No, I don't love them for acting like police and filing reports if they spot a deviation from some "standard certified" rules in the development process. I wonder if it makes sense at all to monitor software engineering processes for compliance to abstract guidelines written by someone who's never seen how your company actually works?
No, I don't love them for meticulously clicking through screens in the UI-heavy cases, even though this job does deserve to be admired. Also, I don't love them for following established testing practices without ever having a thought of questioning or tweaking them.
No, I don't even love them for writing automated test scripts; it's because some people view this skill as the only upper sky limit for QA's. Neither do I love them for checking that a certain functionality in the product is implemented exactly as in the specs.
My point is that with all the above scenarios QA's are supposed to function rather as cogs in a machine, and not as thinking individuals who have a lot more in store than the narrow-minded ability to follow rules and guidelines. It depends on an organization, of course, because in some companies QA's are regarded only as human-shaped tools.
What is it that I love our QA folks for, then? It's their ability to see the big picture and contribute to the quality of the product on all levels. I also love them because they keep a reasonable calm stance to bugs and glitches in software and UI. Some QA's take it personally if the count of WTFs per minute is overriding all possible limits.
I love our QA's for being curious people who go beyond the "human tool" thinking which seems to be prevailing in the industry, unfortunately. A professional QA person is someone with the analytical and critical mind, who reaches deeper into the background of the job at hand. It's not only about writing automated tests, or test-driven development. The QA's big picture embraces anything that has to do with how product appears to users. A truly competent QA will question irrational practices, bring this to everyone's attention, and suggest ways to do things better. This sounds like a mix of internal auditor and external agile coach, and not everyone will have it, but if a company manages to raise such people in-house, the benefits are obvious.
Our QAs have this thoughtful mindset in place, and some of them have re-invented themselves outside the QA domain. A web operations/automation engineer, a product specialist, a feature owner, and there's at least one ex-QA among those guys who overhauled our technical support and introduced the high service standards that our customers seem to appreciate.
The well-rounded QA's are precious in almost any activity of a softdev company. They start from the bottom up and literally click their way through to the bigger picture. QA's excel at noticing the flaws that others might miss, and this combination of inherent responsibility + attention to detail +analytical mindset makes them appear both as excellent problem finders and problem solvers.
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With our product specialist Ksenia