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It's a good time for QA professionals -- here's why

When testing is brought into the development process early, everything just works better. Jennifer Lent explains how and why QA pros are finally being taken seriously.

More and more, QA professionals command the respect they deserve, and their peers see them as essential players on software development teams.

This is one of the things I came away with from the recent Mobile Dev + Test 2017 conference in San Diego, a subtle but significant shift from earlier conferences. In the not-too-distant past, there was a lot of talk among quality assurance (QA) pros about their difficulty getting involved in software projects from the get-go. Software testing back then was something that happened after the fact, and it was tough to change that approach, even though QA pros knew it could prove disastrous.

Now, it seems more and more QA professionals have come into their own, figuring out how they can get involved early enough to make a difference. "Things are changing," a QA professional who works for a game developer and requested anonymity told me. "You take a seat, and you say, 'I need to be in this meeting. Learning about [the project] will help me do better QA.'"

Here are the signs I saw that QA professionals are getting the respect they deserve.

Goodbye, QA pro bias

Jaimee Newberry, who led the "Mobile App Project Kick Off: Get It Right the First Time" tutorial at the Mobile Dev + Test conference, admits she was a repeat offender. "As a designer, I had a bias. I didn't think about QA [until after the fact]." But when, as a user experience expert, she headed a mobile development project for the online retailer Zappos, everything changed. She saw the crucial role QA professionals play when a project first gets under way.

As a designer, I had a bias. I didn't think about QA [until after the fact].
Jaimee Newberryco-founder, Picture This Clothing

"QA pros ask amazing questions," said Newberry, co-founder of Picture This Clothing, based in Las Vegas. They focus on what the software user is likely to do, especially when things go wrong, she said. "What happens when the connection isn't strong? How, exactly, do we expect the user to check out with a credit card? Have you thought about this use case?" These questions -- from the QA professional's point of view -- can help the team develop better software, she said.

QA pros take the lead

The game developer QA pro mentioned earlier said that experience has taught him to take the lead and prepare himself to deal with difficult situations that can easily derail software projects.

Here's an example that came up during a group discussion at the "Get It Right the First Time" tutorial. How do you handle seemingly random requests from high-ranking stakeholders with little day-to-day involvement in the project? They ask for features that are not part of the plan, often at the last minute. That scenario was all-too familiar to many group members, and the QA pro ventured his solution. "I tell them, 'We focus on finishing the core features first,'" he said. "If they super insist, I say, 'We'll add the request to the backlog.'"

Another approach that has proved effective for him is aligning a software project around the company's core values, he noted. "If a [requested] feature doesn't support the core values, it doesn't belong in the software," he said.

QA pros get a Lyft

Another session at Mobile Dev + Test also highlighted how QA professionals are getting respect from their peers. Heather Daigle is a senior QA engineer at the ride-sharing service Lyft, based in San Francisco. The startup company was founded in 2012 and then two years ago, management made a change that dramatically impacts how developers and QA pros work together. Instead of operating as a single group, QA pros report to different engineering managers, Daigle said. "We are embedded with them." That means they work one-on-one with developers, early in the project cycle, in ways that weren't possible in the previous setup. Before devising tests, Daigle sits down with a developer and asks: How would you develop this feature? "The more we work with developers, the more testable everything becomes," she said.

Working well together is essential at Lyft, where weekly releases of both the Android and iOS versions of the app are the norm. "Yes, the embedding was weird at first. But it's good for everyone," Daigle said.

Sounds like QA pros are now seen as equal players on software teams. I think that's good for everyone, too! But I know it's not true everywhere. Let me know how it is where you work.

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