It’s a new year, and we are happy to bring you another Centercode Program Manager Interview!
This time I sat down and talked to Mike Fine, who has so many years of experience not only with Centercode, but with product testing as a whole. He could go on forever about many of these topics, as it is clear he loves what he’s doing. He’s also passionate about so many different things and I am excited for you to learn more about everything he has tried over the years.
This is the fourth entry in our test manager interview series and, if you missed any, we invite you to read the other posts I made with Carol Lee, Cameron Bell, and Ty Wells. If you stumbled upon this interview and want to participate in a test with one of these amazing test managers, signing up for Betabound will get you a front-row seat to our opportunities!
An Interview with Mike Fine
Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you came to work at Centercode?
Being the old man in the room, I’ve been around since the company’s founding. Back when I graduated from college I wanted to be a tech writer, but I couldn’t find a job in this role for several years. Once I finally found one, I loved it but got laid off 8 months later. I struggled to find another tech writer job after that. Thankfully my technical knowledge landed me a position as a systems engineer, where I traveled the country, going to big corporations and setting up their systems.
After a while, I started working with the engineering team a lot and helped them find bugs in their system. They suggested I move to the engineering team, as I not only knew how to program and had engineering experience, but I also could talk to people. I joined the quality team’s beta program and, for almost the next decade, I was running beta tests. It started as working on small projects, but eventually, I ran the beta program for the whole corporation. Through my experience running beta tests, I got connected with the founders of Centercode, and the rest is history.
“I think a good program manager spends focused time on different things and is effective at all of them.”
What is your daily routine like as a CPM?
I am a strong advocate of “Inbox Zero” and at any given time I have either nothing in my inbox or just one or two emails. Each morning I get up and go through the few relevant pieces of mail until it’s empty. Then I check to see what’s going on in each test I’m managing and see if anything needs addressing. The remainder of my day is very structured. I know what I’m going to be doing every hour, whether it be meetings or working on a project, and I will focus entirely on that. I do multiple things a day, but it’s always one thing at a time.
While I work I like to listen to music since it helps me focus. In particular, I like to listen to vinyl records because every 20 minutes it forces me to stand up, move, and turn the record over. It helps me leave my seat instead of staying in my chair the entire day. That comprises most of my day, and if any issues pop up I am flexible enough to work with them.
What are some things that make a successful program manager?
For me, I believe what makes our team successful is being able to do small things in intervals. Our brains can only handle so much, and cramming has proven to be unsuccessful. I think a good program manager spends focused time on different things and is effective at all of them. For example, when I tackle feedback, I may see 20, 50, or any number of new bugs at any given time. Even though it may be a lot, I will spend dedicated time on that and then “walk away” by checking my emails and focusing on other things. With each new item I am working on, I try to avoid distractions. With this strategy, you can get a lot done in a day. Often I will get a message and choose to wait to respond because I am already focusing on something and do not want to avoid the distraction.
Another thing I believe is important is learning the job. That’s a bit of a cheat for me because I have so many years of experience! My brain just knows what to do, and will remind me of steps to take because I’ve been doing it so long. Even without years of doing the same thing, I find you can still build a program for yourself that is effective for you and just follow it continuously. Any program manager can figure out an effective method for delivering when it comes to tackling problems, but it may mean trying new methods and being open-minded. Finding your your way of doing things is what makes you successful.
What do you enjoy about your role?
As a co-founder of Centercode, I’ve been in a lot of different capacities inside the company over the last 23 years and I’m always happiest when I’m seeing new innovations and products, as well as when I work with people. I’m a people person and I like working with our clients a lot. I love engaging with our clients and building a good rapport with them. It’s what keeps me happy and enjoying my role.
Seeing new things come in to be tested also gets me excited. I love it when we get a product that I have not tried before or that breaks some boundaries that we thought existed. Everybody now knows about robot vacuums today, but I’ve been around long enough to remember when it was exciting and new. It was incredible that this thing actually went and cleaned your floor without you! Customers come to test their innovations with us and it’s one of the best parts of my job.
“When I am part of a test, I submit feedback every day, even if it means getting creative. I try to share my ideas even if they’re nutty, weird, or out there. You never know, maybe your thoughts will spark an idea for something else that could eventually be super helpful.”
What piece of advice would you like to give to testers?
I believe as a tester you should be doing a little bit of work for the test every day. Let’s say you’re part of a three-week beta test, which means it is 21 days long. If you have four activities each week, that is 12 activities in total. Each week, if you do one activity a day that means you’ll have all activities completed in four days with three days to turn in feedback related to those activities. By the end of the test, you would not only have all your activities completed but would also have submitted 12 pieces of feedback.
If the project also has a couple of surveys, it would give you around 25 things to do over the project. If every tester followed this method of participating, every project we run a beta test would be a smashing success for both our clients and the testers. This makes it a success for everyone involved!
If testers could follow this methodology and take a couple of minutes every day during a beta to do something, even if it is just a comment or upvoting other’s ideas, you’ll reap the rewards. You’ll be getting the incentive, you’ll be picked for another beta, and you’re going to look like a rockstar all while putting in a minimal amount of effort.
The sad thing is many people end up procrastinating. They start the beta and then wait until Friday to remember they have to get everything done. They try to remember everything they did during the week and then attempt to add feedback but then realize someone submitted that already. That’s really frustrating. This means they may only get one or two pieces of original feedback submitted. If you procrastinate you may get the work done, but your effort won’t stand out as much and we can’t see your work.
Also, using the product you are testing each day helps you come up with a lot more ideas. When I am part of a test, I submit feedback every day, even if it means getting creative. I try to share my ideas even if they’re nutty, weird, or out there. You never know, maybe your thoughts will spark an idea for something else that could eventually be super helpful. Don’t be afraid to share any ideas and feedback. Even if they are silly the program manager will pass them on to the client who will decide if they like it or not.
If you could choose any one thing to test, what would it be?
I have not tested augmented reality stuff yet. I have played with it and I even have an Oculus. However, I feel like augmented reality combined with AI is going to be a really, really useful thing in the future. I know there are a lot of augmented reality glasses and devices coming out this year, and I believe that is the future of making our lives easier. How cool would it be to look at things and be able to learn what it is on the fly? There are so many use cases for augmented reality, and I would love to be in a test for a new AR product eventually.
What’s your favorite hobby outside of work?
Of all the questions you have asked me, this is the hardest one! I have so many hobbies. I read, I ride Vespas; I ski; I play pickleball; I am into music and compose; I love technology and tinkering; I have a drone I love to fly around; I play video games; I read a lot; and I edit photos and videos. So, to be blunt, I have way too many hobbies and it might be too hard to pick one. I’ll know I never retire because there’s always something new for me to explore
If I didn’t mention it already, I love writing. I write a ton. I love creating content that is helpful to people. In my spare time, I have been writing LinkedIn learning courses that I teach. When you have 30 years of experience, helping people understand why testing is important becomes really rewarding.
Last, I love to travel. I will be traveling to Sweden for the third time this year because my wife works for a Swedish company. I would travel all the time if I could, just trying to explore the cuisine and experience different cultures. It may be an expensive hobby, but it is one of my favorite things in the world.
That may have been our longest interview yet, but it was a lot of fun to do! If you’d like to chat with Mike, you can put a comment below or email us at email@example.com. He loves to talk to testers and is always happy to help.
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