When Dave Cunningham wants to hire a software tester, he looks for a specific kind of fearless personality.
“They try to represent the end user and they also try to break things,” he said. “A tester needs to be someone who is curious.”
Cunningham, founder and CEO of Flint Hills Group, got that and more with Wichita State University student Kristen Bruce. She likes to investigate and can talk to co-workers and clients about how things are working — or not working.
“It’s not just about being able to see that thing – you have to ask the right people the right kind of questions,” she said.
Growing up, Bruce fixed pages in her coloring books. After another child scribbled on a page, she used her crayons to color in the picture.
“I’ve always liked to fix things and clean things up,” she said. “I have a knack for finding anomalies.”
Bruce plans to graduate from Wichita State with a degree in electrical engineering and a minor in computer science in May 2021. In 2003, she graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in business administration and a minor in Spanish.
Over the past year, Bruce played an important role in Flint Hills Group’s work with McAlister, a fuel distributor and wholesaler in Wellington. McAlister needed to replace the software it used to monitor fuel flow for billing. Bruce helped Flint Hills Group find and fix software issues and move to a new system, while some of McAlister’s competition encountered problems with their legacy systems.
For example, she found errors in date ranges while testing situations around midnight.
“That can be pretty critical for a company, if it gets reported in the wrong day,” Cunningham said. “We couldn’t have done this without Kristen. (She’s) doing a service by finding defects and issues. There is a super-high trust factor with Kristen. When Kristen says she sees things, no one is throwing stones. They want to understand how she sees it.”
electrical engineering major
Bruce worked in paper products, newspapers and websites before returning to school in 2017 at Wichita State. She considered engineering at Kansas State before turning to business.
“I wanted to finish engineering, because I like to solve problems,” she said. “I want to find a job where problem-solving is valued, critical thinking is valued, you’re paid to do that.”
Her experiences in the working world and in school prompted Cunningham to put her directly with clients to solve problems. She understands that questioning the work of others calls for tact and a good-natured approach.
“She had a lot of maturity and communication skills that were really good,” Cunningham said. “She gets to talk directly with the customer, and I don’t think there’s too many students that get that opportunity.”
Flint Hills Group employs 40 developers in seven states. Cunningham, a 1986 Wichita State graduate with a major in computer science, formed the software development and data company in 2016.
In addition to her work with McAlister, Bruce also tested for companies in Houston, Las Vegas and New Hampshire. This summer, she is interning remotely for eight weeks on a reprogramming team for John Deere.
“She is getting to see a lot of different industries and different companies, and that all goes on her resume,” Cunningham said. “This is real world, what she’s getting to experience.”
Bruce said she didn’t have female role models in engineering earlier in her life. At Wichita State, she is president of the Wichita State University section of the Society of Women Engineers, volunteers with Shocker MINDSTORMS STEM program for students and with the ACE Mentoring Program.
“Being involved on campus has helped me feel more a part of things,” she said. “When you’re a nontraditional student like myself, it’s nice to get involved.”