Last week we interviewed Facundo Santillo Alarcón and talked about the QA brigade and what it has been up to. The brigade has been created just recently as a space where QA professionals can discuss, learn and train to get certified with the ISTQB. Some of the topics discussed were: Why is it important to standardize?, and How can we understand testing concepts the same way the ISTQB does? Today we will share a few conclusions.
What has the QA brigade been doing so far? What are its purposes?
Facundo: The idea is to define a homogeneous quality standard for all the QA professionals in the company and to develop different options for their career plans. Many tech companies offer their employees the opportunity to develop a career plan, but often developers are the ones who benefit the most from them because it’s clearer how they can direct their profiles. For example, some programmers aim to become product owners, and that’s not bad at all, because their technical background is a huge plus.
It’s useful for deciding what it is that they want.
Facundo: Right. But what about the QA field? It seems a bit relegated, at least in Argentina. Many software consultancy companies tend to be traditional, so there isn’t much room for QA professionals to grow. In the QA field you can advance your career in different ways, from analyzing process to handling more technical issues. The problem is that the companies that offer a career plan haven’t figured out how QA professionals can grow laterally.
—That way of growing was defined and standardized by the ISTQB in the first place—
Many believe that the ISTQB offers basic training, and whether you get it or not isn’t relevant. However, European or American companies are paying more attention to this, because this is related to quality standardization.
And what are the goals of the brigade?
Facundo: First we need to observe and guide the different levels of knowledge depth available at the company. Then, we need to minimize the impact of cognitive blindness, so that QA professionals understand which are their options for a career plan.
And the career plan is the reason why it began.
Facundo: Right. Second: we need to standardize the quality level in order to ensure that everyone equally understands how processes are used. And third: we need to minimize the impact of human errors in processes.
Why the need to standardize it now?
Facundo: There are projects in the company that are very mature and allow to innovate. And we can apply that innovation experience in projects that are just starting out.
So, you say it’s useful for making a pause in order to rethink and optimize? What, for example?
Facundo: Techniques, tools, processes, strategies; taking standardization as a guide. There’s no recipe for this, we cannot take quality as something immutable. We can deliver a product just as the client wants it, but the question we have to ask ourselves is how we want it to evolve.
And we need leaders for that.
Facundo: More than leaders, we need mentors. A document or an organization, like the ISTQB, can function as mentors just the same. First we need to establish a point of reference, then we can focus on how to adapt to it. The brigade’s job is also to investigate. (Laughs.)
It sounds really complex. Do you think it’s possible to standardize quality in a company with many QA professionals?
Facundo: Quality is a benchmark for which we have to define a basis. We need to set the bar at some point. But if we set it too high, are we sure we can reach it? That’s why it’s essential to understand where the knowledge levels are.
I still don’t get it, let me rephrase the question. How do you standardize a senior QA professional with more than 15 years of experience, for example?
Facundo: In order to do that, you have to be able to measure him or her. In the automated QA brigade, we create technical exercises in order to measure ourselves. These are free exercises anyone can complete in different ways, since the aim of the evaluation is to assess how we obtain a certain result. It assesses whether I reuse a code or not, whether I carry out unit tests or not; which programming language I use and why. If I use SOLID principles, for example, how long does it take for the technical exercise to finish, and how can I explain the process I followed?
Either two things can happen: I can accept the challenge of standardization or not. If a process doesn’t resist to be challenged, it means its quality can be improved.
Do you think it’s possible to elaborate a concept of quality that’s more or less shared among professionals?
Facundo: That’s why it all started, because we needed to apply regulations from a related body, in this case, the ISTQB. We can sit down later on to chat and see where we stand, but this is the first step. We must consider quality as an abstract concept that needs to be integrated into life. It’s a cultural thing, even.
What beliefs, practices or concepts need to be standardized in testing?
Facundo: It’s critical to differentiate between QA and QC. Today many people think that QA and QC are reduced to testing, when in truth testing is one task of both QA and QC. They complement each other but they include completely different activities. QA seeks validation and ensures that you’ll be able to meet your goals. QC, on the other hand, verifies whether you were able to meet them in a timely manner.
In this sense, what are some of the testing beliefs or practices that members of the brigade argue about?
Facundo: One of the topics of discussion was: Why don’t we get pre-sales involved? There shouldn’t be intermediaries between QA and the client. You could even ask them what they need and share your ideas with them. It’s important that the client sees that we can deliver value even before signing any contract.
Let’s now talk about medium-term goals.
Facundo: From a standardization basis, we must then:
- Define the different career plan options available for those who want to work in quality assurance of products or services.
- Ensure that everyone in the brigade understands the importance of getting certified with the ISTQB.
- Keep professionalizing the QA field. There are no courses of studies on quality, for example. That’s why the brigade is the space to keep on training.
- Promote the idea of quality as a culture.
In sum, and in Facundo’s words, “We need to adapt to a culture of quality, not only at work but in daily life. We begin to consider the impact our acts have in our performance at work, like that coffee I took first thing in the morning. No-one can put a limit on quality.”