Practitioner Marketing Meet the Practitioner: Ashley “Always Write” Hunsberger
Have you ever read a technical blog post and wondered how a developer made their way into writing? Are you curious about the backgrounds, inspiration and motivations of practitioners churning out blogs?
For us, it’s simple. We know by experience that our practitioners come from diverse backgrounds. Not every developer wants to write about their work (unless it is code in GitHub). There’s certainly a fear that comes with putting one’s voice out into the world. The ones who do, intrigue us. They define our concept of practitioner marketing. So we want to share our practitioners’ stories.
With that, I’d like to introduce you to Ashley Hunsberger — a testing strategist who applies her thinking to help her organization maintain a high-performance DevOps team.
Tell me about yourself. Your name, where you live, where you are from, your job/company, your area(s) of expertise.
I’m Ashley Hunsberger. I live right outside of Raleigh, NC, and I grew up in northern VA, right outside of Washington DC. That’s where I’m from, born and raised — I moved to Raleigh 12 years ago. I’m still at Blackboard, 13 years now. I started as a tester very early on in my career, and I’ve worked my way up to where I am today. I now think about testing strategy and philosophy across the company and how to use testing and delivery to ensure a high-performing DevOps organization.
What motivated you to work in DevOps?
I’m not a developer in general, but as far as being in tech, I love to solve problems — I love to figure things out, and work with people. I feel like I bring the human side of software to projects. I always think of the user, and approach my work with user empathy (the problem and solution). I’ve stayed with Blackboard for so long because I can make a difference in education. I always say I’m not meant to be a teacher, but I like being able to make a difference in children’s lives and teachers’ lives through education, without actually doing the teaching.
What motivated you to start writing about DevOps?
Well, I’ll give a little bit of backstory. Greg Sypolt and I gave our very first conference talk back in 2014. We talked about an experience we had in automation, and what the failures were and how to move forward. It was a kind of “don’t do the things that we did” story. Chris Riley called us and we started talking, and he asked about writing an article that would go to Sauce Labs — That had to be around three years ago. The more I thought, and put my thoughts down [in an article] — It helped me refine my work. I didn’t know I could get paid to write about what I did.
Why do you write for Fixate?
I guess I answered why I write in general, but why specifically for Fixate?
I guess at the time, I wasn’t a known speaker or writer when I started writing. Fixate provides a great platform to match unknown people to people who need technical content. And the pay wasn’t bad — It’s nice, especially with two kids. That’s not why I write, but it’s nice. I think that Fixate was good for matching me to the right vendor and their needs.
Can you point to something meaningful that has happened for you personally or professionally as a result of writing for Fixate?
Yeah. There’s a couple things. We got a new engineering director several years ago. I guess he had found one of my articles. He was looking at who he’d be working with. It was really great — When he came on board, he wanted to talk about my blog post for Sauce Labs. He wanted to tell me how much he agreed with my perspective and where he wanted to see our company go. It was really validating for me as a professional and as a writer. I think that article was about shifting left and about building testing into your practices.
Since then, I’ve had job interviews (obviously, I didn’t take them), but it was great to be able to talk about what I had written for Fixate. It’s really helped with how I build and manage my personal brand.
I’ve taken a break from writing this past year, but I’ve been speaking. I have talks built around what I’ve written for Fixate. I think it’s helped me get better speaking engagements and invitations. It’s been really neat to see it. People ask, “Can you come speak about what you’ve written about?” or “Can you come implement this for us?” Writing for Fixate has helped me get outside the walls of Blackboard and really contribute to the industry, beyond just my job.
What makes you interested in a Fixate client project?
That totally depends on the topic. I stay on the side of philosophy and strategy of testing, rather than the tooling. Because the tooling changes all the time. So what I look for is: Am I a good fit for you? Does your company need the strategic and philosophical piece to offer your customers? I’ve primarily written for Sauce Labs. It was a good match.
How do you stay current yourself in terms of your profession?
In a lot of ways. Speaking at conferences, building my network, and reading are essential. I obviously read a lot. I try every morning to read at least one blog post or article. I speak at conferences, and not just for the chance to speak, but to get to know other people, hear about other things, and to network and build my network. I especially use what I call the “unconference space” outside of the sessions to get to know my community and get involved in the community. I just joined the Women in Testing Slack community. We have a “brag and appreciate” session. We also talk about testing in depth. We pair up so we can learn together, and it’s just so much fun.
What new technology are you most interested in/learning about?
As far as products and tooling, nothing specific. I am curious to learn more about machine learning and artificial intelligence. That said, more from the philosophical and ethical side — How can it help us in testing? I have to get through life and parenthood first before I get in the weeds there.
But there’s a lot of talk about machine learning and testing and automation. It’s really interesting — like how are we training our bots? What is that human side that we might be missing? Looking at examples like Amazon, it’s funny to read the articles on them pulling their AI for resume reading. The headlines make it look like that’s what the AI learned to do, but no, it’s training. They trained those biases in.
So I’m interested in applying AI to how to know what tests to run and why, and pipeline, and self-healing. I’m fascinated to dive into that.
What have you written that you are most proud of and why?
Probably one of my pieces that I love the most is the one around testing and continuous delivery, shifting left. Because it wasn’t actually talked about as much when I wrote it then compared to now. Everyone was talking about Agile testing, and they were really missing the point of having continuous feedback, getting away from testing once everything has been built. Really getting away from testing at the end and building it into design.
Then, I wasn’t surprised how few people were looking into it, and now I am surprised how few people are really serious about it. Having written about that 3-4 years ago, before it was something people really talked about — I’m pretty proud of that work. It’s set the tone for my work over the last three years.
Anything you want to say that I didn’t ask you about?
Whether you write with Fixate or not, always write. It’s always a good way to get your thoughts out, to clarify them. Even if you don’t end up blogging about something, see if it helps you streamline your work. It has helped me with communication with vice presidents in my company and my teammates. I would also say be cognizant of your perspective — what you are reading. Get different perspectives on tooling, philosophy. Don’t just read what’s written by white men [laughs]. Follow people who come from different backgrounds, and follow people who come from several different points of view.
And, a thank you to Fixate for giving me the chance.
Ashley loves the strategic implications of testing in building a DevOps organization that always delivers (pun intended). Writing about it helps her clarify her thoughts. While building her reputation has been a professional benefit of writing, her advice to others is: Always write. Whether something is published or not, she’s found writing her thoughts about her technical work has helped with all her professional communications. Like many of our writers, Ashley finds the act of writing helps her clarify her ideas. Just like testing and continuous integration/continuous delivery, the process of writing can improve quality of thought.