Interview with Russell Smith, co-founder and CTO of Rainforest QA
Code more, ship faster is Rainforest QA’s slogan and they aren’t kidding.
Boasting the only AI-powered crowdtesting platform, Rainforest QA is built for rockstar, faster-than-the-speed-of-light development teams who want to spend more time coding, not testing and bug-fixing.
We got the chance to sit down with the co-founder and CTO Russell Smith, for a little backstory on who Rainforest QA really is, where they’re going and why we all we need to sit up and take notice.
Q. How did you get into this industry?
Russell: I’ve been coding since I was a child, after buying an old Sinclair QL and learning to write very very terrible code on my own - I eventually moved on to writing software for Psion handheld computers, mainly games!
During University, I ended up helping other students with their dissertation projects for money, whilst working at the IT helpdesk. I didn't manage to find a job straight out of university, I ended up spending the summer earning money via eBay, eventually finding a programming job in a newspaper classified. We were writing e-learning systems for a Fortune 50 company. Pretty crazy.
Q. When you start a new project, what process do you follow?
Russell: Depends on what the project is, but generally I like to prototype things really quickly to see if they’re actually practically and valuable. Most of the things I work on are technical. Even if they don’t look pretty, they’ll still be useful - which is good, as I suck as a designer.
Q. How much is your work focused on user experience and content?
Russell: It’s actually gone in cycles; from being the only engineer at Rainforest and having to care about both UX and content, through managing a few engineers on the team when I was writing and speaking a lot. Now we’ve hired (an amazing) VP Engineering. He runs the day-to-day, so I’m free to focus on content, prototyping and speaking to our customers. My current content project is developing the 12-factors of QA; it’s a manifesto on what we think makes successful QA!
Q. Where do you look for inspiration in your day-to-day work?
Russell: My team and customers, mostly. It’s really inspiring having a smart, passionate team. It really boosts my inspiration for things. The same with customers: I love hearing their loves and hates about Rainforest and riffing on ideas with them; often my best ideas come from them! :)
Q. What does the future of product look like?
Russell: I believe it depends on the stage of the company. I think the longer term product vision should come from the founders, but it’s super important to have everyone aligned and on the same page. The more disconnected, the worse it will be. However, having seen what a difference professional product makes, I believe we’d have had an advantage from building out the team earlier (we’ve also brought on a fantastic VP of Product recently). As for product itself, making something people want - the YC mantra - means talking to your customers a lot. Data is great, but it doesn’t tell the whole story and is easy to get wrong.
Q. What prompted the idea to start Rainforest QA? What excited you about it?
Russell: Paul Graham told my co-founder and I that not only did we have the worst-named company in YC history (CLDRDR…), but also that our original product idea sucked, and that we should pivot. We spent the next few weeks looking for ideas, going through various iterations. In the end we surveyed our friends and companies we knew, and we found the answer (it was from the last question: “What would you pay us $1,000 a month to solve?”). Everyone answered QA, testing, cross-browser support, etc. After thinking about it for a while, we realized we’d had the same problem many many times ourselves; this, plus the fact it’s un-sexy and a big-business problem made us super excited!
Q. What are the workflows at Rainforest QA where you see teams using CloudApp (Customer Success, Sales, Product, Design, Engineering, QA/Development)
Russell: Most people use it as a core workflow. We use it mainly for sharing screenshots or GIFs from bugs and graphs to cool things they’ve discovered. CloudApp makes all of this super simple.
Q. Tech used at Rainforest QA?
Russell: We use the classics; Github, Zendesk (for tester support only), Intercom (customer support), JIRA (more recently; tl;dr Github sucks for cross project issues and sprint planning). We used to use a lot of Google Hangouts, but that has fallen out of favor for Slack calls (for small groups) or Gotomeeting for anything more than 3-4 people. Video conferencing still isn't truly “good,” which is crazy in 2017.
Q. What are the top 5 songs in your Spotify/music queue right now?
Russell: Artists at the moment: XXYYXX, Com Truise, Big Sean, GZA, Debussy / Brahms
Q. What’s your favorite book? And your favorite film?
Russell: Depends what mood I’m in. Currently I’m reading a book from the 1940s on artillery maths, plus “The Chemical Physics of Ice” (tl;dr: ice is cool). Film: Drive.
Q. What hangs on your living room wall right now?
Russell: It’s actually painted with clear whiteboard paint, so it’s covered in drawings. Some Rainforest product things, some from my girlfriend’s family’s children (it’s amazing telling them to draw on the wall).
Q. Links to a favorite project you’ve worked on that most people may not know about?
Russell: Rainforest QA -- it’s actually not super well known yet, but it’s heading that way. It’s been a labor of love for the last 5 years; from an engineering point of view it’s a massive iceberg. There are many, many sub-parts to it which are all hidden under the surface — everything from a cluster-manager to a niche proxy system and our reporting system - all super fun to engineer.
Q. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Have you fulfilled your hopes?
Russell: For a long time, a helicopter pilot. Super glad I didn’t do that after speaking to a few, as it doesn’t sound that great. That quickly changed to being a programmer. Hopes? I’m not done yet but on my way!
Want to learn more about the Rainforest QA team? Visit them on their home turf to check out what they’re up to next.