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Got QA? It’s the new tech apprenticeship

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Quality assurance or QA is not one of the more glamorous positions in the tech world but it may be just the stepping stone necessary to bring in a new generation of programmers. That’s the thinking behind a new White House initiative called SummerQAmp, a youth internship program led by former CTO of the White House Aneesh Chopra, GroupMe co-founder Steve Martocci, Gilt Groupe VP of Quality Engineering Kevin Haggard and oddly rock star Jon Bon Jovi.

The SummerQAmp program, which builds off the White House’s SummerJobs+ initiative, will encourage technology companies to take on underprivileged youths without technical training as QA testers, teaching them how to make software and apps better. SummerQAmp’s goal is to help create at least 1,000 QA internships this summer. By introducing QA to youths, the program is hoping to promote the job as a possible career path. But perhaps more importantly, Martocci and others see QA as a pathway to a bigger job in software development, kind of like a gateway drug for programming.

Martocci worked closely with QA workers at his former job at Gilt Groupe and has seen the power of QA first hand through his brother, who has done QA work for GroupMe and is now GroupMe’s QA manager. He said during a recent talk with Bon Jovi, who has partnered with GroupMe in the past, he talked about the potential for QA as an internship program. Bon Jovi, who sits on the White House’s Council for Community Solutions, connected Martocci with the White House and Chopra.

“QA is a job that some companies don’t do, but they can take on people who are not engineers and this can be a stepping stone into a career path as a software engineer,” Martocci said. “We can train a workforce that’s not traditionally into software development.”

Companies such as eBay (s ebay), Gilt Groupe, Tumblr, Boxee, Knewton, OnSwipe, and JIBE have already signed on to participate in SummerQAmp.  Martocci said QA is increasingly becoming an important area for technology companies. And when done well, it can act as a line of defense for developers, helping spot problems that they may have missed. He said the SummerQAmp is also launching an online educational resource later this year to teach youths more about the role of QA, guide them in their careers and provides lessons on how to learn software development.

I think it may be a bit of a stretch to say a program like SummerQAmp will directly prompt a new generation of software developers. Software development is still hard work and presents a pretty big challenge for anyone, including people who get exposed to the development process. But I like the idea of encouraging youths to look at careers in technology and QA can be a way for people to get their feet wet without having coding experience. And once they’re in that environment, at least some may get a taste for building, not just testing. It could be become a sort of apprenticeship for some, letting them learn some basic lessons before moving onto bigger tasks.

The way the world is moving, everything is migrating toward technology so it’s good to try and train people early on. That’s why I’m excited about other start-ups like Codecademy, Udemy, General Assembly and others that are trying to encourage education and training, especially in software development and other technical jobs. We are already facing a talent crunch in the tech world and the more ways we can encourage careers in technology, the better.

24 Responses to “Got QA? It’s the new tech apprenticeship”

  1. Speaking from experience, I can say that this *could* be a good thing. However, I don’t think that the way it is being promoted (I.e., this article & the SummerQAmp site) does the SummerQAmp initiative any favours – it gives a negative perception that QA/Software Testing is inferior to other roles within the industry. This is exactly the mindset we are looking to get rid of within the industry.

    A similar initiative was implemented in Northern Ireland, called “Test Academy” (see here: Within the local NI industry, there was (and still is) a high demand for Software Testers, but a distinct lack of relevant skills and experience within the Testing talent pool to fill the roles. Representatives from various organisations and universities within the local industry participated in a number of focus group sessions to work together with the aim of trying to address this problem. One of the main initiatives to come out of the focus group sessions was “Test Academy” and was fully supported and facilitated by local government bodies (there were other initiatives, such as liaising with the local universities to offer Software Testing specific course modules and promote Software Testing as a viable career path within their degree programs).

