Working in QA – Part 2

pikmin-3-wallpaper-1 As a follow up to the “Working in QA” article I wrote back at the start of 2013 I decided it would be interesting to follow a new recruit through their QA career. I thought it would be an interesting approach to interview them and then catch up with them several months later. This would highlight several key points:

  • How they feel starting off in the games industry and their initial thoughts on the job.
  • Where they aim to take their career
  • Their inevitable run in with contract extensions (after all QA contracts only last for 3 months)

So, meet James Crozier, who after a bit of investigating I came across as he had just started working in QA. Our interview begins in April 2014 and takes place via email over the course of several weeks. As the interview starts James has been in QA for a week and he tells me that this is the first time he’s ever done any QA work but he’s really enjoying it so far. I asked him how he got the job and he informs me:

I regularly checked the Codemasters vacancies on the website and saw the QA technician job. I only applied to Codies because they make some of my favourite games! It’s also realistically the only big games company anywhere near where I live. I think it took just under a month for Codemasters to get back to me, but I got a phone call telling me there was a mix up where I didn’t receive the email inviting me to the interview so it was probably a shorter amount of time. The interview was a week after that.

I can understand James wanting to commute, after all QA contracts are short with no guarantee that you’ll be offered work in the future. Moving away from home to work in a fairly low paying job with a short contract is certainly a risky venture. Even so James still spends just under 2 hours a day driving to the Codies main office in Southam. Knowing what the QA interview process is like I asked James if he did any research to prepare for the interview. He spent some time looking at good bug reports as well as researching Codemasters history which came in very useful as he was indeed asked a “What do you know about the company” question during his interview. For many, becoming a QA temp is the first stage of the ladder with many going on to stay in QA in higher ranking positions while others move into development and production roles. Understandably then, most QA temps are coming straight from University or temporary jobs. In James’ case he quit his job at a supermarket, which he said was a “no brainer” of a decision. We’ve learnt that James had no prior experience with a QA role or the games industry in general. So I asked him to tell me about his education, was there anything he did to tailor his studies towards this industry?

In terms of education, I’ve pretty much tried to gear most of my studies towards games with a view to get into the industry. So it started with GCSE’s where I took Art, Graphics and IT followed by IT in my A levels. That got me on to a course at the University of Gloucestershire doing Interactive Games Design where I pretty much got a taste of all aspects such as modelling, coding, project management etc.

James goes on to explain how his degree indirectly helped with his transition into QA. He was already familiar with certain terms and abbreviations he came across, while he could describe some problems technically in his bug reports. Knowledge like this can help developers when trying to recreate a bug or fix the issue. It can be quite difficult receiving a bug to work on and not having a clue what the other person is referring to because they don’t understand what they are bugging in the first place. So far QA is pretty much what James expected it to be like, he got to grips with the bug database pretty quickly and got on with testing. In just a short amount of time though he’s noticed the repetitive nature of QA:

One thing I have found is that it can get really repetitive just checking the same thing over and over, but I’m so obsessed with gaming and racing games in particular that it doesn’t really get boring.

I ask James if this means he’s eventually going to tire of QA and aim to progress into development. He tells me that he’s actively working on his portfolio, creating a couple of models or projects every couple of weeks. This, he says, helps keep the skills and workflow he has developed over the last few years fresh in his mind. Regardless of the tedium and the progression in development I can tell James is really happy to have been given a chance to work in the industry. He goes on to tell me:

I’d be over the moon just to be given a shot at being in QA on a permanent basis as I enjoy it so much. While progressing into development would be awesome, I’m just trying to enjoy the three months I’m at Codemasters in case I don’t get another opportunity! With that in mind, after the contract I think I’d just try and get another QA position as it’s pretty much my perfect job. I know that might sound like I’m not aiming high enough but QA was always my goal back when I first decided I wanted to work in the industry.

We move on to talking about how James thinks working in QA will benefit him in the long run, aside from being a foot in the door of the games industry. He says he now has a better idea of what’s worth fixing and how much time he should spend on bugs that crop up in his own projects. Even so, after several weeks in QA, James is quite keen to progress through the ranks here, hoping one day he might eventually become a QA lead. With James being fresh to the QA environment and the games industry as a whole, our interview pretty much concludes there. I thought it would be good to give him time to reflect on his position and experience a few of the inevitable contact expiration dates. Not knowing where this would go James could have moved on within a couple of months. 2128997-169_pikmin3_review_wiiU_073013_08 Onwards to December 2014, 8 months since our interview began. I discovered James no longer works at Codies. I begin by emailing him again and asking first off why he left the company. I soon discover James initially had one contract extension (3 months), around July 2014 and that expired around October 2014. After this contact expiration James was not offered any more work. I don’t know the reason for this but contact renewals in this industry are a difficult time. Regardless of whether or not you have performed well, if a game has finished its testing period then there is a lack of work to go around. Developers will have moved onto a new project which would be in the early phases of design or development, in which case there wouldn’t be anything to test. Games which receive DLC and patches will retain a handful of QA but they clearly won’t require anywhere near the same amount of man hours as a full game. James explains that he never assumed he’d be in QA at Codies forever as he already knew what the industry was like in terms of temporary contacts. He tells me that his plan was to stay at Codies until they no longer needed him, at which point he’d look for other work, preferably with a permanent contract. James would return to QA if he could find a role with a permanent contract, however he goes on to note:

It’s really difficult to plan ahead with things like accommodation when you don’t know how long you’ll be there. I guess it’s okay if you’re single and have no commitments as you can just rent a room on a rolling contract but when you have a family and pets and you’re dealing with the usual six month to a yearlong contracts it’s really difficult.

After briefly looking for other QA roles James went on to work for a web design company as a developer as well as dealing with their social media. He has a permanent contract at his new company and as they are fairly small scale he says there is a “family kind of atmosphere” where his skills feel more valued. I ask him how he reflects on his time at the company, for example, what are the best and worst aspects of life in QA? I guess the obvious answer from somebody who is already a big gamer is that you get paid to play games, indeed this was his first answer. I’d stress at this point though that a lot of QA involves playing the same game for sometimes months on end carrying out tedious tasks in order to break the game. James notes that this didn’t matter to him personally and also mentions the social aspect of the job. He comments on working with “mostly people who are just as big a gamer as you and so there’s always something to talk about”. If you compare this to your standard office job there is never really a guarantee that you’ll share common ground with your co-workers. James then talks about the worst aspects of the job, I ask him to put aside the issues with redundancies and short term contracts as we’ve already talked a lot about this. His main concerns were to do with trust, he really felt like an outsider who had minimal contact with the development team. Personally from looking back on my time in QA I never experienced the issues James feels he had. I was given free rein to walk around the entire campus and indeed had friends who were part of the development team. I was able to directly email developers and some of them would ask me over to the studio to help recreate bug’s I’d found. Games development is a very secretive industry so I can understand why James might feel this way and he does acknowledge the security risks but for him, he felt like an outsider. Another point of contention for James was with the bug reporting process. James experienced situations where his bugs would be sent back as “Cannot reproduce”. From somebody who has worked in both QA and development I certainly see where his issues arise from but I also understand why this happens. Developers are generally working on “Bleeding edge” builds; basically the most up-to-date version of the game while QA builds will be slightly older. This is a result of working on builds burnt to disc, or waiting until a new stable build is released and distributed to the QA team. In some instances QA might enter a bug that has already been fixed but not yet incorporated in the QA branch. Regardless of the reasons, James did feel that his University degree and his knowledge were somewhat overlooked which he believes results in a “better not bug it” attitude.

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