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I have an associate of mine that currently has a few years(4+) of experience as a Quality Assurance professional, mainly examining products for a large retailer. However, they're looking to move into the software QA world, as it seems it's easier to finds jobs in that line of work then in the retail world in this economy.

What I'm wondering is that as folks that are in that industry, what advice would you offer for them when applying for work in that field? I figured the general QA skills would carry over well, and usability testing would also be fine. However, anything like say, unit test building would be beyond their expertise level. That being said, I'm not and have never worked as a QA professional, so I'd welcome any information that could help them in their quest

Thanks in advance.

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For the three that replied, they are all great answers, and if the system allowed, you'd all have your answered accepted. Thank you for replying! –  canadiancreed Jul 31 '11 at 14:04
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Some general skills carry over very well. 99% of it comes down to the mindset.

My testing career started in electronics manufacturing. For most of the assemblies, there were only a few pre-determined tests that were run on them that were always black and white in regards to pass/fail. The only time that we were given the chance to be creative was with things like environmental stress tests.

In my experience, most people in that role want to get creative, and want more freedom to execute the tests that they think are valid, but can't always.

As for advice, first of all, unit test building is something for developers. Although a good tester should be able to help determine what those should be. Otherwise, have him/her (him for the rest of this answer) start doing some reading in some area's that interest him. From what the rest of your post says, it sounds like he's probably going to be more testing than straight quality assurance analysis, so, some of James Whittaker's books can be a great start, mainly Exploratory Software Testing and How to Break Software. He may also want to check out some blogs such as James Bach's blog or the RBCS blog. For more generic info, there's also places like this, or the Software Testing Club or even sqaforums. These of course, are just small example of some reading material.

For experience, there's software all over the place. Ask him to look at the software the same way that he'd look at any other product. See what he can find. There's open source projects that are looking for people to help test their products as well, and you don't already need to be a professional tester in order to help out.

Each person finds their own way to get into the profession, just like any other, but, maybe this could help lead to a decent start.

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+1 Like @Lyndon, I cut my teeth in QA in an electronics manufacturing firm helping measure those environmental stress tests as well as making sure the test equipment along the manufacturing line (thermocouples, multi-meters, thermostats, etc) were all calibrated. But I agree that it's a mindset thing. My first real software testing was as a tech-writer for one company and found myself looking for bugs as I was writing and decided to formalize it. If you like that hunting, that puzzle-solving, that detective work, then you're a good fit for a tester. –  TristaanOgre Jul 18 '11 at 15:22
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I moved to Software QA from a non-IT role. My prior QA was airline tickets and reservations. Please see prior questions on this Stack Exchange forum regarding what makes a skilled Tester / QA Analyst. Listed will be the traits (competencies) that are required at the very core of the heart of a passionate Tester.

Show them to your friend, who can then ask themselves if they have said trait, and decide for themselves.

I have the teensiest bit of code knowledge but hold a high level of respect among my peers because I find the juiciest bugs and can communicate w/respect (not as common as one would think).

Edited to correct typo.

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At the risk of sounding too much "me too", I'd say that if your associate is able to use software well and enjoys the puzzle-work of QA, there's a good chance they'll go well in software QA.

Some of the big differences between non-software and software QA are things like:

  1. Software tends not to be able to start from a clean, error-free state. Since a piece of software doesn't correspond to a product or a component, but to a unique object (and it's been created for someone who may not know what they actually want), there will be problems. The fun lies in finding them and communicating them in a way that doesn't turn the programmers into your sworn enemies for life.
  2. While there are some preventive activities that can happen (like programmers coding to unit tests), on the whole there's an element of art involved, so QA becomes something of a user advocate - since programmers often have a "high geek" mindset where complexity and control are bonuses where end users are likely to prefer simplicity (Yes, this is a very broad generalization. In my experience it's also mostly true).
  3. If you've got enough of a logical/analytical mindset, automation and other forms of computer-assisted testing won't be a huge challenge: but why hamstring a good manual tester by forcing them to automate?
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+1 for point 3... not everyone is an automater. I'd add that not every test case is automatable. –  TristaanOgre Jul 19 '11 at 13:17
    
Especially when it comes to usability with web applications. A script wont' know if a page is absolutely horrible to use, it just knows the data is correct for one example. –  canadiancreed Jul 21 '11 at 10:45
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A script won't know if the page makes your eyes bleed, either :) I've seen entirely too many of those. Being able to find the things you're looking for on the site and the site looking decent are two different things that - sadly - often get overlooked. –  Kate Paulk Jul 21 '11 at 19:02
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