    Test Academy was set-up to provide graduates with the necessary training that would give them a good foundation so they could pursue a career in Software Testing (preference was actually given to graduates with non-IT background) . Test Academy attracted over 700 applicants, but only offered 20 places on the program. The selection process for Test Academy was quite rigorous – numerous aptitude tests with only a percentage of the highest scoring being invited to the interview stages. The Test Academy program lasted 14 weeks – 8 weeks of very intensive, but structured classroom training (including exams and assignments) and 6 weeks work placement with a local company (getting first-hand industry experience). After the 6 weeks , the company then had the option to offer the candidate a contract of full-time employment or offer them to another company participating in the initiative.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the Test Academy program was a great success and it is likely that the program will run again in the future. SummerQAmp is not exactly the same, but is very similar. If it is organised and structured correctly (and promoted with a bit more care), it too can be a success!

  2. SoftwareTestingClub

    Ok, so if you look at the website, what they say sounds ok. Admittedly it doesn’t say much. I guess it would be good to have more information before making any ***assumptions***.

    I think perhaps the problem is the way this article is reported in a way that will annoy certain people out there – specifically testers who love their job and who have the right to get annoyed when it is compared to a second class, easy, no brain required job or as a stepping stone to development.

    BTW – the link to the SumerQAmp website is broken. Sorry couldn’t help myself.

    • TeaTime with Testers

      Initiative sounds good but the idea (rather opinion) about s/w testing this article projects is disturbing me. We (Tea-time with Testers) are big supporters of “Teach-Testing” idea but definitely don’t support the **underestimating** thoughts about testing.

    • Will Murray

      This articel has annoyed me for 1 – “But perhaps more importantly, Martocci and others see QA as a pathway to a bigger job in software development, kind of like a gateway drug for programming.” Testing is not longer seen as a second class job in Ireland or the UK, it is a valued profession, with testers now being seen in their rightful place, not just someone who bangs buttons to find bugs. A similiar scheme has been running in Northern Ireland for a few months now, and has been extremely successful, the main reason being that it doesn’t advertise testing as a stepping stone, but as a career. This scheme mentioned above will not work if the people championing it have the incorrect mindset!

  3. Michael Larsen

    I’m torn, to tell the truth. On one side, I think it’s great that we are encouraging people to explore technical fields and look at options that can become lifelong careers. On the other, I have a problem with saying that Quality Assurance (or as I like to refer to what they are actually doing, Software Testing) as being a gateway to programming. It’s like saying that riding a bicycle is a gateway to swimming.

    Testing is a demanding discipline, and one that requires a lot of focus, attention, and domain specific knowledge to be effective. Some entry level testing can be done by low skilled testers, it’s true, but testing such things as avionics software, biomedical drug conversion and sampling software, or distributed legal system databases are not those types of jobs.

    I’d actually like to see these organizations reach out to those of us who actually do software testing for a living and see what we would recommend. Who knows, they may find that software testing is a fulfilling career in its own right, and encourage people to become software testers as a career in its own right. If they decide to become programmers great, but remember, there’s a lot of us software testers that program, too.

  4. kip steele

    So we’re going to take energetic testers and turn them into lazy developers? We’re screwed. Working in sales can be a gateway to be a developer. I have apps on my iPhone older than most of the companies listed here. And Bon jovi dilutes this even more. Call me when Andy grove thinks intel can hire high school kids for testing or msft decides to lower the expectations for software engineers in test.

  5. tonybruce

    2nd attempt at commenting.

    On first read I agree with Brian. At the moment all that crosses my mind is ‘WTF?’. I’ll have to have another read. On another note. Bon Fraking Jovi? Seriously?

  6. Josh Grant

    It’s an interesting approach. Software testing/QA is definitely an area that’s somewhat neglected from a career development perspective. I’ve been a software tester for a year and half now, and I have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in mathematics. I kind of just fell into testing but I love it. I’m not sure exactly how goes into testing directly (most people want to become managers or developers out of school) so this could bring some exposure to QA as an IT-based career path.

    On the other hand, treating an entire discipline as a “stepping stone” is already an issue in testing, so we’ll see how this plays out.

