This month, we take a look at a profession that could be the dream job for many of our readers – that of video game tester, otherwise known as a QA (Quality Assurance) tester.
To learn more about this profession, we spoke with Jonathan Gaudreau, team lead for the software quality assurance team at Lavasoft. Previously, he was team leader for conformity testing at Eidos Montreal.
Jobboom: What does being a QA tester involve?
Jonathan Gaudreau: The main responsibility of a QA tester is to identify problems, such as bugs, in software and to alert the development team about what they find. Testers undertake a wide variety of tasks that vary from one project to another. Among the most common tasks are: making sure that the game player cannot travel through walls; testing objects in the game; making the game console crash, or even simply playing the game through to the end to be sure that players can do so without any problems.
When a tester finds a bug, he explains the appropriate team how to recreate the bug. Then the tester has to make sure that the problem has been fixed and that no new bugs were created as a result of the fix.
JB : What fundamental skills does a QA tester need to have?
J.G: There are no academic prerequisites for being a QA tester. The most important qualities for testers to have are curiosity, a desire to discover new things, and the ability to show that they aren’t afraid to think outside of the box to test non-conventional theories.
Testers also need to be resourceful. A tester who relies too much on others will have a hard time, because a big part of the job involves working autonomously. That being said, it’s also important to not be cavalier as a tester; testers need to ask questions, especially if the goal of a task isn’t particularly clear to them.
JB : What personality traits would come in handy as a QA tester?
J.G: Having an obsessive-compulsive disorder might be helpful! But seriously, the most important requirements are to be able to work as part of a team and to communicate clearly. Because QA testing involves a lot of autonomous work, a lack of communication can lead to problems like finding bugs that have already been discovered, which can overload the database and the development team.
JB : What are the main challenges a QA tester must overcome?
J.G: The biggest challenge QA testers face is the repetitive nature of the work. Being a professional tester is like running a marathon: you have to play the same game for 40 hours a week, sometimes more, for months at a time.
This is why, as a tester, it’s important to know how to keep yourself interested in the task at hand and to find enjoyment in the work. Doing so will allow you to specialize in certain aspects of the job and, more than anything, stay motivated. Because of the nature of the work, it’s not uncommon to see a new tester quit their job during the first week.
That being said, if you are able to overcome the challenges, the rest of the job is much easier!
JB : What’s a typical day like for a QA tester?
J.G: The typical day for a QA tester is pretty straightforward, but the tasks can vary from one day to the next depending on the needs of the project. A QA tester will start their day by reviewing the database to find out about bugs that have already been found and fixed, and to read and reply to the comments left by developers.
Next, a tester will read their emails to find out if a new version of a game is available, to identify tasks assigned to them by the team lead, to clarify the nature of the tasks if necessary, and then work on those tasks for the rest of the day.
At the end of the day, QA testers will usually send a progress report to the team lead to show the tasks that have been completed.
JB : What types of projects do QA testers work on?
J.G: It’s important to remember that there are many different kinds of video games, all of which are targeted to different customers. Depending on the company the tester works for, the project they will end up working on will often be based on ‘luck of the draw’ – the tester may get to work on a major game with a huge fan base, or a much smaller game.
For example, in my case, I’ve worked on games made for three-year-old kids that involve only colours and shapes. Clearly, an adult working on this kind of game will find it far less interesting than a more complex game, but it’s still important that the game works properly.
Some video-game testing companies also do testing for software programs, websites, mobile apps and toys.
JB : What are the specifics involved in video game QA testing?
J.G: The thing that makes video game testing unique from other QA testing is that it’s highly codified. There are distinct QA roles that span three major departments: functionality, conformity and localization. Each one of these specializations requires different skills and competencies.
A functionality tester (FQA) is focused on ensuring quality of game play for the player. The FQA tester verifies that all areas of the game are accessible and that the visual, audio and game-play experiences are all working properly.
A conformity, or compliance, tester (CQA) makes sure that the game conforms to the documentation and technical requirements provided by the manufacturer of the game console upon which the game will be played. If these requirements aren’t met, the game won’t make it to market.
A localization or linguistic tester makes sure that the game is translated correctly. This aspect of testing is often handled by an outside company.
JB : Are there possibilities for advancement in the field of game testing?
J.G: There are definitely opportunities for advancement for individual testers, but also the possibility to move to a different company, since not every company offers the same career opportunities. For people who are very organized or are excellent communicators, it’s possible to become a team coordinator or team lead, and possibly a supervisor or director of QA.
