How to become a QA Engineer: Pavel Konev’s story

Illustration of a gallery with two visitors viewing a large portrait of a man with glasses amidst smaller framed abstract artworks. Illustration of a gallery with two visitors viewing a large portrait of a man with glasses amidst smaller framed abstract artworks.

Hi everyone!

The accidents are not accidental. I want to start my story about how I started to test web apps with this phrase, even though it’s an oxymoron.

I received my first computer when I got 8. It was a New Year’s present for me and my sister. For studies, obviously. Unlike me, my sister really used it for studies. Most of all I, obviously, liked playing computer games. I’m 23 now and work full-time with different technologies and devices but still play as a hobby.

Anyway, I was growing up and started to play around with this computer to try to experimentally understand what it was capable of. After a while I realized that games are programs, which are written by programmers, just like the other programs are. I liked what I’d found out and decided to become a programmer no matter what.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was coding in Pascal and even passed a computer studies exam in the 9th grade. Well, I strived to become an awesome developer and create my own nameofthegame with feature1 and feature2.

As time went on, the moment came to finally decide what I want to be. I was born in a little town in the Ural and was living there for 18 years, so I had no mentor to help me with the choice and naturally thought that to become a programmer (by which I meant a game developer) you need to enter some typical serious university with huge theatre lecture halls.

I finished school in 2013. Physics was required for all the degrees somehow connected with computers. There was no way I would be able to pass it. I was good at IT, but physics and maths weren’t really my things. I was freaking out, but I had to choose my major anyway. I had to apply to university because everybody was doing the same, and the parents and teachers were telling me that it was necessary. Many of you might have had the same situation, might you not?

My school days were nearly over, so for the state exams I chose history and social studies. In summer 2013 I was accepted to SMTU (State Marine Technical University) in Saint-Petersburg and took law as my major dreaming about entering the military department after a year with different major in automation and programming of some systems on some ships. However, I couldn’t even go to my first freshman meeting on September 1st, as on August 31st I got a call from the military recruitment office of my native city. The chairman told me that I was called for a further health screening. Thus, on October 4th, 2013 I got category ‘B’ (fit for the military service with several little restrictions – translator’s note) and in late January got a military ID.

I had mixed feelings: on the one hand, I wasn’t gonna be a soldier for that moment, which was good; on the other hand, I couldn’t join the military department at the university anymore. At that time I understood that studying law at the university specialized in marine engineering was useless. Early May 2014 I passed my exams earlier than required and transferred to the other university – Pushkin Leningrad State University, where I got two degrees.

I was good at studies and graduated from the faculty of law with honors. I had a bunch of plans, for example I wanted to undertake a master’s degree abroad. I even got another degree of an English translator/interpreter for that purpose. As a student I even won a proposed law contest called ‘My Lawmaking Enterprise’ and was rewarded with a medal at the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian legislature – translator’s note.) That sounds funny now, but I was really proud of that at that time! I should admit that I’m not too bad at law and languages and sometimes consult my colleagues on these topics, be it a personal or business issue, and I’m happy to be of use.

Well, you might ask what the heck I’m doing in IT. And I’ll answer that being a lawyer is a hard work: you should work more than 12 hours a day and get very little money for that. If you think that lawyers walk in golden slippers, you’re fundamentally wrong.

It was time for me to start working on my graduation project and I was becoming more and more uneasy about that. The friends of mine who skipped most of the classes because they were working as developers were getting about 800-1000 euro each month. I was paying for my studies by singing in a choir and writing papers and tests for other students for money. I was also working as an office assistant at my faculty, but, all in all, the money was little. I also had a state scholarship for all my good deeds and studies, but it was miniscule 50 euro a month. I began to hate everything around me.

I realized I couldn’t take this anymore. I looked back at my past hobby and soon understood that… I know nothing about it!

Well, that wasn’t a surprise. The life went on and writing in Pascal was just a child’s play. At any rate, I wasn’t ready to give up. I wanted to work in the field interesting for me and not just push papers in some office. For me, working in IT still feels like being on a cool rock concert every day.

