Software testing is the thread that connects code to customers, ensuring that the code created by development teams works for users and supports customer loyalty. But as the demands of software development are transformed by DevOps and customer expectations rise, the career and role of the software tester is evolving rapidly. Customer expectations have made it imperative for applications to work seamlessly, necessitating evolution in QA and testing.
As the QA and software testing sector progress—and “quality engineering” becomes the de facto term for creating agile, customer-centric software teams—QE is attracting a more diverse pool of leaders as the career skillset widens. The more quality engineering becomes the differentiator between elite software teams that thrive in a DevOps world and teams that struggle to adapt, the more important it becomes to elevate diverse leaders in the industry.
Understanding this, mabl recently held a panel discussion with QA and software testing industry veterans who discussed the new era of quality and how these changes are transforming who enters the field.
The Evolving Role of the Software Tester: Building Professional Confidence
The constant evolution in software testing and quality engineering, though exciting, also presents a challenge to QA professionals: How to consistently build the necessary skills as well as the confidence to succeed. As quality engineering becomes a multidisciplinary career role that encompasses engineering, functional and non-functional quality management and the customer experience, the question for QE professionals becomes one of continuous learning and the confidence to broach, if not lead, challenging discussions.
LaDeitra Lee, chief technology officer for Sparx Studio, understands how confidence can sometimes feel elusive—especially for younger pros just getting started. But her message is meant to encourage those just starting out to speak up: “QA knows the most about the product because we know the customer’s perspective, and we’re testing the full product from the front end that everybody sees all the way to the backend … the main thing: You want to make sure you have the confidence in your work,” Lee said.
When quality engineers have confidence in their skills, they’re better able to collaborate with the rest of the software development team to improve testing strategy and triage defects. But building confidence can be challenging, especially as software testing has embraced coding skills to the point where software developers can specialize in quality as SDETs. However, that doesn’t mean that coding experience is the most essential skill in a quality engineering career. Since quality engineering is all about connecting code to user context, soft skills like empathy are just as critical for the next generation. So, even if QE professionals aren’t expert coders, they can build confidence in their skills by understanding their unique place in the software development process.
Marjie Carmen, software engineering manager at Arch Insurance, agreed. “When I started out, it was commonly believed that software testers didn’t need programming skills or software engineering skills since the focus was on manual testing. But today, I see QA working hand-in-hand with and having almost the same skills as a software engineer; sometimes even more. I really see quality assurance as equal because they have to know the business side and the perspective of the users and where the industry is going. They have to make really good recommendations about how the product should be and need the confidence to go to the engineering side and say, ‘What’s the fastest way I can get this product tested and in the hands of the user?’”
Creating Unconventional Career Paths in Software Development
How has hiring for a tester today changed in the last decade? As quality engineering continues to grow as a profession, many in the field are creating new career paths by moving between different roles throughout the software industry. By supporting these unconventional candidates, Maaret Pyhäjärvi, principal test engineer and prominent QA speaker, said that software development organizations can grow internal talent and help quality engineering develop as a field.
“We hope that there’s more of this openness for moving from one technical role to another,” said Pyhäjärvi. “There’s always the possibility of learning small slices of technicality. Some of my favorite architects these days are so good at software testing; so good at programming and can really bring the whole team together. So we need to allow that kind of movement where people get to try things and break away from stereotypes.”
Susan Marie, president of the Triangle Software Quality Association (TSQA) said, “I love the capital-Q quality emphasis because it gives me leverage to do well—that’s just one area of quality. I hate the idea that the job title is the one thing that you’re allowed to do; you need to be giving guidance around what’s expected of you and what other people can expect from you.”
While technology is always evolving, former Slack senior engineering manager Karine Sully said the main characteristics for the job have been consistent—even as far back as a decade ago. “I always look for people who are curious and who have good communication and organizational skills, especially coming in at entry-level or lower-level. All you need is to be able to think critically and organize your thoughts and be able to communicate what it is you’re doing. Then, you can push beyond that and grow.”
Given the challenges inherent to working with multi-disciplinary teams, Lee said, “I think what helped me the most is having a sponsor. So my advice for anyone on my team, or anyone that’s looking to grow in their career, is making sure you have someone a few levels above you looking out for you.”
Fostering Diversity in Software Testing Teams
Growing responsibilities equal a growing number of requirements and skills for quality engineering careers. Navigating the hiring process is never easy, but succeeding in a rapidly changing field can feel like running a marathon at a full sprint, especially when trying to foster more diversity in software development and testing.
“…Diversity and inclusion are definitely very dear to my heart, and I feel you have to go where people don’t look like you. So if you want to hire more Black or Hispanic engineers, you have to go to areas where you see more of them,” Lee said. “If it’s engineering that you’re looking for, do your research and find those schools that specialize in that particular area. I’m a part of the National Society of Black Engineers, so I tap into that network if I’m trying to help build a diverse team.”
Carmen agreed that hiring managers need to look closely at areas where there may be holes to fill. “I got into management by looking at gaps and filling them—it was always my goal to find a gap and say, ‘Hey, I can take that off your hands and in the role.’ So it’s a natural evolution to get the different roles that I’ve had by saying yes to more and different responsibilities.”
Though the QA and software testing fields are in the midst of several transformations, the change is opening the door for more people to have successful careers in software quality. Though their role is to ultimately improve the product, that road to quality is usually filled with bugs and unpredictable challenges. When quality engineering professionals are confident in their work, it’s easier for them to lead constructive conversations on improving the product—and facing down the engineering teams, if necessary. Building a diverse and confident next generation for quality is essential to building delightful digital experiences for all.
“I heard from a very famous pioneer in the engineering industry about QA that ‘We don’t have a magic wand; we can’t test quality into your product, but we can test your product.’” Pyhäjärvi said. “The whole concept of QA engineer, QA quality assurance, QE, I think gives people the illusion that we can do something impossible. We can only show light to the areas of the product that need work.”