For people who are more technical, some companies offer the position of senior tester. It’s possible to specialize in one area of testing and to integrate oneself with the appropriate team, or join the actual development team to work in the specialized field of DevQA.
Some testers go on to work for software development companies that want experienced QA testers, but are willing to offer better pay to attract top talent.
JB : Which industries are QA testers found in?
J.G: Quality Assurance testing exists in nearly all industries, but the skills that apply to one industry aren’t necessarily transferable to another. For example, QA testers in the fields of video games, software, websites and programmable toys are relatively transferable among each other, but QA testing in factories is an entirely different profession that requires specialized training.
JB : What are some other careers that a QA tester could transition to?
J.G: Quality Assurance testing is often viewed as an entryway to the world of video games, and this is particularly true for development studios. The transition to become a developer is even easier if you are working in DevQA, since you are already working with the development team. But this transition requires a lot of skills development, since QA testing will not provide you with the skills you need to become a developer.
Some companies offer internal training and promotion structures to help QA testers transition to creative teams, such as those in programming, playability, and artistic design.
JB : What education or training should aspiring QA testers go for?
J.G: There is no particular training required to become a tester; companies typically look for individuals with a strong interest and spirit for the job. This is especially true for companies that are working as subcontractors for videogame developers and editors and that hire QA testers without experience or training. Companies that hire software testers sometimes require applicants to have a college diploma, but experience is always the greatest asset.
A strong grasp of the English language is often required for tester positions, as many development teams that QA companies work for aren’t based in Quebec.
JB : Can someone learn to be a QA tester on their own time?
J.G: Sure. A video game enthusiast who regularly discovers bugs in video games and has an understanding of the industry jargon can build a really strong foundation for QA testing on their own. There are also a ton of resources online that an aspiring tester can access to improve their skills!
Working for a company as a junior QA tester is the best way to learn the ins and outs of the job. Companies that hire junior testers often handle several different projects, each of which requires a different approach to testing, so it’s a great way to quickly expand one’s knowledge and skills as a QA tester.
JB : Do you have any advice for those who want to become a QA tester?
J.G: My main advice would be: don’t be scared to try! Start by working as a QA tester for a subcontracting company, even just for one summer. These positions don’t pay very well, but they offer a variety of different experiences and are an excellent portal into the world of QA testing in video games. This will also provide you with a valuable reference that you can then use to apply for a position with a video game editor or developer. By working as a tester, you will quickly find out whether or not it’s a career for you.
JB : Do you have a work-related anecdote to share?
J.G: One drawback of being a QA tester for video games is the overtime that the job sometimes requires. Sometimes, you can end up working 70-hour weeks. When this happens, the teams finish off the week by blowing off some steam – and these party nights often create some of the best memories associated with the job!
From the Recruiter’s Point of View
JB : What key skills are you looking for in a QA tester?
If you have experience, put that front and center, along with details about what tools you’ve worked with. However, experience isn’t always necessary to become a QA tester.
If you lack experience, put your knowledge of English and French up front, along with your capacity for analysis or critical thinking, and your writing and communication abilities.
Hiring a QA tester is often based on how the in-person interview goes and on the results of any tests that may be proposed by the employer, as well as the candidate’s CV. Of course the CV is always important because it provides the first impression of the candidate to the employer.
JB : How much importance do you place on a candidate’s portfolio?
A portfolio isn’t essential. If you have experience you can indicate which games you have worked on, but because most of the work QA testers do is confidential, this necessarily limits a tester’s ability to create a portfolio.
JB : How about the interview?
The video game industry is made up of very passionate people! Because QA testing can be very repetitive, testers need to be passionate about the work. Being nonchalant or indifferent about the profession or the industry will generally disqualify you from becoming a video game tester.
I also recommend taking the time to learn about the company you’re applying to work for before the interview, and to at least know about the games that the company has released.
The recruitment process usually involves a test, especially for new testers. Sometimes it will be in the form of a questionnaire, or practical exercises, particularly for localization testers who need to show their proficiency in the language with which they will be working.
The classic test for QA candidates involves giving them a common object (a pen, or a box of tissues) and asking them what kind of tests should be done on the object. The goal of this exercise is to find out how well the candidate understands the concept of testing, how they analyse a situation and respond to a challenge.