Inside SQLI - Meet Piers Harrison, Quality Assurance Tester

Piers is head of quality assurance at SQLI, where he oversees the testing strategy of digital developments in the UK. Here he talks about his role, motivations – and spinning the decks.

Life at SQLI

Tell us about your career before SQLI?

I studied Geography at Sussex University, which didn’t really help me career-wise going forward. But after Uni, I ended up in a management position working for the electricity board - which was also the worst job I've had in my life. A friend later got me a testing role for an E-learning firm which suited me a lot better and a few years later I began working on a contract basis in process automation software at Norwich Union.

My wife at the time then got a job in New York, so we went and lived there for a year and when I got back, I worked in various contracting roles for small digital design agencies until I got the opportunity with SQLI.

What’s your role at SQLI entail?

I was contracting for a few months before I was offered a permanent role and I’ve now been here for three and a half years. I am in quality assurance based in London, working closely with our teams in Mauritius. This allows someone nearby to be on hand for our UK clients. I oversee the testing strategy of the company, although I also carry out testing as well, so I do some of the dirty work!

I’m often involved in projects from the beginning, looking for bugs and issues in the development and checking software and processes to ensure they meet business requirements and quality standards.

It’s an area more businesses are realising is a crucial part of ensuring their digital business runs smoothly.

What are the challenges of your role?

The main challenges of QA are that no one wants you to find any bugs, and also that no one wants you to miss any bugs. So, you're kind of like an annoyance either way really. If you do find bugs, then it can be frustrating as they’ve got to be fixed and obviously it’s frustrating if you miss bugs as well, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword.

Expectations have changed in the past five years. I think employers quite rightfully want more testing than when I started. The role was more around strategy testing before – so, testing and reporting what the output was. Now, I think more clients want to know what’s going on under the hood. I’ve found it a challenge learning new technologies and developments in the industry for these reasons.

What are your achievements in the company?

A lot of my time and attention was spent on the Fortnum & Mason project. The combined team effort to get it all through during the pandemic and lockdown was probably my biggest achievement and probably one of the hardest projects for this reason.

Outside of Work

How about achievements outside of work?

People think I'm joking when I say I'm most proud of passing my driving test. I’m not a very confident person and not great under pressure, so even though it was 30 years ago, it was still one of those moments in my life I remember thinking – ‘I'm going to pass this.’ It still means a lot!

I’ve also raised a beautiful daughter who is now 14 – who makes me very proud and I think of as major achievement.

Do you have any hobbies?

My passion is music, so you could say it’s a hobby. I’ve been an electro DJ in my spare time for more than 30 years and have been lucky enough to travel all around the world.

I started DJ’ing when I was about 17. I worked all summer binding dissertations for a University and bought my first set of Technics decks and my mum couldn’t believe I was spending my money on them. But I still have that same pair, 31 years on.

I started DJ’ing a little bit in pubs in Bristol where I was from. But I got properly into it during university and it helped pay my way through my time there.

In my 20s and 30s I started to travel more and have played in clubs and festivals all over the world: Tokyo, Berlin, Australia, America, most places around Europe – I’ve even played Glastonbury.

I also made an album which involved a lot of live musicians, but it’s mostly been electronic music apart from that.

I haven’t done much recently because of COVID, but I’m off to Croatia this weekend to play. But I’m finding it slightly embarrassing – should I still be doing it at my age, really?

I have a small record label where I put out other people’s music which is fun, but it all comes down to being really, really obsessed by music from as young as I can remember.

Before I became a DJ I would make all these compilation tapes and I was completely obsessed with getting the songs in the correct order. And it's just the same thing now for me - about how the music fits together.

Nowadays, I still obsessively look for records. I spend a lot of time online and in record shops looking to add to my collection.

Any Words of Wisdom?

Do you have a motto in life?

My mum always said 99 per cent of life is just turning up. She was probably right. Show up for stuff and the rest falls into place.

And any advice you’d pass on?

Always ask for late check-out when you stay at a hotel!

What about if you had your time again, is there anything you’d do differently?

I wouldn't do Geography at university. I would probably do either English Literature or something around Film Studies. Nothing could be more ‘Mickey Mouse’ than taking Geography at Sussex University! Not that I would change my career or anything, just those two subjects have gone on to be much more enduring interests in my life.

And lastly, what do you think the future holds?

More people are asking for developer skills and testing skills sitting side-by-side, so I think multi-skilled developers will become the norm.

Also, while automation has been around for a long time, it was really expensive, but now it’s getting cheaper and open source. So, I expect to see a lot more automation in the next few years.

As for the industry, it’s really hard to predict. But I think the most obvious thing to me is how quickly digital is growing and I can’t see that stopping any time soon, maybe just growing even more quickly. I think we are in for a really interesting period.