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Issue 24

QA professionals – growth and development

Mihaela Claudia
Senior QA Engineer
@Hewlett Packard
TESTING

After working for thirteen years as a software developer, I have dedicated the last seven years to the software products" quality management field. During the last four years, I have also been involved in recruiting specialists. Due to my career path, I have heard various opinions related to the tester profession, giving me the feeling that this profession and its career development potential are still misunderstood. Besides, the "tester" and "QA engineer" terms are often interchanged and used improperly.

There are still many candidates to the tester position that view it just as an opportunity, a way to assess what they consider to be the triumph of an IT career: software development. They do not give themselves the chance to understand the possibilities of professional development in the field of quality management.

Some of those who practice the "tester" profession at a beginner level rush to improperly use the "QA engineer" accolade, but its meaning usually eludes them. Then I obviously have to ask myself, how confident can you get in the career you might develop, as long as you are ashamed to pronounce its name?

On the other hand, in our environment there are still some project managers that minimize the role that the testers assume in order to assure the software products" quality. This way, tester recruiting managers omit to request that their potential candidates possess technical skills. As a result, the process of developing professionals in quality assurance and control is severely damaged.

Considering that between the numerous software products available on the market, the difference maker is their quality, the growth and development of professionals in this field is of a major importance.

When we are looking for a position in this field, or when we are on the other side of the table and search for future employees to fill this position, the main focus should be beyond the immediate needs of the project. The requirements we define when hiring a tester need to be focused to support the career"s development.

Assuming the risk of mentioning well-known facts, let us start by reminding that a software product"s Quality Management is accomplished through the correlation and synergy of two large branches that intertwine, yet remain essentially different:

Quality Assurance, whose purpose is to gain the trust that quality requirements are met, being process oriented and using the following as leverage:

  • Standards,
  • Procedures,
  • Auditing,
  • Planning.

Quality Control, whose purpose is to check that the product"s quality requirements are fulfilled, using:

  • Testing techniques,
  • Reporting defects,
  • Measurement and control based evaluation,
  • Process guiding,
  • The used tools" identification.

While the software product"s Quality Assurance is the responsibility of the stakeholders, Quality Control is the testers" responsibility.

Keeping this in mind, let us identify a way to support the development of a career in Quality Management.

The first step in one"s career is usually that of a "junior tester". He is often assigned tasks that imply defect validation and test runs (manual or automated). Considering the learning curve, this step should last only for a short while. Therefore, the requirements we have when recruiting should outline, besides the need to have a junior tester, the professional perspective that we can offer.

At this level of experience, we cannot talk about QA engineering, as this implies process optimization and planning.

As testers, we develop our ability to control the quality of a functional requirement according to the general quality requirements of the product by covering it with a required and sufficient volume of tests. To achieve this, one must develop the skills needed to understand the technical and functional aspects of a component and test techniques. Looking at this as a first step in our careers" evolution, if it is easy to achieve, then our satisfaction and implicitly our motivation, are reflected through a positive attitude. The time needed to achieve this progress is usually very tightly correlated to the technical knowledge we possess in various fields like:

  • Programming,
  • Operating systems,
  • Computer networks,
  • Test techniques,
  • Test scripting,
  • Development processes.

The deep knowledge of the process and the attention dedicated to respect it, both personally and by the other members of the team, as well as a careful estimation and a correct measurement of the quality of the tested functionality, contribute to the product"s quality assurance process.

Knowing the product from the point of view of its utility, functional and technical architecture, as well as learning the types and the techniques of functional and non-functional testing is an important step we need to go through in the process of professional growth. To achieve this, we must keep a continuous focus toward:

  • Getting more thorough and extensive technical knowledge,
  • Developing the ability to design tests for various testing types,
  • Gaining knowledge of tools used to test, report and measure software products" quality,
  • Getting deeper knowledge on development processes.

Looking at things from the quality assurance perspective, we can now mention a contribution to it by planning test types, process watching by having pertinent opinions about its possible sideslips and ideas to improve or adapt it.

Further on, we can involve in developing the test plan, having in mind all the functional and non-functional characteristics of the product, as well as the characteristics of the business to which the product is dedicated. Knowing the tools needed to test, measure and report the quality characteristics of the software product in regard to its purpose will help us develop a strategy that assures its a competitive quality. The success of the test strategy is deeply tight to the correct implementation of the software development process. Therefore, our involvement as testers in improving the ongoing process is imminent.

Finding ourselves at this point, after a patient and dedicated journey, we can see the perspective with the clarity and safety that are gained by professionals. Development can continue in the management area, the functional architecture or business analysis areas as well as it could continue in the programming or consultancy areas. All depends on abilities, dedication and purpose.

Developing a career in testing, leading up to a stakeholders" position responsible for quality assurance, can be accomplished only using the same known ingredients:

  • Personal involvement,
  • Proactivity,
  • Continuous gain of technical skills,
  • Understanding the role in the context of the project,
  • Learning and applying the processes,
  • Continuously enhancing abilities.

An important advantage that we can have is the chance to be part of a team that sustains and helps us through:

  • Training,
  • Coaching,
  • Integrating personal goals in the team"s purpose.

Let us get back to the idea that amongst the multitude of software products available on the market, the quality makes difference. Experience has proven that in order to reach a top spot in this competition, you need a well-implemented process and many professionals in the fields of project management, project architecture, programming and quality control. The product is a whole whose fulfillment is given by all of these combined.

The management"s maturity is starting to show itself in our community as well and comes to support the role that Quality Management has in the success of the software products and, consequently, in the development of field professionals, so the story that I have told has more and more real life examples.

In order to grow and develop ourselves as QA professionals, we need to give ourselves the chance to understand the tester profession, with all its needs and potential. Let us stop seeing it as an alternative we choose because we are not good enough to do something else or as a role of "developer"s assistant" because, behind these misunderstandings born out of superficiality and lack of knowledge, there is a beautiful career that we can develop further and further, with effort and dedication.

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