Why You Should Consider Non-IT Professionals for QA Roles

People of all professions can be software testersOne of the fastest growing industries is undoubtedly software and application development and all the roles that go into that – including testing. But what if job applicants don’t have a computer science or engineering degree? Should they be passed over without a second thought? QA professionals say not necessarily.

Top QA specialists are increasingly embracing non-IT graduates for the roles of software tester. The broader backgrounds of these new tech professionals bring a useful and increasingly necessary ability to the position – the ability to look at an application from an end-user’s perspective. From ZDNet:

According to [Jeff Findlay, a senior solution architect at Micro Focus with an architecture degree], having a general degree provides a broader mindset for testers to draw upon when doing testing. At the same time, they are able to clearly and solely focus on the testing activities, rather than worry about why and how a bug got introduced or what the best solution to an issue might be. …

Derek Ang, CEO of Morces, said since more software, such as mobile apps, today is used by normal, everyday people, “it makes no sense why non-IT grads cannot be good software testers.” … For Ang, the ideal software testing team should comprise of IT and non-IT individuals. The IT individuals test technical aspects, while their non-IT peers test other areas such as human-computer interaction (HCI) and flow.

This phenomena is nothing new. Cem Kaner endorsed the enveloping of broader experiences into the SDLC in a Testing the Limits interview from 2010:

Let me start this by saying that almost all of the best people I know in testing have significant experience in other fields.

Still, people cannot walk in off the streets and expect to be successful testers. The experts in the ZDNet article point out that testers will likely be expected to pick-up traditional IT skills and knowledge as time goes on. They’ll also need to master at least a basic understanding of how their company in particular handles the SDLC.

Two attributes are critical for good testers regardless of academic background, which non-IT persons can develop and receive training, he pointed out.

The first is domain knowledge, which is what separates good software testers from the rest, the Micro Focus executive said. The tester must know the business that surrounds the application under test and its various intricacies–which depend on what business and industry the employer is in, Findlay explained.

In the same vein, the tester must also understand the SDLC processes or models for the app as used by their employer, such as agile, iterative or waterfall, he said.

Read the full ZDNet article >>>

If these new testers discover they enjoy the field and want to advance they can take advantage of the variety of degree programs popping up – from traditional degrees to online courses and certifications.

As economies around the world struggle with employment issues, considering non-IT grads for testing roles may be a good way to transition workers into new fields and provide software development companies with valuable insight they may not be getting from tech-immersed employees. Crowdsourced testing options are a good stepping stone for both the new testers and companies looking to test their products within their end user demographic. Containing testing solely to traditional in-house departments is no long an adequate way to fully test software. Lab environments cannot totally replicate today’s in-the-wild landscape and in-house teams can often suffer from product fatigue – they are so used to the product that they no longer see new issues. Combining traditional QA practices with non-traditional players helps companies test products from all angles.

  • Chris Foley says:

    In my 10+ years of managing testing/QA/QE teams, I’ve found the best ones are those consisting of people from different areas of knowledge. When a team consists of people from development backgrounds, business backgrounds and other area of expertise, they work better as a team and there is a dynamic, organic growth of cross-knowledge transfer. What I look for most in a QA hire is someone who is thoughtful, observant and overall, has a curious nature. After that, it’s up to the leader to put those people in the correct positions. Does the test area require the need for the tester to understand basic development concepts? If so, use the engineering background resource. Does the feature have a high reliability on user usage? Might be better to put a business-like SME/tester in that position.
    The key is figuring out what you need for what circumstance.

  • Jamie Saine says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment! You’re right on the money about making sure you have the right people in the right positions. No matter what a person’s background, if their talents aren’t being used appropriately it will be hard to succeed.

    Most of the QA experts we’ve talked to all agree that building a diverse testing team with passionate, curious people is the way to high quality. If you’re interested, we’ve collected some of their best insights and quotes in an eBook called “34 Things Everyone Should Know About Software Testing” – http://www.utest.com/landing-interior/34-things-every-software-tester-should-know

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