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Part 2: Quality Assurance - a career destination in games? Why not!!?
by Tulay Tetiker McNally on 04/15/13 12:15:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

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.




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Comments


Alex Boccia
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Thanks for the article, I've always been interested in a career in QA.

Matthew Anderson
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Perhaps we should establish a different vocabulary to have a better understanding of whats happening with motivation. Steven Reiss suggests that there is no distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation; that in fact, all motivation is extrinsic. Whether it is money, a finished project, a new tile floor or winning a football game, it is all a motivation of projection, as Ernest Becker called it, "transference objects". Perhaps an individual will want more salary if they do not receive enough satisfaction from their work they complete. However, if an individual feels enough satisfaction from the QA work they do, they might not feel the need for more salary.

Perhaps the issue is with corporate structure (allowing QA workers to express creativity within projects?) or even repetition. What is the rate of diminishing marginal returns to utility from repetitious tasks for workers in QA? As a graduate student, I love to perform QA testing, experimentation, development and implementation, but only when my interests are aroused. In the long run, I can imagine my interest's waning over meandering tasks for a flat wage.

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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I've spoken to QA people who have really been treated poorly by their employers, which is a shame as a good tester is worth their weight in gold!

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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A major hurdle though is evaluating testers. Different metrics are often used but I find they often encourage bad behavior and are rarely fair.

Erik Carpenter
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It's a combination of a lot things ultimately boiling down to corporate culture. Two publishers for example: EA and Activision are near identical in their treatment of QA testers. First there is only a handful of "hired" QA, and an army of temp workers clamoring like crabs in a bucket to get a full time position. 98% of them get laid off. It's a competitive environment to say the least. Usually unprofessional, some sycophantic antics and a couple of good jaded testers who know the end is coming and they wont be carried over. Then there is the lack of appreciation with respect to egos. A lot of programmers are humble people but are not humble when it comes to their code. Not all of them mind you, but enough that you will get the sensation that your diligence is resented by somebody somewhere in the development cycle. Especially at end of Beta when suddenly you can make the program crash at a whim causing everybody to work 16-20hr days.

However, there is enjoyment in the job and corporate culture. You will find that "As above, so below" isn't just a saying and that it's just as bad in the Design and Development departments; if you network enough. Yeah, you could say I had a couple negative experiences, but not resentful since I wouldn't be working the job I have today.

jaime kuroiwa
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I'd say there's one more facet of motivation as a tester; I'd call it "upper-level conduct." An inclusive culture and a decent salary are kick-ass motivators, but if the people higher up the chain appear to have zero interest in the product(s), it negates most of the positive factors. At least, it did for me.

I also support Kaitlyn's comment. Good testing requires a specific set of skills that some of which can't be taught. I'd say it's experience, but I know it's more than that.

Nick Lee
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Hi, I have a question for those in, or have been in QA. What are the general qualifications needed to be a QA Tester? In other words, what is required of one applying for a job as a QA Tester, in order to be hired?

Jared Pace
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Honestly Nick, everyone will tell you passion, but passion is a fuel. How you channel that fuel seems to be what really matters. Direct this passion into showing a willingness to learn, solid written and verbal communication skills, and an analytic mind. Tulay and the others here with more experience can correct me if I am wrong, but each team has its own preferred methods and tools, and most are very willing to teach you their methods. You have to be ready to listen, ready to work, and always strive to fit into the atmosphere that is in place. Cohesion speaks volumes, especially when it's time to deliver.

Dan Johnson
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The most valuable attribute in a good tester is the ability to find problems people aren't already looking for. Particularly in complex systems like a AAA game, interaction between seemingly-unrelated parts can create some of the more dangerous and hard-to-find issues, and being able to imagine those possibilities is immensely valuable.

As a tester, every time a new feature comes online your mind should be churning with "I wonder how that will interact with X" - even if those two (or more!) features have as much in common as peanut butter and the French Revolution.

