbol, or a public display of showing you are better than others, you can ask again, “how does this really help me?” Your ego will try very hard to give you an answer. If you are on the fence when that answer comes, ask again: “but why do I need that?” And if the craving is from the ego, it will run out of answers. You will find, in that moment, you don’t need to act out its addictive compulsions. Every time you see the ego for what it is, and choose not to be part of its games you have struck an incredible victory. You have become a bit more humble, more free, more powerful.

Reading That Has Influenced My Exploration of Ego and Humility, For Those Curious

In no particular order, I fear. These are a motley crew of books and different ones will speak to different people differently. I suggest beginning with the book that speaks to you most when you read the blurb. 

  • Carol Dweck, Mindset
  • Kaley Klemp, Diana Chapman, Jim Detmer, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership
  • The Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, Emotional Awareness
  • Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now and A New Earth
  • Seneca, Letters
  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Martin Seligman, Flourish
  • Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essays
  • Aldous Huxley, Island
  • Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness
  • Sinclair Lewis, Babbit
  • W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
  • The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament (whether or not you are religiously inclined)

ProdProfile: Wilson Funkhouser

1. What’s your background that’s led you to your current position at ProdPerfect?

I’ve always loved math. In fact, ProdPerfect Cofounder Dan Widing and I became friends on the math team and chess team (state champions!) growing up. I majored in math and economics with a minor in psychology. I used that to design financial software before eventually getting into a consulting company which gave me a lot of exposure in the startup world. I worked on everything from water conservation startups to conversion optimization tools to the e-commerce site for a brewery called “Mobcraft Beer.” I went to get my master’s degree in data science. All the while, Dan and I kept barely missing each other with job opportunities. Finally, at the end of my master’s program, my other co-Founders Dan Widing and Erik Fogg called me up and said: “Hey, let’s make a company. Let’s actually try and automate QA.” What do you do when they say that? I said: “Yeah, let’s do it.” That’s how I got here: nerdiness and wanting to solve cool problems.

 

2. Can you paint for me a picture of what life is like in your role?

As head of Data Science, there’s always the need to explore both the data we already have and the new stuff we can do with it. But, I am far more of a mathematician than a data scientist and slightly more of a product/UX designer than a mathematician. Therefore, I’m working to hire people who are going to be substantially better than me at data science, and that’s great. One of my goals in life—much less ProdPerfect—is to build my team the point where I’m no longer needed.

I’m excited to focus more on product work: there is so much beautiful user-experience (UX) exploration, data visualization, and design to work on. By improving our transparency and visibility of some of our analysis, we’re going to improve the value we provide to our customers. We have the opportunity to transform the QA ecosystem. In the nearer-term, we can provide information about our test suite, our analysis of customers, and the bugs we find in a way that provides serious value for Quality Assurance (QA). Longer-term, we can do this not only historically, but predictively. We can give tools to QA teams to figure out what parts of their applications are the most vulnerable in a way that is focused on customer behavior. It prevents QA teams and engineers from burning out. I love it. Best of all, we have a fantastic team of people whose experiences and skills we can draw upon that are just as excited as me about this.

 

3. What are some elements of a “typical” interaction with customers and/or product?

This has certainly changed over time. Initially, there was constant interaction with customers. That’s because when the company was first founded, we had to figure out what customer data we could even collect, much less how to use it. In contrast, a lot of the work I’ve been doing this past year has been focused on making the job of maintaining customers easier; providing better or different information, making it easier for us to access and interpret data that comes from running test suite. Now, data science is finally getting to a place where I can once again start focusing on how we’re actually establishing value to the customer. As well as cool stuff like: “What’s the new value that we can provide to the customer?” So I’ve gone the full gamut from very closely interacting with new customers, to diving deep with a single customer, to having months of my customers and stakeholders being internal. Now, it’s finally looping back.

 

“We can give tools to QA teams to figure out what parts of their applications are the most vulnerable in a way that is focused on customer behavior.”

