One of the major downsides to quality assurance is the lack of a career advancement path.
On a project nowadays, you may have forty to sixty temporary testers, after which maybe two or three are brought on as full-time testers. In a department of forty to sixty full-time testers, you may have maybe five leads that cycle between products or ten leads that vacillate between leads and individual contributors. Finally, you’ve usually only got a single QA Manager, although some organizations are splitting it up so that there is a manager per fifty testers or so.
In short, you have a major funnel from temp to tester to lead to manager and if any level is filled, your opportunities for advancement are severely restricted.
The question is…why should the funnel exist? There are many ways that organizations can allow testers to grow without forcing them through the funnel. These are a few of the possible ways that your organization can allow growth within QA without “breaking” the funnel.
Specialization: As time goes on, testers often find that they excel at testing a certain type of feature. It may be console certification testing, it may be localization/globalization testing, it may be multiplayer testing, it may be UI automation…the point is that this person has shown that they excel at it. If the workload allows it, it may benefit all projects to have a person be a specialized tester. Another advantage of specialization is that if your testers are allowed direct access to your development team, the tester and developer of certain features are going to be interacting more often and the communication channels between these individuals will be a lot smoother, resulting in more bugs found and fixed.
Tiers: In many companies, there are only four levels a person can be: temp, tester, lead and manager. This makes it very difficult for someone to advance, but you can also have sublevels or tiers within these levels. After all, not every tester can or should be a lead, but that’s no reason to minimize their chances for career advancement. Some companies have recognized this and have a “V” type system at each level where a tester can go be a lead, or become a Senior Tester or a mentor or something else. It means an increased amount of responsibility and a structured career path. People can choose to grow into their current tier or try to advance to the next tier without having to worry about being “managed up or managed out.”
Split Positions: Not everyone goes into QA to stay in QA. Often, people go into QA as a stepping stone into other positions. QA Managers can work with other departments to try to allow their testers who want to migrate to other departments to essentially let them “intern” in other departments for 2-3 days a week, usually interning Monday and Tuesday and test the remainder of the week. In exchange, the other departments absorb the costs for those days. This way, the employee gets a chance to grow, the departments get cheap labor and the QA manager still gets a tester without having to fund the entire position.
What other ways do your companies allow testers to grow when they hit a tier ceiling?