Heather Reid, Software Tester on Up-Cycling

I came from a less than affluent background, and I was always taught to see the potential in things no matter how they appeared on the surface. My first memory is when I was maybe 4 or 5 with my Nan, and we transformed an old fluffy cushion into a teddy bear. I was fascinated that you could make something so fun out of something that seemed boring before and fit for the bin.

At that age, I guess it was the joy that I could get a toy without having to wait until Christmas or my birthday. Now, it is more that I can give something a bit of TLC and it becomes something completely new.

Hi, I am Heather Reid, and I am currently a Community Manager for a global community of software testers, Ministry of Testing, in Belfast. I have not always lived in Northern Ireland; I have been a bit of a nomad really. I moved to where I am currently because when I graduated from my Masters in mathematical modelling, I received a 3rd class honours. I spent a year looking for a job in Ireland, but nobody would hire someone with a grade like that. I started looking further afield, and I applied to the UK, Northern Ireland, Australia – anywhere that I saw a job opening that I even nearly matched the skills profile for. I moved to Northern Ireland in June 2013 because I got an offer for a job in my field, and it was much more money than the jobs down South had been offering me. It worked out reasonably well as my husband was working in Dublin so we picked a spot almost in the middle and would head in opposite directions each day for work.

I started out as a Mathematician, which quickly brought me into software development. From there, it became pretty clear that I had a natural flair for software testing. I have been a software tester since 2015 and I love it! I moved jobs in July 2017, which was a risk because it was a start up company, and I was the first tester on the team. The company knew they wanted me, and they were happy to wait 3 months before I started which was amazing, so I thought it was worth the risk. Unfortunately, due to funding, some of the staff was let go and soon I started looking for another role myself. I had a close relationship with Ministry of Testing already. When Rosie (the founder) heard I was looking for a job, it was like fate. She would soon be taking maternity leave and had been thinking about hiring a permanent community manager for some time. Here I am 🙂

Up-cycled chairs by Heather

At least once per month, I try to up-cycle something even if it is just something small. If it is a big project, it will only get a day of attention, because I know it will take time to get it to where I want it to be. Last winter, we tackled two bedside cabinets while watching a LOT of episodes of Homeland and the Man in the High Castle. They took about two months; it took us ages to pick the handles for the drawers! We wanted them to be perfect because we needed them for our house and wanted to do a job we would be proud of for years to come.

Recently, my mother in law booked me into a furniture up-cycling workshop with her. We took a chair each and up-cycled them to match the colour scheme in her new kitchen. It was a fantastic day out! My next project is actually creating a kitchen table out of a cable reel my dad picked up on a building site for me. I have some old kitchen chairs that my brother is getting rid of which will be up-cycled alongside them to create a unique piece for the house we hope to own one day.

I think our most difficult piece so far was our Mk2 Golf. It was a huge project, but it is something my husband and I have always wanted to do. The problem with something like that is that there can be a lot of hidden issues. For us it was rust. Mechanically it was sound but the rust cost us a lot of money to remedy.

Top: VW Mk2 with scratches and dents; Bottom: Completely repainted and fixed!

Normally, I am always “switched on”. I have work emails and other work apps on my phone. This is great when you are out and about, particularly on a small team, because your team members can get an answer quickly. I work with people in different time zones as well, so I can drop in whenever necessary to help out. The down side of this is that work can easily distract me.

However, I have noticed that when I am restoring, I focus on nothing else but the task in front of me. That is really rare for me. I find that it helps clear my mind well for work ideas too. It has helped me to save a lot of money. You know when you are sitting waiting for an appointment or scrolling through Facebook? I do not really do that. I keep an eye on Gumtree, Freecycle and Freegle instead for things I could easily restore that I will need or someone I know will need in the future. We saved money for our wedding using this approach, and we nearly have a house full of furniture by being patient and up-cycling sensibly.

Up-cycled drawers looking beautiful by Heather

Often in software development, we are given a lot of ideas of what people might like to see in a product. Or, if you are really lucky, you inherit a big legacy system that needs some love to get it to the customer’s expectations. With the right tools, paint (code in the tech world), or team, you can use your imagination to come up with something that everyone involved will be proud of and want to use.

After my most recent up-cycling project was finished, I had a whole host of new ideas for work related topics because I was able to clear my mind. I also find that being so close to technology every minute of the day, it is a wonderful mindfulness exercise to be just you, a piece of furniture and a block of sandpaper. When you work in technology it can be difficult to see your progress sometimes. With restoration work, your progress is much more visible and rewarding when you look at it and think, “damn, I did that”.

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