 

4. What intrigues you about your role in data science at ProdPerfect?

We are in the true golden age of data ethics. We get to figure out what data ethics means to the world at large. Data scientists have a concept of data ethics. But when it comes to consumer protection, personal privacy, GDPR—you name it—there’s so much to be navigated. At the same time, we are in a golden age of exploration in data science. You can log into an online open course like Coursera and within hours feed in the entire works of Shakespeare or Anne Rice and make a Twitter bot that spews out content. It takes longer to understand how it works, but the tools are available. How amazing is that? Every day there are more tools laid at our feet.

At the same time, I am a data scientist who has something of an aversion to data science. If you ever bring up machine learning or AI or data science to most engineers, you’ll likely be greeted with eye rolls and apprehension. AI isn’t perfect, machine learning isn’t perfect. Unless you are careful, you can bake black boxes into your system that are hard to fix and difficult to get five 9’s out of. Today’s culture has pushed the allure of machine learning without necessarily being able to back it up with improvements in this consistency. At ProdPerfect, we’ve applied machine learning. And it’s fantastic. But we’re doing it in a reserved manner because recklessness with these tools can lead to poor results that are difficult to diagnose. I’m a data scientist who loves data science, but remains skeptical of it. That’s why I encourage us to use it sparingly.

 

5. How do you explain to people the value of ProdPerfect?

We do hands-off QA testing. For someone who doesn’t understand Quality Assurance, I’d say: “We teach robots to make sure websites don’t break by feeding them anonymized behavior of your users.” There are thousands of analytical tools out there right now. You can use those to gain thousands of discrete insights. But none of those are really telling you what should be tested on your website. None of those are telling you: “What—if it does break—is going to hurt the use or usability of other parts of your website?” If I just say that, people get it. We’re using what users are actually doing on peoples’ websites to figure out what needs to be tested. That’s the insight people are incredulous about.

Here’s an example: my mother sometimes orders mail-order steaks online. The website only allows you to apply one coupon. Guess what? The customer service line often allows you to apply more. She uses the website differently from those that designed it. I don’t understand how my mother can use a website in a manner that seems different from all other humans on the planet. But she has a penchant for breaking web apps in beautifully unexpected ways. And if she’s doing it, other people are doing it. Keep in mind I used to design web apps; I’ve done the work of a senior QA engineer to give direction on test suites. And by looking at what ProdPerfect showed me, I realized I was consistently wrong about what should be tested. I’ve been in those shoes, I know a person deciding what should and shouldn’t be tested is going to make mistakes. Your users can and will surprise you.

 

6. In your own words, how would you differentiate ProdPerfect from competitors?

Any other service out there I will loosely group into two groups. One is the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks group. Those are the companies that make thousands of small regression tests which run continually. Even if you can run those all in parallel, your test suite is going to take a heck of a long time to pass. Then you have other customers where it’s not actually hands-off QA. You still need someone at your own company who understands QA and your website to say what should be tested. This second group is great at maintaining tests. And they are fantastic at automatically healing tests. But that’s not the same as hands-off QA testing.

We’re filling this niche of telling you what should be tested in a data-driven manner. That’s something no one has ever done before with this level of granularity. And make no mistake, bugs will get into production. You can have the best engineering team, the best QA tools, the best automated QA tools. Bugs will get into production. But can you prevent the critical bugs that will affect a critical mass of users? That’s something that we can say with increasing confidence as time goes on. Yes, we can prevent those bugs.

Values Spotlight: A Labor of Enthusiasm

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” — Marcus Aurelius

“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” — Salvador Dalí

I want to paint my best understanding of enthusiasm by example.

Imagine breaking rocks all day and then throwing them in a hole. This would be a drudging task, because it is not interesting, and it serves no purpose. Imagine instead breaking rocks to something beautiful or useful: a sculpture, a deep well, a home, a place of worship. It is mentally stimulating, it is rewarding, it is engaging, and it delights both because others enjoy it and because it is utilitarian or beautiful for its own sake. When you are done, you can look upon your work with great satisfaction: your work was interesting and engaging, and it served a purpose. Both tasks may use the same hammer and chisel, and both may leave you sweaty and covered in dust. One is done begrudgingly and the other can be done with enthusiasm. The difference is not the form of the labor, but the engagement of the mind and the heart.

