Tech hotshots: The rise of the QA expert

Long undervalued, quality assurance is in the limelight -- and QA pros in demand -- following the disaster of the website rollout.

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The botched ACA website didn't hurt in terms of elevating QA's standing, Reed agrees. "Any time there are trends in the media that relate to technology, it catches people's eye," he explains. "The minute a bank has a security breach, all banks take another look at security. The second a healthcare facility has a patient [data] breach, all hospitals rush to see if they are exposed. Now any organization with a website on the runway is questioning whether they have done due diligence from a QA perspective."

Heightened awareness about the significance of QA is cultivating demand for lots of QA-related jobs. According to TEKsystems, the hiring climate for QA roles is intense, with figures indicating that there are 2.5 positions open for every one QA person available, notes Jason Hayman, research manager for the IT services, staffing and talent management company. Additionally, there's been more than a 10% increase in unique job postings related to QA engineers and testers from 2012 to 2013, indicating that demand is on the rise.

The QA role can be great stepping stone to a variety of other technology-related positions, Hayman says. Since lower-end QA jobs don't necessarily require a deep technical background, they can be a great entry point into IT, he says. QA can also be used as a gateway to programming jobs, product management posts and even into QA management as employees gain knowledge and experience.

In many cases, however, once someone gets immersed in QA, they remain there. "Given that the need for QA professionals is so great, once you're recognized as a great QA person, there's a hesitancy to let that person move on to other roles," Hayman warns.

QA pros 'far more sophisticated'

While companies are definitely placing a higher value on the QA function, there is still a tendency to give the role short shrift. Companies building complex software tend to place more of an emphasis on strong QA departments and automated testing. By comparison, internal IT organizations are slower to see the value, according to Bruce Webster, principal and founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC, an enterprise IT consulting firm specializing in helping firms with troubled or failed IT projects.

"Organizations that produce excellent software products take QA very seriously, but in internal IT organizations, QA is generally not seen as something that's essential, nor is it seen as something that is desirable," Webster explains. "Nontechnical management often doesn't appreciate the absolute necessity of rigorous QA, and they just don't want to spend the money on it."

One of the trends changing that perspective is the need for much more sophisticated and automated QA testing procedures to put today's intricate and highly complex software through its paces. Companies prioritizing automated QA test processes are shifting emphasis away from low-skilled, low-paid workers to a higher-caliber pedigree of QA professional who is fluent in the latest programming languages and agile development methodologies.

Rather than looking for candidates with formal technical QA certifications, companies seek out applicants with deep hands-on experience along with strong communications, project management and problem-solving skills, RHI's Reed says.

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