And to second Jared and Raymond: communication. A big part of QA's interaction with other departments is describing a bug - where to find it, how to reproduce it, and what effect it has on the game. A common pre-hire test for QA is to write step by step instructions for a mundane task - how to make a sandwich, for instance. The point is to test your ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and completely (holy alliteration Batman).

jaime kuroiwa
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I know it sounds obvious, but you need to know how to play lots of games. I've worked for publishers, so I'd be working on a sports title one week, then a puzzler, then an FPS. You don't have to be Thresh or anything, but you have to able to be able to understand and master the mechanics of a game very quickly, so you'll know where too look for weak spots.

Nick Lee
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Thank you all for the in-depth responses! I have a much clearer understanding now of what I initially asked.

Frank Washburn
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Watch the youtube series Halo Mythbusters - they go through what QA calls "Edge cases" - really, really weird and obscure interactions between different design elements. The youtubes are actually really fun and entertaining to watch, and it's enlightening to see what kind of problems you need to train yourself to see. "If I stick an enemy player with a sticky grenade, but it lands on the tip of his rocket launcher, and he drops it before it explodes.... Does the sticky grenade remain on the tip of the rocket launcher so he can survive?" Stuff like that.

Stephen Etheridge
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I recently put together a Skills Matrix for our company's QA discipline and spent a lot of time trying to pin down the ingredients of a good tester. While I'm sure there will need to be some evolution of concepts as we take this from theory into practise, I'm pretty happy with the end result. It was actually a really edifying experience and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in progressing QA within the industry in the way Tulay describes. These were my main thoughts for the bits that aren't so easy to teach and tend to exist as a natural talent:

Fast and Adept Learner
The ability to assimilate and adapt to new systems quickly whether it's a new game feature, a new genre or a new piece of testing software. The agility of mind to take on and understand complex concepts, and to visualise the inner workings of a complex system that you have only seen from the surface. A lot of this is logical thinking, because software is ultimately all logic-driven.

Accuracy, Discipline & Depth
The self-restraint and commitment to always providing accurate information, and the analytical ability to criticise your own methods for obtaining this information to ensure its validity. The instinct to make note of and recall various details of a bug, peripheral to the obvious. In those rare moments where you bring someone incomplete information, the integrity and self-discipline to admit oversight or lack of knowledge and the drive to arrive at a full and detailed understanding at all costs.

Problem Solving
The ability to come up with a hypothesis and systematically test against it, refining it as you go towards arriving at the truth. A lot of this will improve with experience, but certain individuals are better at it than others. Again, this involves logical thinking but a counter-point is that a lot of the time the root causes of the issues you are investigating are illogical, because while the universe the software exists in is purely logical and to a degree infallible, the people who create the software are neither of those things all of the time.

Collaboration and Communication
Making yourself approachable and available to others for close collaboration. Explaining complex notions, but also knowing how to gradate the level of detail you provide according to the listener. The ability to convey concepts accurately and effectively with an economy of words or screen-space.

Abstraction of the Self
By this I mean the ability to put your own personal opinions to the back of your mind and intuit the likely reactions of another. To be able to mentally roleplay someone else by putting yourself in their shoes and anticipating problems they might encounter. Routinely playing devil's advocate. This is an incredibly useful ability to have in terms of feeding back on designs and implementations.

Raymond Mitchell
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I started in QA 12 years ago thinking I would move into design, but the longer I spent in QA the more I feel it just fits me. I wouldn't say I've settled for a career in QA, more like I found my career destination.

Great article by the way! I definitely agree that it takes time to foster the type of culture and communication between departments to make QA the most effective it can be.

In Response to Nick, things you need to be a QA Tester:
Good written and verbal communication (helps to have a good vocabulary)
Problem solving skills
Attention to detail
Logical and analytical thinking. (Can you figure out how something works by taking it apart or just fiddling with it and can you apply that knowledge to other seemingly unrelated things?)
Drive. (Are you invested in what you do? Can you manage your time without someone micromanaging you.)

Other than that, you would have to look at each companies requirements for experience or education requirments.

One tip that might help, get into as many beta tests as you can. You can pull from this experience during interviews. (leaving out specific details due to NDAs though)

Dan Johnson
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It sounds to me like Bioware avoids at least some of the boom/bust cycle of most AAA game studios, which is the primary driver of "regular" QA layoffs. Maybe others can learn from their example.

