In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting the contributions and expertise of the many talented women in the worldwide testing community. We recently asked for nominations via Twitter for women to feature, and Maaret Pyhäjärvi’s name came up repeatedly. For those who don’t already know her, Maaret is an award-winning contributor to the testing community who writes and speaks frequently at industry events. We sat down with Maaret to learn about her experience as a woman in testing.
Maaret Pyhäjärvi’s testing career spans 25 years and many different companies, industries, and technology stacks. She is currently principal test engineer at Vaisala, a global leader in weather, environmental, and industrial measurements headquartered in Finland. “My role as principal test engineer means I really have three jobs,” she says. “I’m a tester in a team, I’m a test manager in a project, and I work to improve testing at our organization overall.”
Maaret is known worldwide for exploratory testing and says that learning quickly and effectively is at the core of this expertise. Having tested across different industries, project teams, and technologies, she is well-positioned to come up to speed fast. In fact, she has gotten feedback such as “you’re the fastest learner we’ve ever met! How do you know more than people who have been here for years?” Maaret says, “If you enjoy learning and figuring out new things—not just reading a book, but doing it in practice, hands-on—you might be a great tester. I find that to be a really fun way to work.”
Early on in her career, Maaret was convinced that it wasn’t much different to be a woman in testing. Over time, she began realizing that there are a lot of things that happen to women that don't happen to men, including particular types of feedback. “Women are often called ‘guys’ and sometimes feel invisible in a room,” she says. “However, the more visible a woman becomes, the more she realizes it actually is different being a woman in tech. Women are often told ‘it’s not what you did, it’s how you did it,’ yet somehow the person giving the feedback isn’t able to come up with a specific example. The standard of how women are allowed to behave is very different to how men are allowed and even encouraged to behave,” she continued.
Maaret feels fiercely protective of other women she works with and has been called a “lion mom.” “I protect my cubs and in fact, the whole world is my cubs nowadays!” she says. “I find it necessary to step up for others when I learn someone has been discriminated against or harassed, even if their situation isn’t something I’ve personally experienced.”
Maaret’s advice to women starting in testing is to learn from others who have gone before you. Finding someone who teaches you in a pair-wise fashion is invaluable. Working closely with someone who is not just a mentor, but a partner who can show you the way and not only model technical competence, but how to be effective using your abilities against the culture of the organization.
Maaret herself has been inspired by many others, particularly those who are in the trenches on projects and can share their experience. “I really like when someone says ‘This is how we did it. You could try it this way, or it might be that we see pain in that method and can find an inspired way to solve it.” She has recently loved working with Lisa Crispin, Parveen Khan, Irja Straus, Julia Duran, and Anne-Marie Charrett. “I am inspired by practical conversations on how we do things and how we can make them better.”
She’s worked tirelessly as a tester in her native Finland but has been recognized internationally. Maaret has won both the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award and the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person. She is proud of that recognition but feels especially grateful for the opportunity to leave things better than she found them. “I have moved into different roles in different companies and moved testing forward, introducing continuous delivery, introducing related testing practices, introducing skilled testing, and most importantly helping people to be better after I'm gone. That's the kind of contribution that I want to continue making.”