When you are breaking rocks, time moves slowly. You are counting the minutes until it is over. When you are sculpting, you forget the world. You forget to eat. You look up to find that the sun is rising, you’ve worked through the night, and your heart breaks because you must move on and do something else. 

Enthusiasm happens at a very precise point in space and time: here and now. When you are doing work for its sake, when you are interested in the work and challenged by it, your mind focuses on where you are, what you are doing. Your purpose is to correctly land each strike of the chisel. When it is done, the next strike is your next purpose. Something beautiful awaits, but you do not pursue it with grim determination or anxiety. You enjoy the work. And from doing this work enthusiastically, you imbue the work and the result with a greater quality than if you did it begrudgingly. 

The greatest misperception, stated explicitly or believed implicity, about work which I have heard is that to bring quality into your work requires you to give up something to your task or to the organization. People believe it costs you something to do quality work that it does not cost you to do mediocre work. But the wonderful secret is that the opposite of this is true: when you find enthusiasm in your work, you produce greater quality in whatever time you put into the task, and also extract greater joy and satisfaction. There is no trade-off involved in doing your work with enthusiasm. Indeed, the privilege of having that enthusiasm is part of what can make life wonderful. 

Finding Enthusiasm Within

Many people believe that they are either lucky enough to have a job which gives them enthusiasm, or they aren’t. They believe that whether they are enthusiastic or miserable at work is outside of their control, and so often they feel resentment, and they come to work begrudgingly in order to pay rent. But as our rock-breaking example illustrates, enthusiasm comes from the mind. Specifically, it comes from being able to tie the work you do to something meaningful: that is, if you know why what you do matters, you are much more able to be enthusiastic and enjoy your work. And you do not need to be a doctor or CEO to make your work meaningful. 

I used to work in milk bottling factories. They were loud and a bit smelly, and almost always were pretty far out in the middle of nowhere. As you might imagine, many of the people who worked in these facilities had worked there for a very long time. What they did was very repetitive: every day, they needed to fill hundreds of thousands of bottles of milk by operating and maintaining filling machines, casers, stackers, palletizers, forklifts, trucks. I had imagined that they were very unlucky to be working there, and that I was very lucky to instead be a consultant jetting about to help them. 

On one project, I met the operator of the bottle-making machine, called a blow-molder. He had been the senior blow-molder operator for 18 years. This guy was a wizard with a machine that was otherwise very finicky and difficult: typically, any time precision heat is involved in a process, you need skill to make it work. But the blow-molder mostly tended to itself, taking in plastic and cranking out bottles. To me, it looked boring. But we were working together because the plant wanted to reduce some of the downtime on the line, and I had gotten to know him over a few weeks.

One day I saw him standing at the blow-molder, arms crossed, smiling. He had just brought it back online after some of the bottles had come out malformed. I said to him: “You look like you’re looking at a painting you just made.”

He put his arms down and looked me in the eye. I could tell his own eyes were getting a bit moist as he told me this story: “Ten years ago, when I was in the grocery store with my wife and my granddaughter, my wife pointed at all the milk on the shelves. And she said to our granddaughter: ‘Honey, did you know your grandpa makes all of this milk that thousands of people drink every day?’ And I’ll never forget the amazement in my granddaughter’s eyes when she said: ‘Wow! That’s amazing!’ And hugged me. And ever since then, I’ve been very proud of what I do.”

I know for a fact that he is happier at work than many people making ten times as much, with much easier and more conventionally “successful” careers. He goes to work every day with enthusiasm for bringing milk to the kitchens of Indiana. 