Jakub Majewski
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In my career as a designer, producer and then creative director, I've always tried to be a strong advocate for the QA people. What I found was a very strange dissonance - on the one hand, everyone greatly appreciates a good tester. There was never any difficulty in getting across the point that some testers find more bugs than others, that these same testers also happen to be the ones who can best communicate the issues they found, not to mention being able to better communicate the other vital information that we need from testers - is the game fun? Are there any problems with our game design?

So, as I say, everyone appreciates a good tester. Until the time comes to talk about salaries. Then, suddenly, everyone is dismissive. And so, a senior QA analyst always ends up getting a much lower salary not just than a senior designer, but sometimes even lower than a non-senior designer.

Unsurprisingly, after a while, it is precisely those best, most dedicated testers that get the most frustrated. They enjoy their work, they're happy as testers - but they want to have a career. They want to see their salaries go up. And they see all too clearly that in order to achieve this, they must transition into design or management.

Designers and managers with a background in QA are invaluable as well, obviously. So it's good that some QA people eventually transition into these roles. But must *all of them* be forced to do so?

Harry Debelius
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I agree with Jakub. I have seen the best testers possible in QA departments not being considered and eventually growing frustrated with the job and the company. Salary is not the main thing; for me at least, the main issue is finding yourself valued according to your skills.
Communication with the team is encouraged only in theory. Reality teaches that being a good QA tester doesn't ensure much.
Of course, this isn't true in all cases. I've experienced both sides, and when a QA team feels it is important they respond much better and as a result are much more motivated.

Eric McVinney
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I've only been in the QA field for about 4 years, though all over the world doing such. And one of the reasons why I want to get out of it and move on up is because of the pay. I can't make an honest living by being in QA for however long, although it kinda does depend on WHO I work with. Still, even if it was Sony or MS, it wouldn't be enough for me to put aside money to retire.

The industry needs to take a really hard look at who gets paid what and WHY. I've seen producers, who can't even handle a damn budget or communicate well enough, getting paid more than double than that of a QA Lead. It's sick and not even funny. Too many good people who want to get their start in the industry start off in QA and get burnt too often by mismanagement and failed leadership.

Don't even get me started on outsourced QA. Been there, done that.

Dan Porter
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QA leads should definitely get paid a lot more for what they do. That's a tough job.

The difficulty is that with the staggering man hours needed to find all the bugs in a AAA game (and the sheer volume of people you need to throw at it to do so before the deadline), it quickly becomes impractical to pay them all well and give them all nice tidey career paths.

I worked inhouse QA at a AAA company for a short period of time before becoming a dev at another studio, so I know its underappreciated even at the places that treat you like a human. Some of the people in that QA department were hard working, intelligent, and knowledgeable about games. For those people, I thought it was a shame there wasn't a better future aside from QA Lead (slightly more pay, 100x the responsibility and experience requirement). However, some of them were dead weight who you wouldn't want in a dev position or lead position, regardless of how many years they had worked there.

I agree we should try to pick out the people who have the experience, skill, and knowledge to be able to call QA a profession. Those people should have pay and benefits comparable to any designer, artist or programmer. But for the average tester? I'm afraid that will probably never pay much more than a vocational job, simply for the fact that any reasonably intelligent person can learn to do it without any education or special training.

Daniel Campbell
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I personally loved QA and would gladly go back in a heartbeat. I found it fulfilling, challenging and fun. Unfortunately QA is often seen as more of a necessary evil rather than a useful tool by many developers. This usually leads to QA being treated as second class citizens.

Jose Blanco
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I love QA and I love video games, but most places simply do not pay QA enough for proper cost of living - regardless of whether they actually view you as an asset instead of an expense. I guess that depends ultimately on where you live and how much it costs to pay rent, commuter expenses, buy food, and raise a family. For me though and where I used to live, Southern California, $10-$12/hour even at full time is simply not enough for a single person to live comfortably on their own, roommate free. Some of the bigger studios are willing to pay up to $16, but that's only for Sr. Testers with several years of AAA experience under their belts. Most testers are contractors signed on to work for no benefits and may only be employed for as long a project needs them, after which they are promptly laid off. Guess they figure they can pay any high school graduate or fanboy whatever they want, but after the age of 23 is starts to feel a little low and under appreciative.

