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Meet Debra Sancho, making work fun

Design that reads "Kin+ Debra Sancho" with a headshot of Debra

Our name is intentional. “Kin” refers to family and “Carta” refers to maps. When together, we’re Kin + Carta — a group of connected makers, builders and creators, who come together everyday to help our clients build experiences and plot a clear path forward in today’s digital world. Carta is what we do, Kin is who we are.

Kin+ is a series that uncovers the experiences, stories and lives of the people who make our collective “Kin” exceptional.

We spend most of our lives at work, so enjoying what you do and who you’re doing it with is so important. At Kin + Carta we believe that work can and should be fun, and Debra Sancho, QA Consultant, is the perfect example of this. To Kin + Carta, Debra brings not only her technical expertise, but also her knack for influencing an environment of joy all around her.

Debra is a culture transformer. A QA committed to high-quality, data integrity-filled work, and an individual who just simply makes work fun. We’re proud to introduce you to our Kin, Debra Sancho.

Design that reads "Kin+ Debra Sancho" with a headshot of Debra

I’m of Chinese descent, originally from the country of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean. Hundreds of years ago, Trinidad and Tobago brought in indentured laborers from India and China to work on the sugar cane farms, and this is where my family’s history in the country begins.

In thinking about my own history, there’s one key moment that stands out in making me, well, me. When I was 11, I was tasked with making an aquarium for a school project. Instead of messing with a tank and water, I turned a box on its side, painted the inside blue and put plastic wrap on the front to look like glass. I colored fish and hung them on threads so that they looked like they were swimming. This was the moment when I first realized that work could be fun — a belief I’ve held ever since.

I moved to England for college to study at the University of Kent where I completed a degree in computer systems engineering. I learned a lot there, and came to the realization that I'm just simply not suited to build computers. However, the experience did arm me with a skill that helps me to this day: how to communicate with individuals who are different from me. I’ve leaned on this learning nearly every day since — when you take the time to understand each person and how they best communicate, you can get along with anyone.

This was the moment when I first realized that work could be fun — a belief I’ve held ever since.

After college, I went on to teach high school math and physics for a couple of years. Then, upon completing a master's degree at Northwestern University in education and social policy I created a career path for myself to write training manuals and teach in a corporate environment.

At one of the first companies I worked at post-graduation, I was tasked with writing a software manual for an app. But because the app had not come out yet, I had to go through it — bugs and all. What started happening was that as I came across defects, I would log them and let the developers know. Then, when the developers fixed the defects, they would tell me, and I would recheck.

In a sense, this was where I fell into my QA role. I was testing the software before it came out, reporting the defects, making sure they got fixed, retesting, and then logging the steps in the defect-free version. 

Now, I’m formally a QA, a role I’ve been in for over ten years. I love it, and one of my specialty areas is data integrity. I’m passionate about ensuring that the numerical data presented to a user is not only correct but that it also makes sense. A few years ago, I was working on a project at another company and someone said to me: "Do you see the buttons? They should be green. Make sure you log that." And I told them that I would get to the buttons, but not quite yet. I had noticed that half of the web form being filled in on the front end was not getting to the backend — we were losing half the data. This was way more important. Data integrity is my number one priority, so I always check that first. And because data issues typically take longer to solve, I find them as soon as I can to give the developers on my team as much time as possible to fix.

Selfies taken by Debra as she's outside testing applications
Debra testing app performance in both the winter and the spring

Other defects are minor in technicality but huge in terms of impact. I also make sure that I’m considering this within my work. Years ago, I had an experience where I found a typo, and when I raised it I was told that typos weren't important and we would get to them when we had time. I said, “No, this is important because the typo is in the name of the CEO.” Our team made the fix quickly after they realized the large-scale impact.

Having the trust to be a responsible adult and manage my own time is part of being able to do my job well. I find this as a differentiator in my current role as a QA consultant. I don’t find counting defects and timeboxing testing for specific features to be productive. Sometimes it’s only after testing and retesting for two or three days that I realize a pattern is wrong or broken and find a defect. If I had been told to simply test and sign off in one day, I wouldn't have found as many of the defects that I've found thus far in my career. To be effective and successful, you need to work with the software enough to feel comfortable and allow your brain to look for patterns and realize when they’re flawed.

This is why I think of QAs as the last line of defense before you hand something off to the public. Just like in the movies when it's down to the last archer? I'm that last archer on the line. Every defect I find is a win for me, the team and our customer.

And that brings me to Kin + Carta, where I’ve been the final line of defense since 2017. When I first joined the firm, it was my first experience with the agile method of software development. I fell in love with this methodology and the environment of Kin + Carta, so I’ve been working here ever since.

Debra and her team in a "May the Fourth" theme call
"May the fourth be with you!" from Debra and her team

There was a brief moment in time when I left for a new opportunity with another company. Upon joining, reality sunk in that they were only operating in a partially agile way, but not fully agile. One example was that there was no retrospective until the project had been going on for an entire year. This made several people on the team angry because issues that came up in the first two months repeatedly happened for an entire year. After this experience, I decided I needed to get back to agile and to Kin + Carta. In February of 2021 when an opportunity opened to rejoin on a contract basis, I jumped at it. And one year later, I accepted a full-time role — now consulting with one of our agriculture clients. My team hosts a retrospective every two weeks and this is what I most appreciate about agile. It’s an essential review of where we need to change, making the course corrections early on without crashing and sinking the ship down the line.

But as much as I enjoy my work in testing, one of my favorite parts of Kin + Carta is the environment that I've experienced. It's a great place for me, where everyone is accepted and given the space to be their individual self and to contribute in their own way. They let me go the extra mile, just for the fun of it. Recently, I did a mixed media piece of my team represented as blue Peep marshmallow bunnies, since we’re the Blueprint team. I had the bunnies doing projects that my team members were actually working on.

Blue print bunnies working on the team projects
The Blueprint bunnies in action

And this year one of our releases was a big win for us. So I thought: What better way to celebrate than with dessert? After finding out what everyone's favorite dessert was, I attended a miniatures convention, collected tiny food made of clay and created a spring tea party with the "blueprint bunnies" and a table full of their favorite desserts in miniature form.

Blueprint bunnies having a spring tea party
The Blueprint bunnies at their spring tea party

My life so far has been full of some pretty great experiences that humble me to respect the uniqueness and the individuality all around me. One of the things that I carry with me from growing up in Trinidad and Tobago is a few lines from our national anthem which say: “Here every creed and race find an equal place." I value this sentiment so much, and working at Kin + Carta allows me to see it come to life every day. I’m a part of a team that welcomes diversity and recognizes that differences in ideas make us all richer human beings. And along the way, we make the time for a lot of fun.

Ready to join a team of high-performers who value everyday fun?

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