Five Minutes Ahead of the Boot


QA folks work more with intangibles such as observing, advocating, facilitating, and influencing. It can be frustrating when the QA analyst gets the feeling that she's even further removed from the tangible aspects of building a quality product than she was as a tester.

What can go wrong?
Here are a few of the problems that someone in a QA role might encounter:

  • Doing process work for an organization that isn't mature enough to understand the value of that work. The organizations that need QA the most are the least likely to embrace it. So you have to find an organization that has done enough improvement the hard way to realize that there's probably a better way to do it. Different people have different preferences for the maturity and formality of an organization with which they work.
  • Being an advocate of best practices for its own sake instead of helping people solve problems from their own point of view. You can't shove a process down someone's throat and expect it to stay down. The best way to approach change is to help someone discover a solution for a problem he really believes he has. And that means you might not even get credit for your work.
  • QA gets in the way. It really does--in the short term. Better processes will pay off in the long term, but only if you get past the resentment you cause by delaying someone's favorite project while a new process is taking hold.
  • It's extraordinarily difficult to successfully make massive process changes. The most dependable approach is to make many small improvements over time, which takes a lot of patience. If you do try to change the world rapidly, be prepared to face utter failure.
  • When it's time to downsize, or if upper management's philosophy changes, QA is often the first on the chopping block. Don't bother to hang many pictures in your cubicle.

Are you scared away from QA yet?
I believe that there are many good career paths that a tester can follow besides QA. Here are some:

  • Management. Get some practice as a test lead, try your hand as test manager, and then look for lateral or upward moves into management.
  • Toolsmith. If you want to remain technical and also still want to be steeped in testing, become a test tool expert.
  • Consultant. Strange but true, many of the most experienced testers in the industry are consultants.
  • Lots of other things with some amount of overlap with the skills you use as a tester--like programming, technical writing, tech support, marketing, etc.

QA might be right for you. I've heard of a few people who are really good at it. If you do take that path, hopefully you'll be better prepared for it now, and if not, I hope you have a new appreciation for the people who do it.

Further Reading:
"Testing, Zen, and Positive Forces,"
March 15, 2004


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