The small developers at least give you opportunity to branch out and increase your skills in other aspects of the game industry, such as in production assistance or level design. This is why QA is often seen as a "stepping stone" for the vast majority of those that start out in game testing. Even then, a lot of producers and other more powerful employees started and worked in QA for five or more years at fairly low pay before being given the opportunity to become a full fledged Producer.

I am sure there's plenty of those in QA or that used to work in that department with horror stories about being treated awful by management or producers - many of which started as QA themselves - or ridiculous working demands and hours (10-14 hour days, for weeks at a time). I know I have some pretty horrific ones. That being said, when you literally are banned from using the company Flavia coffee machine at all hours of the day because "you're not an artist or producer, and have no business using it," it's hard to want to stay in QA. At least in the video game industry.

This is getting a little long winded and rant-ish, but all that said, I would still love to return to the video game industry. Just maybe not in QA...

Erik Carpenter
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I've had a similar coffee experience but it was in respect to using an "elevator".

jaime kuroiwa
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I think it would be fun to get a collection of QA horror stories. That Flavia one sounds very familiar...did we work together?

I remember getting busted for being in a hallway with a friend from another department...IN HIS DEPARTMENT (dun dun dun!)!

Terry Matthes
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Looking at the comments it seems that the skills needed to be a Q&A person are the same for any job in the game industry minus the education or experience to work in another department such as art, programing or design.

How could you justify someone in Q&A get more or even the same salary as someone with education or experience in those fields? I (and I'm sure others) would feel uneasy if our education + countless nights spent learning on my own were weighted the same as someone who is passionate about games. You do all that so you have a little more control over your career.

We all are passionate about games :)

Eric McVinney
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Because without a QA person who has the know-how of finding bugs concerning CQA, FQA and LQA, and has a vast knowledge of TRC, you're game will be utter crap.

Scott Pace
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You'd be surprised these days about how many people are either earning or have earned 2 and 4 year degrees that are still in game QA. These are also people with multiple years of experience performing art reviews, doing white box testing, server testing, tools development, embedded with developers, etc. who also spend a lot of nights not only in self-study but burning a lot of time to help meet milestones as well. Many are forced to leave, after many years on games, just to be able to pay off their student loans and/or get a chance to move out of QA into development. Viewpoints like yours only reinforce the stereotype that QA are a bunch of enthusiastic kids with no skills.

Terry Matthes
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I feel ya. An experienced Q&A person should get a wage that makes them feel comfortable enough to stay where they are.

What I am stating is that the amount of people who are qualified and want the job keep the salary low. Just like any other position in any other field.

Getting to a higher salary is a lot harder when your entry wage is lower. If you want 50 or 60K a year after say... 8 years and your starting wage is 28-35 that a increase of ~ $3700 a year. That means your salary is jumping by over 10% every year.

Whether or not you're worth it, that is a hard sell to any employer.

Scott Pace
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I wouldn't say the amount of qualified people keep salaries down but rather management trying to use poorly qualified people because of the mystique of the games industry. I started out at the middle to upper end of the scale 13 years ago but you come to a point where your salary is just plain capped and you can't really go higher unless you either are able to get into management or get out of QA. The defense that I've heard from many is that they can get a bunch of other people less qualified to do the job and that we qualified QA should just settle. It's a mindset that needs to stop.

Terry Matthes
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@Scott Pace

Given your experience do you think QA is a good choice for someone as a long term career goal and what advice would you give to people just getting into a QA job? A really good friend of mine just landed a QA job in Vancouver, Canada and any advice would be appreciated.

Erik Carpenter
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Yeah like Eric said if you don't have a good compliance or technical requirements group your development cycle is going to get expensive with all the "failed" submission fees due to ticky tack first party requirements.

