Beginning a career in QA

Tags:
Quality assurance
Quality assurance staff
Software Quality Assurance
How do i start in QA career? Do i really have to have extensive programming knowledge to work in QA?
ASKED: June 6, 2008  6:00 PM
UPDATED: June 30, 2008  10:12 PM

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Well, starting a career in QA is, first of all, a great idea (at least in my opinion)! It can be pretty interesting, definitely challenging, and will stretch you in many ways. What does it take to be a great tester? The direct answer to your question is generally no, you don’t need ‘extensive’ programming knowledge to work in QA. The full answer is “It depends…”. Some organizations have very manual testers, who generally just click and/or type, with little need for advanced technical skills. In this ‘realm’ of testing, QA personnel differentiate themselves (and their career opportunities) by 1) subject matter expertise and 2) familiarity with common business software such as Oracle Retail, SAP, or Microsoft Dynamics. Other organizations require testers with a more technical background who can write automation or even be part of a truly agile team, where all team members code AND test.

If you start out in the first category, my recommendation is that you develop an expertise in a corporate software package, and that you do it quickly. Oracle Retail is quickly establishing itself as a leader in deployments, so there’s a high demand for expertise within this system. At the same time, you do need *some* technical skills. Familiarity with XML, T-SQL, and similar technologies will be helpful if you choose to not follow the technical path.

Several things will contribute to your success:
* Critical eye: when you look at things, are you critical about them? Do you spot flaws easily? Do you doubt a lot of things, and are you constantly looking for factual evidence rather than taking someone’s word for it? You might be a good tester.
* Passion for quality: are you committed to quality yourself? Can you tell me the difference in quality between a Chevrolet/Opal and a Mercedes? How about a Timex vs. a Rolex? If you can articulate quality, you might be a good tester.
* Do you learn languages, systems, or syntax easily? In software testing, base technologies are constantly changing and you need to adapt quickly. If you can pick up languages (written or coding) quickly, you might be a successful tester.
* Are you interested in technology and furthering your technical skills? Digging in and learning complex or large business systems must be interesting. Getting familiar with Unix/Linux environments, with open source software such as Tomcat or Java or such, with advanced web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX, or even with programming languages will be a huge boon to your career.

So the short answer? No – extensive programming knowledge is not critical to your career. The bottom line? You need to differentiate yourself somehow, whether it’s in familiarity with business systems or in strong technical abilities. There are core technologies you do need, though, such as XML or T-SQL skills. Develop these quickly and you should advance on the job.

Hope that helps!

John O.

John Overbaugh is a testing professional with 13 years of experience. He blogs irregularly at http://thoughtsonqa.blogspot.com and is a frequent contributor and testing expert with IT Knowledge Exchange..

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  • Ysrd
    I like the answer but it makes me think that your version of QA is just testing. Unfortunatly QA in some places is not testing but Auditing. Especially in larger firms and government suppliers. I have long thought a degree in psycology would be the best thing in a QA department. That and Writing because a largish amount of time seems to be taken up in writing QA Manuals. But Software development is not required in most cases. (This editor needs a spell checker.) QA is the art of making sure that development and production are carried out to the proper standard and making sure the team doing the development and production are aware of the standard. And from Johns answer I can see he is really up to date on the newest languages, but unfortunatly in the cases where standards __MUST__ be applied these languages can not be used. You can not program a plane in AJAX or use XML to stop a nuclear reactor from going beyond it's design envelope. In those places were standards are required (and so QA is required) web access is only for want to have options and not need to have. We use FORTRAN for scientific work, COBOL for money (Yes all of the big banks who actually are big banks use COBOL still.) C for programming real time systems OR ADA (Although it is surprising how much Assembler is still being used.) Java is used in some embedded systems but we have had to take out the java VM and replace it with our own kernel and logic code because with Java it was not able to meet our real time requirements. And it was the QA guys that were on the ball to find that our standard nixed the use of Java. (besides being too slow and non-deterministic Java is not really standards based along with all of the Visual Studio Languages and many other new languages. We used Assembler.) So if you are going into QA, software development is not so much what you need. Good writing skills and the ability to comprehend the standards along with a basis in accounting will work well for you. YSRD (Ysrd is a software developer who has 25+ years experiance in all aspects of Software Development, programming in over 20 different languages and language families and experianced with most of the tools and methodologies used for software development. Now a senior developer at a Nuclear Laboritory where a mistake in the code doesn't cause a blue screen of death but the death of anywhere from thousands to millions and large areas of the planet to no-longer be habitable for a few eons. On the weekends I write things in java and ajax as well as Ajax3D and other languages (I have even used VB.Net for a couple of projects to see what the fuss is about. It's just basic where php should be) to keep up to date and scare my employers)
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