November 4, 2015

The 2015 BAQ Conference and Career Paths for QA Engineers

This September Lviv hosted the BAQ Conference (Business Analytics and Quality Assurance) bringing together quality assurance engineers and project managers. It was a new and unique conference for the Western region of Ukraine, gathering business analysts and professionals in software testing.

The conference was intended for experienced specialists wishing to present and discuss new ideas and trends in these sectors. I was attracted by the likelihood that a wide variety of people from different cities were expected to attend and I believed I could learn something interesting.

The conference was organized in the hall of a hotel in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv, full of stunning architecture and good-natured people. Its quaint narrow streets seem made to inspire new ideas or to reflect on current practices.

Lviv

There were two parallel sessions for QAs and PMs. I chose the QA session, consisting of 8 presentations varying in content and in exposition: from technical aspects of testing to working with Agile projects to psychological techniques for working in a team and building relationships with new employees.

Most of the presentations were well put together. In this post, I’d like to highlight the topics I felt might most help a QA engineer in how she/he wished to develop career-wise. Given the avenues of project management (PM) or automation QA, how to decide what is best and most suitable for you? This was best addressed by two speakers: Tetiana Golubieva (who works as a PM) and Andrii Lazarev (working in automation QA).

Project Management

Taking Tetiana’s angle first, what we should expect on the path to becoming a PM?

Consider what a manager is: a person whose role within an organization is to oversee the achievement of project and business goals. This is bound to entail a learning curve for anyone accustomed to manual QA work. QAs work according to well-defined plans: receiving a build, testing it, filling out test documents, writing a status report, and repeating the process, on time according to a well-defined schedule. Many aspects of managers’ work are quite different to this. It is less routine and more improvisational, and requires balancing business goals with client and staff needs. It seems to me that a PM should be able to anticipate events, or at least be able to react quite quickly to the unexpected, as well as find a language common to a wide variety of people.

While knowledge of the process being managed is essential, a mentor would be very nice to have so as not to have to learn everything through trial and error. Besides a mentor, what else might help the novice manager? Reading books, attending conferences, and, of course, the ability to both think and feel his or her way through problems. And a new manager should be responsible. Ultimately it’s the PM who bears greatest responsibility for deviation from the objectives of a project.

Lviv

Automation QA

Turning to Andrii, what about becoming an Automation QA engineer? Andrii’s material was most memorable to me, being comprised of many things I am faced with daily. And his presentation was the more understandable for me: everything was clear and interesting. So what’s challenging about the transition to automation QA? Technical knowledge. Some basic tools you need to understand for automatization include Selenium WebDriver, BDD framework, at least a basic understanding of HTML, working with CSS / XPath / jQuery as well as browser debugging tools such as Chrome Dev Tools or Firebug, maybe a programming language or two. This is a lot for a beginner!

My choice is JS given that 90% of Web applications are written in JavaScript. Two books that have really helped me are: JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, 6th Edition and Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML. If you don’t have the technical background but are driven, you’ll be working overtime, each time asking yourself “How do I do this?”. If you have senior who can serve as a mentor, listen to him and try to build a chain of his reasoning in your head. The development of technical capability requires quite a strict mentor in my opinion, but also someone who can explain things in plain language, as clearly and succinctly as possible. A good mentor is half the battle! Andrii insisted that moving to automation QA is much easier than it sounds. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I do know that if you set and keep to a goal, eventually you’ll succeed.

One of the most important qualities for an automation QA engineer is discipline: test refactoring is best carried out at least once a month, and learning Continuous Integration tools is a huge plus. But the main thing is to not compromise quality!

You decide

So whichever way a QA chooses to grow, whether towards a PM role or towards test automation, will not be easy. Deep study, hard work, overtime and some amount of trial and error are inevitable. But after a time, if Tetiana and Andrii are to be believed, you will see significant results. That is surely worth it!