Scott Pace
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@Terry:
QA can be a good career path inside and outside of games. When I started, many companies would actually look at QA for hidden talent, usually for design positions, but also for programming and art. This was a good thing, in my opinion, because these people had been through at least one release cycle and usually more. I think it instilled some good habits in them to help curb sloppy check-ins and the like. I think that it's become more rare these days, but it still happens and some of the best folks in the industry started that way.

With game QA, I feel that you really need to be picky because some companies really take you for granted or treat you poorly. Then you have some of the companies like Microsoft, Bioware, and Zynga that actually try and develop their QA for further movement inside and outside of the QA org. They'll provide training and other routes for career advancement where some other companies really don't so, if you want longevity in game QA then you need to target a company that will invest in you and your skillset with more than just a paycheck. Outside of games, QA is actually a rich and vibrant career path where you can stay in QA for your career and not "top out" so it can be a rewarding career inside and outside.

As for getting started I have a couple bits of advice that might help:

1. Read about the QA process, there are many good books on QA and game QA. The case studies and examples will help and knowing common terminology will also be an asset.

2. Have a decent technical background. You don't have to be a programmer or an electrical engineer but have basic working knowledge of a computer. Knowing some basic web design wouldn't hurt either if you're doing social games.

3. Learn everything that you can from your supervisors and co-workers so you can add it to your repertoire. Ask for more work, ask questions, don't necessarily be a nuisance but learn and don't stop learning.

4. Your first couple jobs may not be the greatest, but keep a good positive attitude, use them as learning experiences and don't burn bridges. This is a small industry and your co-workers will remember you. How they remember you is up to you.

5. Consider taking a class or two each semester. The education will help your career. The discipline will help your character and learning habits. There are also free classes from Ed X and you can borrow books from friends or buy them off Amazon. A subscription to the Safari bookshelf will also give you access to thousands of books.

6. Have a definition of "quality" and find out how your employer defines "quality". This one definition can help you learn a lot about a company's philosophy.

7. Love what you do. If you do that, you will never work a day in your life.

That's about all I can come up with so I hope that it helps. Also, read Raymond Mitchell's comments above. He hit a lot of the low level basics that I tend to take for granted.

Terry Matthes
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@Scott

Wow such an awesome response. Thank you very much for taking the time to give some great information. If we ever meet the pints are on me ;)

Jakub Majewski
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Terry,

In answer to your original queston about whether it's possible to justify QA getting the same salary as someone in the field of programming, art or design...

You say that it seems the skills for QA are the same as for those fields, minus the education and experience. This is not strictly true. Let me explain.

In any of those other fields, you have to go through a lot of learning to actually qualify for an entry-level job. Obviously, even a junior programmer needs to be able to write code that works. With QA, it's clearly different - you don't need any special skills to get started in QA, you just need to be able to speak and write coherently.

However, in QA, the skill uptake during the first couple of years is far greater than in the other fields. That is to say, the difference between a completely green QA person and a QA person with two years of experience is hugely, hugely bigger than the difference between a green programmer and someone who's been programming in the industry for two years.

Obviously, whether you're an artist, a programmer, or a designer, you learn new skills on the job. But in many ways, your progress is more limited - for starters, you tend to specialise, which can actually mean losing skills: if you don't have the opportunity to use a particular skill on the job, you may find it degrade. This applies both to manual skills (i.e., drawing), and to memory-based skills (a programmer may simply forget the best solutions for a given type of problem, because he hasn't dealt with it for a couple of years).

Testers, on the other hand, tend to actually diversify their skills. A raw tester will hardly know anything about what can go wrong in a game. He'll be able to spot bugs (...most of the time), but that's about all. A tester with a bit of experience, however, not only learns to better spot bugs or to be more creative in searching for them - he also learns about game structure and functionality. What this means is that he'll know, right away, whether a given bug is caused by code or assets - he'll spot the issue, and he'll simply know who caused it, because he's reported similar issues before, he's talked to the people who solved them, and so on. So, he'll be able to tell a programmer - there is a bug like this, and it's caused by this and this, so you better check this and this. And, where programmers specialise in one area, artists in another, designers in another - testers must be universal. A tester cannot learn only about programming issues - obviously, he'll encounter all kinds of bugs.

