Career: Quality Assurance Engineer
Quality assurance departments exist in large companies that produce software or are in Web development. The quality assurance (QA) engineer makes sure that all of the programs work properly and that everything in a Web site functions according to plan. Software testing is diverse and involves examining the Web server, which the user never sees. The goal of the QA engineer is to try and make things not work so the programmer can catch errors before they occur. “If it works, we’re not interested in it. It’s our job to anticipate a problem and think of any bone-headed thing that a user can do to a program or Web page. We play devil’s advocate, troubleshooting any combination of errors that a user could potentially make,” says one engineer. QA professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, and they are generally free thinkers who don’t have a preconceived notion of how things are supposed to work. They are problem-solvers who like a good puzzle. They are often thorough, detail-oriented, and enjoy tinkering. “Persistence is also key,” says one tennis pro turned computer pro. “If you can’t make something not work, keep on trying.”
QA engineers are the bridge between end-users and programmers, so they must understand the problems that users can encounter. Early on, an entry-level QA position involves simple testing. For example, a user may need to input a password into a Web site, which must be between five and ten characters. The QA engineer must then test how this will work if the user types a space, a dot, a dash, or a comma.
Depending on their technical skills, QA engineers could move into programming or production, which deals with creating Web pages that are displayed on screen. Every company that produces a product has a need for QA engineers, from chemical engineering to auto manufacturing. While major specialization is obviously required within various industries, there are some overarching paradigms, including understanding user behavior and being familiar with pattern recognition. With further training, a QA professional could also move into another field.