New to QA? Don’t Be a Lone Tester

From time to time I teach people some QA basics. I do this at start-up companies, since most established companies have someone in-house to train QA. A couple of times I trained experienced testers who only had to transition to a new technology, but usually I train newbies who were hired to be a lone tester. And one thing I’ve learned from doing this is that it’s a really bad first move for these testers.

First, for most people it’s going to end in failure. Start-ups want excellent QA but hire newbies so that they don’t have to pay for it. The problem is that newbies can’t deliver excellent QA; at the stress levels of many start-ups, they can’t even deliver mediocre QA. So they get fired for not meeting unrealistic expectations.

Second, newbie testers (who manage not to get fired) tend to get stuck at a very low skill level. They often misdiagnose their problems and pick the wrong solution, because they can’t even really articulate it well enough to google it or post a question on the QA Stack Exchange. Often they fixate on a symptom, or a few symptoms, without finding the root cause. They’re also often talked into bad habits by developers who use their inexperience to ease their own lives.

Eventually they either quit or are fired, and start looking for a new job. Then they discover that their experience (in terms of time) does not match up to expectations (in terms of quality): they have bad habits and huge knowledge gaps. If they manage to get hired, it’s often not for long. They may even give up on the profession or think they simply don’t have what it takes.

What often saves these testers is finding a company that’s willing to reset them, professionally – fix their bad habits and give them the time and guidance to fill their knowledge gaps. So really, what these testers should have done in the first place is seek out these companies and start their careers there.

So if you’re new to testing, and are trying to choose between being a lone tester in a start-up or tester number 233 in a large company, I suggest you ignore the appeal and heroics of the start-up and settle down to being a cog in a huge system for a couple of years. You’ll learn a lot more, build some confidence and eventually get hired by start-ups who care enough about quality not to leave it in the hands of the least experienced (read: cheapest) worker they could find.

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