  7. James Ahn

    @Brian Rock – In my opinion there’s no need to feel so insulted for yourself or your industry. The article nor the program postulates QA jobs held by experienced professionals are easily replaceable.

    First, it’s generally geared towards low-income, disconnected youth (aged 18-24). Second, it’s merely an educational platform to enhance tech opportunities for the underserved demographic, not a boot camp chugging out low quality workers. Third, it’s in the best interest of U.S. domestic policy to increase youth interest in technology since it’s a growing industry which will eventually need qualified people to fill jobs, and having a vibrant tech industry is a hallmark of an advanced, competitive, and developed economy.

    And just so you know, I’m just a reader; not a spokesperson for anything.

  8. Brian Rock

    Another rant on this article is that QA is NOT a stepping stone to being a Software Developer. Software Development is an activity that takes input from many contributors; Developers, Testers, UX designers, Product Managers, … Software Quality Assurance is a distinct and challenging career path that encompasses the activities of analysis, software development, design, user experience analysis, and many more.

    • James Ahn

      Sorry to say but in reality it happens, and people like Steve Martocci have seen it happen several times. For better or worse it’s apparently one of the bases upon which this program was established.

      • Brian Rock

        It certainly has, does and will continue to happen. It doesn’t make it right.

        If the end goal is to expose these young kids to the software development field, there are many entry points one could use. Why not just have them intern as jr. Developers? Why subjugate an entire industry, in essence placing it as a lower class citizen to a software developer?

        If we want to expose kids to be architects, should we direct them into the construction trade first? If they want to be lawyers, should they be police officers first?

  9. Brian Rock

    As an engineer with a Bachelors and a Masters in Engineering who has been working in the Software Quality field for 15+ years I find this article insulting and blow to the software test industry. To postulate that an uneducated and untrained youth can come in and do the job that requires advanced analysis, software engineering, statistical modeling, … I am actually at a loss for words.

    • Brian, I think the people that will be doing QA will just be testing the software, typically websites. And for that task, the only skill you need is to be able to surf the web – untrained consumers are perfect for this, as you want to find the bugs that occur when the average user (not a trained professional) tries to use a consumer product. I don’t think that anybody will be expecting analysis or engineering or software modeling from the QA interns, but they will be relieving the people like you of the mundane task of testing all kinds of random combinations of clicks.

      If you are building a product for consumers who are not technically astute, you better not only test it with engineers and scientists.

      • Brian Rock

        There is a distinct and important difference between Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Testing falls under quality control. The testing you are referring to in your last statement is called usability testing and is best to do with actual users of the product, I couldn’t agree with you more. I suppose I am taking more offense with the authors generalization of Quality Assurance Engineers being a stepping stone to being a Software Developer.

    • Right On

      Sorry, but I disagree.

      QA initiative is right on in my opinion. There are tons of jobs in this field which can be acquired with little training. Doesn’t’ need a Bachelor or masters degree.

      No offense, but your comments reminds me of Vince’s comment in ‘Employee of the month’, where he points out how hard it is do the “grocery bagging”.

      • Brian Rock

        Again, my offense is with the lack of understanding and generalization between Quality Assurance and Quality Control.

        Grocery Bagging can be hard :) Obviously, no harder then testing an web based application that is running 1.5+ million lines of code, with an infinite amount of input permutations, spread across 4 cloud based data centers, serving thousands of users in multiple languages and locales, pulling and analyzing data from multiple data stores, written in several different programming languages, offered with 100% up time, and supported on multiple operating systems, browsers and mobile devices. Yeah, just as hard.

    • Ryan Kim

      Yeah, i think this is more about introducing some underprivileged youths to light QA testing, not heavier engineering or analysis. I think the work you do will always be valuable. But whether it’s through the traditional developing, design or testing, I think it’s good to get as many young people looking in this direction.

      • Brian Rock

        Ryan, Couldn’t agree more with you. We need to direct our youth to the high tech industry. Directing them into Quality Assurance Engineering is a great path that can lead to a great career. I just disagree with doing it under the pretense that it’s a “stepping stone” to another field.