For the last decade, I’ve worked in Quality Assurance (QA) for both large and small companies. In that time, I’ve been part of processes that were slow and tedious, (I’m looking at you, waterfall process!), to development that had no process what-so-ever (think Wild Wild West).
I’ve worked as a Quality Analyst with, for, and against development, product management, design, and customer service; depending on the environment.
During my tenure in QA, one common belief has resurfaced more than all the others: that QA can be filled by any competent person. People commonly believe that a new hire’s ability should peak after a certain amount of time, making them as useful as someone with more seniority.
This has to be the most common misconception businesses, organizations, and people have about the role of a Quality Analyst. While there is some minor truth to the statement, there is far too much emphasis on this idea.
Let me explain…
Anyone can test. It’s not hard to follow a set of instructions. Anyone who can understand instructions can also tell you if the final outcome of a validation is what you expected or not.
Anyone can also report problems. We’ve all done it. We’ve seen or done something and thought to ourselves: “There is an issue here.” After recognizing the problem, we have written or talked about the problem, solved it, and/or demonstrated the solution to others.
…and that’s it. Basically anyone can accomplish those things, but that doesn’t make them an excellent Quality Analyst.
Any given person might have a different answer to that question. In my opinion, the following traits are necessary in a successful Quality Analyst:
Obviously, a good Quality Analyst will be able to find issues in a product you didn’t know existed. They should be able to see the product how the end user is supposed to see it, rather than what it currently allows them to do. They should be able to skim patterns and easily find UI discrepancies, data errors, or broken workflow patterns. This also means they can tell when a part of the software doesn’t feel like the rest and offer suggestions to make a more unified user experience.
A good Quality Analyst can communicate an issue in many different ways. They can explain it in great detail so a software engineer can recreate the issue, even down to code snippets in some cases. They can also explain it to executives who may only need the high level details like impact, severity, or security concerns. A QA can explain it to someone in well-written documented form, orally in conversation, or in a live demo.
Another core trait good analysts have is creativity. On top of their ability to spin a good tale, or tell the legend of the Browser Killer Bug, they have a knack for creatively thinking through their testing. Good analysts can think of scenarios that the main stakeholders, designers, or developers never thought of and help the team circumvent sending out potential critical flaws through pre- and post-development analysis of the change.
The last trait that a great analyst has is a strong cognitive ability. This lets them become a SME (Subject Matter Expert) for their product or product environments like mobile, desktop, Windows OS, Macintosh OS, Internet Explorer, Chrome, etc. The cognitive trait also speaks to the analyst’s ability to retain knowledge of user patterns and a knowledge of commonly released developer defects.
On top of their ability to retain data, a good QA can instantly recall defects they’ve written when they’re referenced in conversation, sometimes to the detail of recanting the steps to recreate said issue. The QA’s ability to recall patterns also helps them quickly test software when necessary because they’ve memorized expected outcomes in the program based on expected inputs.
You should hire someone for QA because of their ability to be critical, communicative, creative, and cognitive, not their ability to come in and fit a mold that hasn’t been working. People who are great at QA are going to find ways to push boundaries and efficiencies in the process of creating software, watch for potential new trends, and will want to be a part of the development cycle from conception to release in order to influence the product’s quality.
When interviewing potential candidates for any Quality related job, remember to ask somewhat ambiguous or open questions to see if they have the passion to expand quality beyond development into other areas of business. Good candidates may even offer suggestions on things they’ve seen or heard on their way into the building or during the interview itself.