Hey, everyone! My name is Dasha, and I’m a Junior QA Engineer. Before becoming a QA specialist, I used to work in content management in another IT company. There I familiarized myself with several IT areas and realized I like testing the best. I started reading field-specific literature, watching free online classes, and then getting down to the preparations to apply for a QA position.
Reading the articles on testing, I would bump into the materials titled "How to enter the IT industry" or "The easiest way to get to IT." Their authors shared their thoughts on how easy-peasy it is to become an IT specialist. According to them, there are always several ways to start a career in the industry, and a Manual QA position is "the easiest one." But is it? I experienced firsthand that the threshold for testers who start their career is not as low as it is believed to be. Every day, employers set increasingly higher requirements even for a Trainee position.
In this article, I'd like to tell my story of becoming a Trainee Manual QA Engineer and bust some myths about starting this career. Hopefully, the text will be helpful for those who decided to take the same path.
Illustrations by Alina Smoliuk
Expectations vs. Reality
“Once I complete a course, I’ll be hired” - it is the opinion of someone very new to the industry. Even at the stage of a testing course, the law of "survival of the fittest" applies. You have classes twice a week, home assignments for 3-4 months, and bulk of materials for self-study - not every student makes it through to the end.
The material you taught at the very beginning of the course is quite simple. Everything starts with theoretical issues: “What is testing?”, "What is a bug?”, “What is validation and verification?” It doesn't take a rocket scientist to learn. Nor does Jira.
Then the classes are gearing up. A third of the course is now left behind (my studies lasted 4 months). You get down to detailed learning and documenting bug reports. One has to learn all its sections, know what to write there, and define a problem correctly.
Then you move to the testing documentation, which is followed by test design techniques and testing types. Then you shift your focus to GitLab, Linux, web technologies, databases, and fundamentals of several programming languages - in my case, these were JS and Java.
It is an approximate schedule of my course but be ready for more. Every instructor has a unique plan, so the sequence and the volume of those topics may vary. One thing is universal - it is a tremendous amount of information you must learn and keep in mind. In my opinion, it is one of the stumbling points in "entering the profession": people who have never worked in IT before may simply get intimidated by the amount of new information. If you are not ready to self-develop and spare time for self-study, IT is not your industry.
How to choose QA courses
It would be best if you were clear-eyed about your abilities and skills. If you have some background, a 4-months course will be fine. Be aware of the fact that much of your spare time will be dedicated to self-study.
My choice of the courses was based on several criteria:
● training mode (online/offline);
● recommendations from the people I know (someone else's experience can be a source of quality feedback);
● reviews on the Internet (look through different sources to get a clear picture).
So, the course I opted for met all the parameters I sought: the program correlated with my background level, offered a convenient schedule, experienced trainer, and affordable fee.
Well-established courses are always at everybody's lips, so it didn't take long to make a choice. Before the lockdown, the classes were offline, but then we switched to the online mode. Having experience in both modes, I can say this: if you are committed to complete the course and gain as much knowledge as you can, a mode doesn't matter.
The course will provide you with the fundamentals. You have to understand what company you want to work for and what its specialization is. If you're going for game testing, you must learn the concepts and terms of the game industry and figure out the peculiarities of game testing.
Today, the market is saturated with novice testers, so the most certified and trained are prioritized. Employers often require an ISTQB Foundation Level Certificate and a complete specialty course. I am going to get a certificate in the next six months. The certificate exam is not free. The examination centers are located in Kyiv, but now some training centers invite the Examination Board to their cities and organize the exam locally.
I won’t reinvent the wheel - you should prepare for the interviews. My first interview became sort of an initiation for me. After it, I started to get an idea of how to behave and what I am expected to know. Here are some takeaways from my interview experience:
- Don't be late. It's better to come a little earlier, adapt to the environment, and brace yourself for the interview.
- Answer confidently, and don't let an interviewer mislead you. The ability to prove your stand is something they appreciate.
- Give clear answers, don’t speak at length. They will ask you the rest.
After every interview, I put down all the questions I couldn’t answer so that I wouldn’t happen again. This is how I brought together an approximate plan for each interview. And it eventually worked well for me.
