Q&A with Matt Robson

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Welcome to Questions & Answers, a new, regular feature. Each month I will catch up with someone (from the testing community or beyond) who has an interest in quality in software development and technology.

Some guests you may know well, and others might be less familiar. I hope you will learn something new about each of them, and something new from each of them. Each will bring their own perspectives and insights on quality and testing.

The format will be the same each time:

  • a little information about this month’s guest and what they are currently up to
  • some questions for them to answer
  • some answers for them to question (the ‘Jeopardy’ section where I will provide the answer and ask the interviewee to give me the question).
  • finally, a single question posed by this month’s guest for next month’s guest. Naturally, I won’t reveal to them who the next guest is.

Our first guest is Matt Robson, Executive Director at TSG (www.testing-solutions.com), a specialist assurance and testing consultancy based in London.

Matt has many years of experience in testing within the Financial Services sector in the UK, having held senior positions with AXA, Zurich and Barclays. Matt has also brought his knowledge and experience to some well-known consulting firms, most recently TSG.

He has developed his leadership skills through his involvement with the British Army where he is an officer. He says this has done more for his testing career than anything else.

Matt is known among his colleagues for his sense of humour and his sartorial elegance, sometimes bringing the first of these into his selections relating to the second.


First up Matt, would you like to tell us about anything interesting you’ve been involved in recently, any exciting upcoming ventures, or just what you are working on at the moment?

Lots of stuff. We’re just over 3 months since a management buy-out of which I was a part and it’s an exciting time for us. Our portfolio of clients and the range of services we are delivering to them is growing and it’s a really exciting time for us as a business. We’re blessed with a great team.

If you encountered a version of yourself from earlier in your career, and talked about how you approach your work, what would you disagree on?

Mistakes. Sometimes you need to make them to learn. They are not necessarily bad and they can (and do) happen. Embrace them. But make sure you learn from them too. I was too busy trying to be perfect a decade ago.

When you consider technology and software development around the world, can you pick out an example of an organisation who you think really deliver on quality?

Define Quality and I’ll tell you! The Bank of England passes the Sergeant Major’s Shiny Shoes test. You can’t regulate others without being in a good state yourself, in much the way the inspecting NCO is generally the smartest person on parade. I like that they do heavy thinking, rather than just acting for the sake of the illusion of progress. They think about the long term and the wider impact of what and how they do, where the wider impact is the world economy.

Looking back on your career so far, what do you consider to be the highlight(s)?

The award of my Queen’s Commission from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. It did more for my career and leadership / management ability than the multiple universities / degrees I undertook. I walked off that parade square approximately 17 feet tall. And immediately proposed to my now wife. 

Head of CIO QA for Barclays Banking Group when the bank, its technology and its approach to delivering change was really evolving. The stuff I was involved in then had a really significant influence over my thinking and capability going forward. We did some cool stuff and made a demonstrable difference for the better.  Zurich, where we delivered against the odds, and where we built just the most incredible team and wider capability. The evidence of the improvements we made help us spread the good work and embed it. As a team we just had the most fantastic bunch of committed and capable people working together. 

TSG. It’s been a journey, but we work with some really cool clients, have been a significant part of some incredible change programmes, and I’m so proud of Team TSG.

When you think back to these highlights, what were the most important lessons you learned?

The right team with the right leadership and motivation can move mountains. I get to be chief clown, but without them, I am nothing but hot air. You have those magic moments when a group of people come together to achieve a common goal and I wish it could bottle it.

What do you think is the most common misconception about testing?

Just one? That we’re on the spectrum? That we’re wilfully obstinate?  That we know nothing about the real world and are just about theory? That we lack pragmatism? That we’ll be replaced by machines? Shall I keep going?

And now, the Jeopardy section. I’ll provide you with some answers and ask you to give me the questions….

Quality

What is a concept that is entirely subjective, often misunderstood, and rarely adequately defined by an organisation, if at all?

Testing

What is a capability within the solutions delivery lifecycle that still has an image problem?

And finally, can you please frame a question for next month’s guest?

Some are concerned about the doctrinal tribalism within testing and feel that it threatens the cohesion of the community. Are you concerned about this?


My thanks to Matt for taking the time to participate in Q&A, and for being a guinea pig for the exercise!


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