Comedian Chris Rock has a great stand-up piece where he talks about working at Red Lobster as a teen, washing dishes in the back of the restaurant. At one point during his routine he describes the difference between a career and a job: “When you got a career, there ain’t enough time in the day. When you got a job, there’s too much time.”
I want QA to be a career destination; a discipline where people want to be (vs. seeing it just as a foot in the door) and where staff can grow and progress - and not only at BioWare.
"No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience" (John Locke)
Having more knowledgeable employees results in better productivity, experience and a mature organization. To preserve knowledge, and to be more profitable in the long-run, you need to minimize employee turn-over and maximize productivity.
This is when tenure becomes a problem, especially for disciplines like QA where it is so important to build trust and long-lasting relationships with your development partners. It can be crucial to carry on tribal knowledge about tools, game mechanics, team processes, and your IP’s. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that gives me the opportunity to do just that.
I find it quite impressive how many staff have been with BioWare for 15 or more years. In QA alone I have 2 employees with 13 years of experience each. I think it’s worth mentioning that at BioWare we have quite a large number of former QA staff who now work in development (design, art, community, production - almost every discipline).
One of the side-effects/benefits of this is that it encourages and fosters a culture of quality and shared responsibility for quality - because of what they have practiced in their “previous QA life” and that makes collaboration with other departments a lot easier.
They become evangelists for our discipline, in the same way we need to be evangelists for ourselves to help us make QA be truly appreciated for everything we have to offer.
When people are motivated intrinsically, they perform better and more consistently than when they are primarily motivated extrinsically. But you have to aim at keeping it in balance, since most people are motivated by a combination of both. This brings me to the topic of salary - an extrinsic motivation.
It is not a big industry secret that salaries in testing are in many cases not competitive with other jobs in games development. Not so when you look at software development - software testers can make a serious salary. So, why not in games?
I want to tie this back to our studio culture (more on this in Part 3 of the series), how every developer is equal in our studio; therefore our salaries in QA are also fair and competitive. This also opens up opportunities for talent from other departments to make the switch to QA if this is the career destination of their choice.
Before defining a QA career path at BioWare, I felt that creating a mission and vision statement for the QA Department should be the first thing to do.
Our BioWare QA Mission is “to provide accurate, concrete, relevant and timely information to support developers make the best tactical and strategic decisions about the product while reducing and assessing risks that may affect the end-user; supporting developers in creating the best story-driven games in the world.”
In plain English this means that QA, is an integral part of development, the secret sauce that is providing the necessary information to make the right decisions as we are developing a product, - from start to finish.
Defining a mission and vision statement for our QA was an important step for me in order to help my teams better understand where we are headed, what direction the department is taking and it summarizes the philosophy and beliefs of the organizational culture.
At BioWare QA, we now have a “Dual Career Path” that has a managerial path (QA Lead/Manager) and a technical/specialist path (QA Analyst), which lets staff choose an appropriate career goal for their personal development based on their skill-set and career interests.
Our staff doesn’t feel the need to become a manager, because it’s the only way for them to advance in their career or make more money. They become managers, because they want to lead. We have Senior Artists or Senior Designers in games, so why not Senior QA Analysts if testing is what they want to do?
The next step in the process of creating a high-performing department was to define the expectations in each of these roles. At EA we use Professional Competency Matrices as part of a career framework. They define the foundations for proficiency in conjunction with core duties and specific job-related skills and knowledge.
In support of the Dual-Career-Path and our BioWare RPG-QA processes, we felt the need to write our own Competency Matrix. We know that career success is not only about what you do (applying your technical knowledge) but also about how you go about achieving these goals (communication, problem solving, collaboration etc.).
In most studios when it comes to QA, this is not always a given. I grew up in a very different environment.
After my first day in the office, at BioWare I realised that I was part of a precious culture that focuses on continuous improvement, encourages discipline excellence, and that treats all their employees equally and fair, including QA.