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Tech hotshots: The rise of the QA expert

By Beth Stackpole
January 30, 2014 06:30 AM ET

"The profile of people filling the QA role has changed in the last few years to become far more sophisticated," says Kevin Haggard, currently director of quality engineering at online coupon site RetailMeNot.com, who's worked in QA for 15 years for such well-known sites as WeightWatchers.com, WebMD and Gilt Groupe. "We're looking for people who have a lot more of technical background and more programming experience than we have in the past. Before you would just look for people in any field and teach them how to do manual testing."

The profile of people filling the QA role has changed in the last few years to become far more sophisticated.
Kevin Haggard, RetailMeNot.com

Not only are director-level QA professionals like Haggard seeking a different breed of QA engineer, they are willing to pay top dollar for their hires. In some markets, a seasoned QA technician can command a six-figure salary on par with top developers, Haggard says, and there's less competition for those jobs. "If you're great at [writing scrips for automation], you can probably demand a lot more than a developer competing in a division where there are 10 people vying for the job," he says.

A wide view of the organization

Michael Chapman, a senior QA analyst at Datacert, a provider of enterprise legal management software, says he's constantly getting queries from local Houston-based firms seeking out good QA talent. Chapman started out as a C++ developer, but after seven years segued into QA when a company he was working for merged with another and he sought out a position that would save his job.

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Summer camp for QA

Newly minted college grads aspire to be Web developers, mobile app programmers, even business intelligence (BI) analysts. Yet one IT job not on their radar screen is QA engineer, a scenario a group called SummerQAmp aims to fix.

Sparked by a conversation about job creation between IT luminaries and rock icon-turned-jobs advocate Jon Bon Jovi, SummerQAmp was created in 2012 as part of the White House's Summer Jobs+ initiative.

The nationwide venture aims to place students in quality assurance internships at major technology companies such as Gilte Group, eBay, Foursquare and Airbnb. After the success of the first year's pilot program, SummerQAmp branched out this year to eight U.S. cities, including Boston, Austin, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Atlanta.

SummerQAmp introduces high school and college students to the QA role while teaching them core QA skills and aiding in job placement. "In the United States, we don't do a lot to teach people about testing -- it's never mentioned [before] someone starts their career and they don't know it's a viable job opportunity," says Kevin Haggard, a co-founder of the program. In addition to Haggard and Bon Jovi, Steve Martocci, co-founder of GroupMe, and Aneesh Chopra, the former White House CTO, were the brains behind SummerQAmp.

Since its founding, about 100 students have gone through SummerQAmp, and Haggard says it's helped raise the profile of the QA role as a viable career option. "It's pretty hard to find qualified QA candidates," Haggard says. "Countries like India and China do a much better job training people in testing, so it makes it easy to outsource the role there. We wanted to make sure this is an opportunity for people to have a well-paying job here."

-- Beth Stackpole



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