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How to Grow as Manual QA Instead of Start Coding

In this article, I would like to share my vision of possible growth options for a Middle QA, especially if, for some reason, they do not consider switching to automation.

A common stereotype is that the only right path of development in testing is automation. I would like to slightly expand the number of options and show that you can find many interesting niches. However, the number of vacancies for the roles that I am going to describe below is significantly lower than for automation engineers as test automation is a skill in demand. You should consider alternative options if for some reason you do not want to develop in the field of automation.

Why It Is Worth Taking Courses and Getting Certifications

One more important point: I am one of the people who find courses and certifications useful. This issue is usually controversial, as many experts have different opinions. I will try to explain why I find them useful. The main benefit is that any authoritative course is a fixed and ordered set of knowledge that is currently relevant for a given field. It seems to me that the big problem of our time is that the way of acquiring knowledge has become less “academic” and more fragmented. The main source of knowledge is articles, and in general, they convey information well, but an article is a kind of trailer, and not a full-fledged movie if we take the analogy with cinematography. Scrolling through the feed or digest, we come across various interesting and useful things from the IT world and think that we are developing. However, we forget such information very easily, since it is disordered and the associations necessary for memorization do not appear.

Passing a certification is not obligatory. And this fact immediately negates the argument that this is only a business. Typically, a list of topics and short training materials are available to everyone. After reviewing this information, it is easy to understand what is in demand and what is not in almost any area. Based on this information, you can easily write yourself a preparation plan, even if you do not plan to take the exam. The exam just motivates you to do better.

I decided to divide the variety of possible fields of development into 2 large groups. I tried to find names that speak for themselves, but I think it will be useful to explain what I mean by the concepts of “managers” and “experts”.

Managers

For managers, I include positions that are close to quality management issues:

  • Delivery Manager
  • Release Manager
  • QA Manager

Thinking about the name for this group, I came to the expression “process designers”, but I could not figure out how to put it in one word, so I decided to focus on managers.

Since this area is more about management, technical skills play a smaller role in development. Representatives of this category should be familiar with the principles of quality management (Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, CMMI). Important is a deep knowledge of the product, architecture, the relationship between components and modules. Knowledge areas of Product Manager and Project Manager sometimes overlap:

  • work with stakeholders (quality is almost always a compromise between deadlines, cost, and scope);
  • assessment of tasks (complexity or time needed);
  • management of risks.

I would like to note that not all companies have a QA Manager. For example, now we have only one manager – the team manager. Although at the previous place of work there were QA Manager and Project Manager. This usually depends on the hierarchy of the company and the degree of involvement of certain roles in the team or project. In some companies, testing is a separate department, while in others the tester is a member of the team. The situation is similar with analysts, tech writers, or admin.

This has both pros and cons. The advantage of having a competent manager is that they can be a source of knowledge, especially for beginners. The same is true for QA Lead. The development of employees is their direct task. The second important advantage is that besides the manager, there is also a team of testers. With this approach, it is easier to organize knowledge sharing, there is some kind of competition and general meetings. At my current place of work, I hardly interact with other testers, and I lack it. The disadvantage of having a second manager is the potential conflict of interest between the test manager and the manager of the team, project, or product. Especially if the project is not just one.

Experts

Usually, the status of an expert implies the highest degree of qualification, but in this case, it is just a parallel branch that denotes development in some narrow area. If someone comes up with a better name, I will be glad.

The largest groups are:

  • Performance Specialist
  • Usability Specialist
  • Security Specialist

To develop in the field of performance, you need to know and understand:

  • application architecture;
  • methodology and types of performance testing (Load Testing, Stress Testing, Scalability Testing);
  • testing tools (JMeter, Gatling);
  • tools for monitoring and logging (New Relic, Datadog).

The UX/UI field is also quite an interesting topic. Compatibility testing is in demand. This includes testing in different browsers, operating systems, or screen sizes, the automation of this process, or techniques for optimizing the number of variations.

experts

For usability testing, there are also specific interface guidelines that can be used as specifications, such as SUMI (Software Usability Measurement Inventory) or WAMMI (Website Analysis and Measurement Inventory). This also includes A/B testing.

In security, certifications are much more important. Most reputable certifications, however, can only be taken with proven security experience (CISSP, CCSP, CEH). At the same time, to prepare for them and your own development, you can pass the less known and demanding certification for the experience (ISC 2 Associate, CISA).

There are also many fields here:

  • Penetration Testing
  • Security Auditing
  • Compliance Testing

There is plenty to choose from but bear in mind that different transition scenarios are possible here. This can be an evolutionary path when you gradually try some fields to understand what you like, and, if something hooks, try to pay more attention to this area. Such a transition will most likely be without salary drawdown.

A more radical option is the transition to novice specialists in the areas of security, usability, or performance. Do not immediately discard this option just because of a salary change. Given the previous background in testing, you may be offered more than the usual Juniors get. You will be a specialist of a higher value. Especially if this is a transition within the company.

Sometimes there are options when growing to a certain level, testers completely change the vector of development and completely go into management, business, or system analysis. Such situations are quite common. I did not include the transition to development in this list, because, in my opinion, it requires a lot of effort. But this is also a possible scenario for those who find development appealing, although such specialists will rather grow out of automation engineers.

Summing Up

Contrary to popular belief, testing as a job has not died yet. Even large, advanced companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon are hiring QA professionals. For example, Amazon is looking for Manual QA and the requirements are not through the roof. A job offered by Microsoft: a specialist with at least 5 years of experience, only 1+ of which – in automation (the focus of the work will most likely be not on automation). Good knowledge of Linux, methodologies, and test documentation is also required. The job is not that different from the regular jobs at Djinni. The situation is similar at Apple. But here you will need to understand the software part a little better (write frameworks and debug the code). Google has even higher requirements for this particular job. But these are randomly selected vacancies.

Different teams need specialists of different levels. It is also obvious that formal compliance does not guarantee invitations but working in such companies is worth the effort spent on preparation. I would do it purely out of interest. Who knows, maybe this will even become the topic of another article someday.

Alex Kara
By Alex Kara on Aug 29, 2021
Manual QA