In these same travels I also got to know some of the people who performed housekeeping at the hotels I would stay at. She was always so chipper and we would chat briefly when we would see each other. She had a similar story: whenever she cleaned a bathroom or made a bed, she knew that every day, dozens of people like me would drag themselves into the hotel after a long flight and a long day at work, exhausted. It was in her hotel rooms that they could let their shoulders relax, and they could leave the day behind them, comfortable and without worry in a soft bed and a warm shower. She knew she was bringing comfort and joy to weary travelers, and that she got a lot more exercise than most desk-jockeys. She loved her job. 

For my part, I loved working in milk plants, too, even though the hours and the travel were pretty exhausting. I was keeping factories afloat, I was fixing problems that got in peoples’ way. I found enthusiasm in being a teenage line cook because I was learning a lifelong skill to make delicious food. I found enthusiasm as a landscaper because I could listen to audiobooks all day and get exercise. When I worked in customer service, I found enthusiasm in brightening people’s days: and I was subsequently far better at accomplishing just that brightening than colleagues who focused on feeling put-upon by customers who complained at them. 

In this way, enthusiasm becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you can articulate why what you are doing is meaningful–for you, for others, for the world–the increased quality you bring to the work improves the result, and yields the meaning you have tied to the work.

So when you show up to work, there’s no reason to not show up. If you’re going to be there, it costs you nothing additional to really be there, and you get so much more out of it.

Enthusiastically Learning and Growing

Enthusiasm, in combination with humility (which we discuss elsewhere), is a key to unlocking learning and growth. Let us consider again a few of the examples above. If you are a line cook, cooking with enthusiasm will provoke you to ask questions of more senior cooks about how to perfect a sandwich. If you are operating a blow-molder, enthusiasm will make you curious about how you can better understand the machine’s current state, and better control it. In an office (as in school), enthusiasm leads to curiosity and hunger to know more about what you are doing. Your mind will be more active and engaged, and you will be more open to seeing lessons that you would otherwise miss if you were shuffling your way through the day. If you work out enthusiastically, that last five minutes of trying to beat your personal record is exciting rather than miserable and tedious, so you will run all the harder with a smile on your face.

The logic of this is straightforward: enthusiasm comes when you see meaning in what you do. If you care about that meaning, whether it is a personal accomplishment, the realization of some external good, or the acquisition of a skill for later use, your mental engagement and thus rate of learning will be much higher. 

Enthusiasm’s Price

At ProdPerfect, enthusiasm is one of our core values, so we ask everyone to find it in themselves and bring it forth into their work and their teams. This request can feel at times a bit trite: who would not want to be enthusiastic about their work? 

While I believe the choice to be enthusiastic is a clear one, it does not mean that enthusiasm does not require giving up something. To be enthusiastic, one needs to give up emotional distance. There are people who are quite happy who see work as a means to an end: their enthusiasm is poured primarily into their families, volunteer work, and/or hobbies. These people have some emotional distance at work: because they are less attached to the meaning which we discussed above, they can more easily muster equanimity when things are not going well. 

If one is very enthusiastic about the outcome of one’s work, it can be devastating when one encounters a major setback. If you are enthusiastically training for a marathon and then shatter your foot, or if you enthusiastically build a tech company and then see a multibillion-dollar juggernaut release a new product line that matches your own, it can feel like your world is falling apart. Imagine the feeling of the sculptor who tips over a statue just a few buffs away from being completed. 

Even in less dramatic circumstances, is it hard to be enthusiastic without becoming attached to the subject of your enthusiasm, and thus to be emotionally ruffled when your work is not going well. Buddhist monks train for years to strike just this balance: if you are familiar with some monks’ intricate sand art, you see this in action. They spend days carefully creating something beautiful–practicing enthusiasm–and then upon completion immediately shake the table of sand, returning the art to the state of chaos from which it came–practicing acceptance and equanimity. For us laypeople, simultaneous enthusiasm and equanimity is difficult to reach. 

We each of us have only so much energy. While enthusiasm in work does not require extra time, and it likely gives us more total mental and emotional energy than we would have if we were simply dragging ourselves through the day, it also costs energy, and some days can cost quite a bit.