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The machine in the background is called spanky

SAN DIEGO, CA, United States – An exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with Nokia’s queen of pain.

Jean, we’ve heard that as part of your job, you oversee the chambers of torture at Nokia. Tell us more.

Hardware reliability testing is just one area that our team puts a lot of focus on. The San Diego hardware testing lab is joked about as being a chamber of torture because ultimately, our goal is to break phones. We look for failures and imperfections. We perform tests that mimic real-life use cases based on mechanical, environmental and functional stressors. When a defect is identified, our specialists conduct a failure analysis to identify the root cause so that the developers can improve the device. We work hard to iron out any flaws before the phone launches into the market, striving for an irresistible user experience.

We test phones for markets across the globe, including the US, Asia and Europe. Our team consists of Product Quality Managers, Test Managers and Test Engineers on the hardware, software and carrier testing side. We have several sister test labs located in Beijing, China; Ulm, Germany and Oulu, Tampere and Salo, Finland.

Give us an imaginary tour of the San Diego lab. How is it organized?

The San Diego labs cover not only hardware and mechanical testing, but we have specific labs dedicated to software testing and carrier specific testing as well. We literally run thousands of tests per day on the devices we are developing. Much of the testing is automated and we utilize custom and commercially available test equipment. 

The hardware reliability tests are aptly called “torture tests” because they VERY rigorously test the durability of the devices. Just to highlight a few of the tests….

We have an automated robot that bends a mobile screen across the middle; another machine methodically twists a phone’s base to its breaking point; one test jig pushes and pulls a micro-USB cable to see how long it will last before the pins break or the port loosens; and the drop and tumble testers and temperature chambers that mirror fluctuations in weather conditions and humidity levels stress the devices to the extremes.

While these hardware tests uncover flaws related to wear and tear, software tests aim to find bugs in all sorts of conditions. All the software components must operate seamlessly together under many possible scenarios. For example, how does the device detect that you have plugged in a headset while you are already chatting with a friend? Or better yet, think of the events that occur when you are moving into different network conditions while taking a picture and a call comes in? Chances are these are the types of cases you take for granted. Our software test labs ensure that you will have a great experience. 

Since we’re a truly global company, our testing labs can operate in a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week mode, but no I don’t work 24/7! We maximize the time zone differences by working on an issue and then handing it over to our colleagues in Europe and China to continue the work. 

Who is Spanky?

The most notorious of Jean's instruments of pain

As part of the hardware mechanical testing lab, Spanky is a high impact swinging pendulum tester. We designed Spanky with the help of interns from the University of California-San Diego. Spanky has a large motorized arm that can be raised back to “spank” a phone with amazing force and precision. After getting whacked, the phone is caught in a net. He has helped us research failures in our phones and is an important member of our team. While he makes an awful amount of noise, I can assure you that his bite is not as bad as his bark. 😉

What is the most lethal substance to a mobile phone?

This largely depends on the material used in making the phone. For example, polycarbonate and glass-filled nylon are two commonly used materials to build smartphones. Each is affected differently when exposed to common household items, like insect repellant, vegetable oil, suntan lotion and make-up, like liquid foundation.

A rare moment sat at her desk

Describe your career path

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of San Diego California. I joined Nokia in 1994 as a hardware engineer. Next, as R&D manager for some of the early CDMA devices, there were many challenges in technology, competitiveness and timing.

In my next role as product engineering program manager, I was exposed to the manufacturing and supplier side and had to find quick solutions for field issues. My next charter was to form a “product test factory” to improve product validation. The team then also started to focus on building up carrier specific test expertise. 

Then last summer, I was given the opportunity to head up the Quality Operations team in San Diego and here I am.

 Why did you join Nokia?

Nokia is very unique in its culture. Differing viewpoints are encouraged in order to arrive at the best solutions. You grow and change continually, because the company morphs and evolves continually. It’s not a stagnant place; it’s dynamic, like our industry. I’ve witnessed that personally again and again. You have to be responsible in managing your own career but there is commitment to help you get there. For me, I have been able to stay and grow. I have a deep sense of trust and admiration for the people I have worked with over the past 17 years; this inspires so much dedication in me.

Nokia Lumia