So you’ve come to love your work in software testing. You might even be stepping your game up, innovating new approaches to your testing? So how do you align your passion with a company that empowers you to do your job in excellence, while also encouraging you to grow in the craft and Science of Testing?
While several roles and titles exist within the Science of Testing (SoT), at their foundation, they are still a profession of engineering with a focus on quality. While my daily work is as a Test Automation Engineer, I am first and foremost a Test Engineer, leveraging the right tools and techniques to provide valuable insights while evaluating risks of the application I’m testing.
I’m passionate about our testing community (yes, that’s you) and wanted to write an article that gives you some valuable tools, to find a great place to work. If you’re considering any of the following, then this article is for you.
Considering any of these?
- I want to pursue my first job as a Quality Engineer or Analyst. I’d like to find a great company with plenty of opportunities for growth.
- I’ve been working in the field of Quality for several years. I’m considering the possibilities of new opportunities within and outside my company that could lead to better opportunities for my growth.
- I want to evaluate my current employer and leadership, are they providing opportunities to grow my skills and capabilities as a Quality Engineer?
Let’s look at some qualities that make a great company. Let’s also discuss some red flags to be aware of and how to recognize them.
Quality Assurance, a Role about Risk
When you get down to the basics of our role as Quality Engineers, it’s ultimately about assessing and raising awareness of risks. Beyond test cases, test plans, and automated scripts, if you have no mechanism or focus on risks, you’re missing the point.
When looking for a great company, evaluate its focus and mission. It should be evident that your work will be about raising awareness of risks in the products your testing.
The Myth of the Testing Miracle
There exist within many companies, a myth worth exposing. I refer to it as the “Testing Miracle,” and it’s typically communicated something like this, “Find all the bugs” or “Make sure zero defects go to production.” While the way it’s communicated will vary, the root of the “Testing Miracle” is that all defects can be found.
If you haven’t been confronted with the Testing Miracle yet, you likely will at some point in your testing career. The Testing Miracle is a good indication of unrealistic expectations from those asking you to accomplish it. It’s necessary for Quality Leaders to set an expectation early on, that even with skilled Test Engineers and unlimited time, defects will get missed. Because of this reality, it’s a good reason to have a strategy to reduce as much risk as possible. The Minimal Essential Testing Strategy, also known as METS, is an effective strategy to help reduce risk by adding a level of priority to your testing efforts. Learn more about METS at METSTesting.com.
Why is this foundation of risk assessment so crucial in our work? Why not try to pursue the “Testing Miracle?” The honest answer is, when an individual is given a task that’s impossible to accomplish, they’re set up for unnecessary pressure and lose focus in their area of expertise. In contrast, when encouraged with realistic expectations, the best results can be realized from their expertise and talents.
If you’re instructed to find all the defects with the expectation that zero bugs can go to production, then that role is called “Miracle Worker.” Unless it comes with a magic wand or superhero cape, you should take note and decide if you can meet the expectations that come with the role.
Test Engineering is a Field of Engineering
One of the unfortunate realities of the profession of Quality Assurance is minimal, formal education for Test Engineers. Fortunately, there are excellent training programs with ASTQB and ISTQB and even include certifications.
When considering a company, look for one that believes in investing in the skills of their Test Engineers. Look for leaders that understand, model, and teach testing and quality principals. While leadership skills are an essential part of their roles, if they don’t understand the fundamentals of testing or show no interest in honing their testing skills, then you might be setting yourself up for a dead end opportunity. One of the best quality assurance leaders I worked for, could sit down over lunch and tell you about new areas they were studying around solid testing techniques.
The awesome news about the field of Test Engineering is it’s made up of many experts that enjoy sharing what they’re learning, investing in the community at large. Paul Merrill, Randy Rice, Dorthy Graham, and Joe Colantonio, to name a few, are worth following. Great organizations like StickyMinds, Ministry of Testing, ASTQB/ISTQB all exist to further our Craft of Quality (CoQ).
If the majority of what you hear from a testing leader is “get all that testing done” or “just run all your test cases,” then you may be headed for a dead end. All focus on testing without regular investment in your skills can lead to burnout and no future growth for your career.
Testing and Professional Tools
If there is one area I see as cancerous to the field of software testing, it’s a mindset that “everything must be free.” It’s so rampant in our profession that I’ve watched team members pursue hours of searching, all to find a free tool. What’s ironic is, all the while, a $50 off the shelf tool would do a better job 10x over. Screen capture, note taking and, defect tracking tools, fall into some of the more common “pursuits of free” for many teams.
One of the most experienced companies I’ve worked for had an exceptional approach to adding new tools. They budgeted for great tools and ensured our team got the right training, using those tools the right way. They progressed forward, to build a World-Class, Testing Center of Excellence (TCoE), equipped with skilled, Quality Engineers. It wasn’t free, but it demonstrated a commitment to invest in delivering quality products to the customers they served.
Look for Quality Leaders dedicated to putting the right tools in the hands of their Test Engineers. When a free tool is a right decision, then use a free tool. When everything is free because it’s free, then you’re likely getting a clue of what your future looks when you need a tool that’s not free.
I’ve also noticed a secondary symptom that comes with a “free at any cost” mindset, a lack of training. A smart approach that will almost always ensure you’re successful with tools (free or not) is this, when selecting a tool, get training to use the tool properly. Never adopt a tool with the idea, “we’ll figure it out along the way.” Two outcomes typically come from this approach. First, you’ll rarely get out of the tool, all of its capabilities. Second, it takes longer to get anything valuable out of the tool than if you had committed to getting training from the start.
A training strategy we utilized at one company was called the federated approach. We selected a needed tool and sent a couple of team members to get training on the tool. These team members knew they were responsible for training the rest of the team when they returned.
Are all the tools the testing team using free? Ask about screen capture or defect tracking tools. Look for trends of not spending on the right tools in favor of everything being free. If you find the pursuit of free at every turn, it’s good evidence that training and other investments in your career will likely not be there either.
Cost of Quality
Quality Engineering brings stability to the products we deliver to our customers. Unfortunately, it can also be viewed as an unnecessary cost that comes with building products. How the work of Quality Assurance is perceived can change rapidly based upon leadership within a technology organization. One moment you have leaders that see the value of an excellent, Quality Assurance organization. The next moment, half the team is let go, because “Can’t we just automate all this?”.
Keep a pulse of the value of quality in your organization, especially at times of leadership changes. Do you notice less emphasis on testing and more on shipping as fast as possible? Hopefully, you see an emphasis on creating exceptional products for your customer that represent your brand well.
A continued focus on “fast” can be the first signs that your leadership is losing sight of delivering quality products. Leaders may be getting assessed on the number of products shipped versus the quality of the products getting shipped. When you see quality taking a back seat to quantity, it might be wise to consider what your future looks like and if it’s time to consider new opportunities.
I hope these tips will help you evaluate the company you’re thinking about joining as well as the one you’re working for right now. I want to encourage you to find an excellent employer that is serious about investing in your future as a Quality Engineer.
I’d enjoy hearing about your journey. Feel free to reach me, Greg Paskal on LinkedIn.