This is why experienced testers are a treasure. They know a lot more about game development than most other people in the company. They save immense amounts of time for the rest of the team.

I don't think there is a problem with entry-level QA people getting paid in peanuts. It's an entry-level job, deal with it. But experienced QA people are just as irreplacable as other professionals, and should be paid accordingly.

Terry Matthes
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@Jakub

It sounds like you get a pretty good birds eye view of game development doing QA. I would think that senior QA people might make good project managers. Between your comments and Scott's I think it's pretty clear why growing your QA team makes everything run smoother. They keep the gears greased so to speak :)

Chris Watkins
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We don't have an educational program for QA yet. You get your education actually doing the job. Companies who include a small team of real QA as early as Alpha stages need a small group of highly skilled QA folks. You won't find them looking for the same criteria as EA or Activision when they hire their temp QA horde.

Higher salaries for highly skilled testers with a lot of experience are still rare and needs to become more common. QA can't be a career destination until its possible to make a living at 40-50, providing for your family doing this!

Stuart Crocker
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There have been some interesting comments around QA as a career. In my Testers I look for a number of attributes: that they are analytical in nature and know how to effectively use that attribute to breakdown the evidence in front of them in a logical and sensible manner; I also look for Testers who aren't afraid to poke under the hood. If you've got a Computer Science degree or write code in your spare time then excellent as this gives you a much better understanding of how software is put together and allows you to ask more challenging questions. Being able to see the big and small picture is also a very important trait. I find that Developers tend to focus down on their one area and this can be a problem when you have many different disciplines build a AAA game. A tester who can see how one system works, but the bigger picture of how it integrates in to the rest of the game and the impact it might have on the player is invaluable. There are lots of other things that I look for but for me one of the most important is the ability to ask the dumb questions and not be afraid to do so. Asking a Developer/Designer to explain their work to someone in a non-technical way often finds a number of issues in the design stage and possibly even during check-in review. This pushes quality upstream and stops bugs getting in to the software in the first place.

In order for the industry to offer Test as a viable career companies who are interested in doing so need to stop using the big bang approach at the tail end of projects, hiring all and sundry just to get pads in people's hands. The industry needs to mature, as others have, and begin to hire people based on standard qualifications and an understanding of how to better drive and implement Test. Agile software development methodologies are helping to some degree but it's not enough on its own. You need Leaders in Test (such as Tulay) to find more intelligent ways to reduce risk over the course of a project. Strategies such as balancing off Technical and Non-Technical test during prototyping and Preproduction allow you to build a foundation that is of a higher overall quality - and that could mean fewer bugs or that the foundation is more fit for its purpose. Introducing automated testing early on allows you to reduce your regression testing overhead, reducing test run execution time in the critical moments of a project and better still, allowing your Testers to test smarter - no longer are your testers spending half of their day running through a manual smoke test on each nightly build. Another benefit of introducing technical Test is to help drive standards in development. Ask a sample of games Developers what a Unit Test is and you'd probably find that half have heard of them but have never written one. Introduce strategies such as continuous integration in to your build system, at least keep the build compiling and linking with every change and make sure that build failures are a Priority 0 that get fixed immediately or the change gets reverted.

There are risks to this approach of course. Most people then ask me "but it's a game, it's supposed to be fun, how do you automate that?". And it's a great question because it's a challenge. We can use in depth telemetry and visualisation techniques to tease out the areas in a game that might not be fun, but determining if they are fun, that would need to be answered on case by case basis. I try and de-risk projects by accepting that I need other strategies to cover off the fun part. I very much love the strategy of using play days within the office. I encourage my Testers to become User Research experts and delve in to the land of demographics. Asking your team to stop for half a day and play the game, polling them on their gaming preferences and then asking them questions about their play day experience that help us to understand if the game is heading in the right direction. If it's not then we make sure the questions and results that we get can at least point us in the area that needs work so that we can investigate later. As the game builds, use various stages of beta testing with built in detailed telemetry and easy ways for your beta testers to give feedback on the more subjective areas but again keep in mind that it's likely you have a target audience that's going to generate the highest revenue for your business and keep that in mind always.


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