All interviews are different. Some have a pleasant and relaxed environment. Even if they reject you as a candidate, you still have a positive impression. Some are emotionally challenging: they may put you under pressure, looking at your ability to handle stress - such interviews are torturous.
For instance, to measure your tolerance to stress, they may make you doubt the answer you gave. You can be 100% sure your answer was correct, but after being asked, "Are you sure? Think again. Why did you decide so?" your confidence is evaporating. Inexperienced candidate grows alarmed and goes back on word even if the answer was nothing but correct.
They often ask theoretical questions:
● What is a bug?
● What’s the difference between QA and QC?
● Validation and verification.
● Testing types
● Testing levels
I was asked about it at every single interview. There were also some amusing situations during my job search. Once, I sent a CV to one company and was rejected after an interview with HR. The reason was trivial: the company specialized in software products for Apple while I was an Android user. It seemed that the interview went perfectly well, and I answered all the questions, and yet... Well, they had their reasons as they seek people with similar values and views, so don't get disheartened in such situations.
The other time, I succeeded at the interview with HR; my technical interview went well, too - they said they welcomed me to the team. However, during the interview with the owners, I failed because I lacked experience in English-speaking interviews. I learned my lesson - I needed more practice in English to avoid any such situations in the future. In this case, the technical interview was much more difficult, and I didn't even pass it on the first attempt. They gave me a second chance and also decided to see if I was a quick learner. They gave me a topic to learn during the weekend. On Monday, I was given a new assignment. It was the most stressful interview for me ever, as I was concerned about letting down the interviewer who had given me one more attempt to prove myself.
What should you know to find a job?
Now on what you are supposed to know to succeed at the interview.
Let’s start from the fundamentals - testing theory. Hear me out: it takes more than Savin's book "Testing dot com". The testing theory is a vast field covering things from the simple concept of "a bug" to test design techniques and testing types. If you are very self-organized, you can comprehend the theory yourself. I decided to enroll in the dedicated course and trust a professional with many years of industry experience. It is the most convenient way for me to learn essential information: I have someone to ask questions, and it boosts how I absorb knowledge.
It is crucial to have a good command of theory. It has many similar concepts, and they like to ask how they are different. For instance, they often ask about two types of testing: workload and performance, Smoke and Sanity. You have to know those terms in your sleep and never mix them up. You can’t dive too deep, as any course is time-sensitive, but you’ll get enough for a Trainee position.
The other essential aspect is English. The preferable levels are Intermediate and above. Some companies can employ you with a lower level, but under the condition, you will level it up to Intermediate in the nearest future. Written English is what you need to improve in the first place to document bug reports. All documentation is in English and, if the company has overseas customers, all the bug reports and comments should be understandable for foreign colleagues.
Keep in mind a specialization. My team works with IP-TEL, so you should know networks and protocols. The vacancy requirements often include "knowledge of the concept of networks," so you can use some understanding of networks and protocols. It is crucial to know the OSI model, TCP/IP, and at which levels particular protocols are used.
An interviewer also asks about the main commands of Linux and Gita. Databases are always an issue. You'd better know not only basic queries but the peculiarities of keys, tables, and data types. You can learn about all these issues from the literature and YouTube.
Soft skills also matter — your ability to communicate within the team, conflict management, etc. The knowledge I gained at the courses and thanks to self-study was enough to start the interviews. I had to fill in the gaps in my knowledge on protocols and networks as the company I applied to required this competence. The almighty YouTube gave a helping hand to me.
Anyone can be a tester, but this path is not easy. To reach your goal and receive an offer, you should put in a lot of effort, time, and energy. Every refusal of an employer is stressful but also stimulating to work harder and strive for new knowledge. I have gone through many challenging interviews to get my long-anticipated offer eventually.
In the end, I'd like to suggest some valuable materials you can use in your training:
- A cornerstone: the book «Testing dot com» by Roman Savin.
- On methodology of development.
- Course on Software testing.
- Online course for comprehending fundamentals.
- This is where I learned protocols and networks.
- The information on how to kick-start your career.
- Some information on metrics.
- The website on testing.
- ISTQB Glossary will help make sense of terms.
- TOP-20 questions asked at the interviews.
Experienced pros may have a different view on the topic I covered. Anyway, feedback is much welcomed, and I'll be happy to discuss things in the comments.