· 4 min read

A Beginning

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The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World

It all started a year ago, almost to the day, when I realized I hated my job. I had been in QA for around 4 years at the time, leading teams for most of that time, and at the moment I was lead QA for a startup. I started that job with lots of ambitions, but after 11 months I was completely burned out.

I loved leading my team, and I loved some aspects of the job, but most of the day-to-day just became mind-numbingly boring. Documenting tests. Running manual regression suites. Going through the same scanarios over and over and over again.

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Basically, the only parts I enjoyed were the “researchy” ones: seeing a new feature and trying to break it, or going on a hunt to reproduce an obscure bug observed by some customer that one time. However, when my husband suggested research as my next career path I was appalled. Research? Me?? Researchers are guys that need a compiler to translate their thoughts into human-readable format, I only wrote my first lines of code a couple years prior! It felt akin to going to a bouldering gym a couple times and then aiming to climb the Everest. How could I even dream of becoming a researcher??

Fast forward a few weeks, I was looking at a technical task that was part of my job interview for a very real researcher position. It took some time, but eventually I had an app on an Android emulator that was showing some stuff a regular user was not supposed to see. That I turned on. By hacking.

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At that moment I realised the idea of me as a researcher was maybe not so far-fetched after all.

So I started working, and I started learning. I was well aware that I have a lot of knowledge gaps. As QA I was used to seeing the big picture, but anything lower-level than Python was completely new to me. So I started going to conventions, and listening to lectures, and prowling through various “get into cyber” blogs. After a while I even reduced my job to part-time, to have a dedicated learning day. Lemme tell ya, raising a toddler is no joke - with the sick leaves, the kindergarten holidays and the teenage rebellion that comes at age 2, I usually found myself with way too much day at the end of my energy. Sometimes even too much week. I started to fear I was not progressing fast enough to advance in such a competitive field.

And then I was given the best gift I could have hoped for… I was laid off.

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It was easy to not take it personally, seeing as most of the research department has been laid off as well. Nor was I burned out by the job. Sure, there were some tough times (as was the case with many startups in this economy), but I did manage to complete several successful research tasks, got hands-on experience on various tools and platforms, levelled-up my Python skills quite significantly, and made some good friends (who also happened to be awesome mentors). Most importantly, I got over the debilitating awe I had felt towards research. Some areas still feel like mount Everest, but many of the slopes and trails suddenly seem very doable, and I am a lot more confident in my ability to learn, overcome challenges, and make progress.

Which brings me to today. With a few weeks left ’till unemployment, I wrap up loose ends at work, and plan for my educational journey. This blog is a significant part of that. I found out early on that I learn best by writing things down, and by teaching others (this was literally how I made friends in uni). So as I advance in my subjects of choice (Android development and a deeper mastery of Frida), I intend for this blog to be the place where I write things down, mostly in order to teach myself. And if I can help other aspiring researchers in their journeys up this mountain, all the better.