Humans of Tech – Vesna Leonard

If you haven’t yet met Vesna Leonard, Co-Founder of worX4you, allow us to introduce you. Vesna leads a remote team of software testers, providing critical quality assurance solutions for start-ups and established tech companies in Canada and the US. Vesna and her husband, Mike, not only built a great services company, but did so while traveling the world with their 3 young kids.

What’s your major internal motivation for doing what you do?

I had previously struggled in a traditional office setting. I felt stressed and unfocused, like I was being taken away from what I really wanted to do. After going on mat leave, I just decided to do something completely different. I was approached by a bunch of startups in Toronto who were willing to let me work from home. It was a good place to start.

I was blown away in the first couple months by how much I poured into it. The work was flexible around my kids’ schedules. We even went to Europe as a family and still continued to work.  Eventually our name got out there and the work kept coming in.

When we came back, we saw all this McMansion nonsense and realized that wasn’t the life we wanted. We didn’t want to go back to a location-dependant lifestyle at all. We really could work literally anywhere. Within 5 months, we had sold everything that we owned. We got a tent trailer for our van and packed up the family. We haven’t looked back since January 2011.

Life is about a balance of combining and bringing out the excitement, creativity, focus, and ownership in me. I’ve found that balance in remote work. It’s given me a laser focus on clients and on producing high quality work for them. It allows me to work in spaces that make me happy.

What are your favourite aspects of what you do?

It’s hard to boil it down to just one thing. I love being able to work from anywhere in the world. I love working with a variety of great teams across industries – currently over 50 –  and I love helping testers across the world grow their own skills. We have 9 people currently located across Canada, the US, and Serbia.

What’s been the most surprising part of your journey?

I’ve been really surprised by how much I care about the work and the people that I work with. Without the distraction of an office, I can dive in deeper and focus on the people that I’m interacting with and their needs. I get to know and understand my clients and colleagues on a much deeper level. I’ve found I have to be very clear in my communications and that has had a positive impact on my relationships.

Working remotely brings in a whole other level of soft skills. Communication is the primary one – you need to be able to dive deep into the subject matter and ask questions, and not take things at face value. You need to listen for red flags and miscommunications in meetings with people and speak up when you hear a mismatch. You have to be able to take ownership of your projects. You need to act like a bit of a parent sometimes, as you’re juggling a bunch of different kids with a bunch of different needs. You need to bring forward things that need to be addressed, while caring that the quality is there as well.

What do you find the most interesting about the Waterloo/Toronto tech ecosystem?

We were gone for 6 or 7 years and as much as I still dealt with people over that time, I didn’t have a clear picture of what it was like until we got back here. It’s more homogenous and connected than it was before I left.

Even with the diversity of tech companies – it’s interesting how similar most are, particularly when it comes to the challenges they face. Their perceived problems are similar yet everyone we’ve spoken with will say something along the lines of “This is kind of a weird way of doing it but…. we do X like this.” They usually think that they’re unique in terms of the problems they face, but they’re really not. Most companies think that others in their ecosystem having testing down but they really don’t. That’s something companies in this area struggle with quite a bit.

As an example, the workflow usually lacks the testing phase found elsewhere in the world. Developers will create a product and then focus on putting out the bugs. They’re not generally focused on quality, they’re focused on getting products out quicker rather than better.  

The difference I’ve noticed working with companies here rather than with US companies is that some companies here treat testing as an afterthought rather than an integral part of their product development process. In India, testing is a huge career. People go to school for it, but there is none of that here. The companies here have the attitude of “here, test this”, instead of integrating quality into the team. Their U.S counterparts view testing in the longer term and as part of the process.

KW is a big community, but is tight knight and small at the same time. It’s similar to a lot of other smaller tech ecosystems, like Costa Rica and Serbia.

What are you most proud of professionally?

I am super proud of what Mike and I have built with the children. Everyone in the family had a part to play in building this business even as we were traveling the world. I’m proud of the team that we’ve built and I’m proud of the quality of work that our team produces.

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