I was lucky as I had my own ‘mentors’. I had a lot of friends who had been already working in web development at that time. They always told me ‘Don’t be *** (stupid), just *** (do it)’. The words were stronger, though. I think that I couldn’t have been able to do anything without them. So, guys, if you read it now, I really appreciate your help, I couldn’t go that far without you and I would never believe in myself.

These guys offered me some job. Being a fourth-year student I started testing some of their numerous startups as they … didn’t feel like doing it. They explained to me in general terms how everything worked and should work. Thus, I became a Manual QA Engineer. Simply put, I was just doing primitive testing, but it was a great and desired step for me and my career.

I was a freelancer for some time but then decided that I want to work in a company. My family was going through the dark days: my father had a cancer and I needed money to stop draining my parents’ pockets. This is how I got a job at SushiWOK (food delivery service – translator’s note.)I was working there for almost a year and that is where I began testing web and mobile apps for real. Most of the technologies and principles I use now I was introduced to at that project. I even had a chance to work as a Senior QA Engineer! It was cool: when I started I knew nothing about the project, but in the end I was able to give advice to the developers and managers. My father was gone; I got married. It was time to move on, earn more, help my mother, who, even though she wasn’t completely alone, needed me (and still does) as her son. I began working at some IT company in Saint-Petersburg as a QA Engineer. I still work with web and mobile apps. At this company it became clear for me that the more you know the less you know, anyway.


Can you give some advice that is usually considered to be controversial?

The only thing I can tell newcomers: never give up if you feel that it’s your cup of tea. It might be development, testing, whatever. In the end, if you ever get scared and change your mind, you’ll just watch the life go by.

I always say to my friends who ask me how to become a QA Engineer that you have to be excited and enthusiastic about your job, even though it might sound weird. One of my friends says that ‘you have to do what you love and love what you do.’ If you feel that QA is a burden for you and you don’t really want to trouble yourself studying, I guess you should stop. It’s possible to burn out, but not in the first several weeks or months.

The nature of QA work is that the amount of workload in uneven and depends on the stages of the project. For example, you have a whole lot of free time in the middle of it, but the closer it is to the release, the less you’re going to sleep. You might even lose your days off and the will to live. My personal record was working 12 days in a row (including weekends) for at least 10 hours. On top of that, I was doing some work-related staff from home, too. Our job requires you to invest all your personal time and effort in the product quality and be highly involved in the project. If you don’t, you just waste your time sitting around in the office. Don’t be such a QA Engineer.

By the way, about personal stuff. Share your feelings with friends! I am lucky since almost all my friends are developers with a highly experienced RoR developer and a front-end developer among them. But don’t fret if you don’t have such friends, as this is what mentors exist for. We are ready to give you a tip, lead you, listen to you, try to understand, help and show in what direction you should move to reach your goal.

You need to learn how to be responsible. There is a tendency to estimate the quality of a QA Engineer work by counting the reported bugs, but let’s leave it to boring statistics and reports. You’re the final authority confirming that the product is really of high quality. There is no possibility to write flawless tests or code, bugs always exist. But you should always remember that you’re the product’s last resort, which guarantees its quality. This is what we get paid for, not for the opened and closed tickets.

One more interesting thing: a QA Engineer usually acts as a liaison between the client, management team, developers and… requirements. You need to learn to communicate properly, cut corners, compromise as well as counter everyone’s stubbornness. You need to be objective, but not a boring buzzkill at the same time, so develop your soft skills.

How do you maintain your skills to be relevant? How do you grow and get better as a developer?

At your work you are always going to hear that there is no silver bullet. I want to convey the same message to you. It’s possible for a developer to choose a framework or a technology, master it and use it for the rest of his or her life, but it’s not going to work for a QA Engineer. Every day for you is a number of uncommon challenges as you never know what you may find. My approach here is to look up to more experienced co-workers, familiarize myself with the product I’m working on and have an open mind and generalize received info. Communicating with others and learning how to code is really helpful as you start to understand how internal logic in an app works, how the data is converted and sent. So, basically, my approach is to absorb all the info. There are no multi-purpose guides or manuals about testing which you might use to prepare, so you need to use all the info you can get. It’ll definitely be of use at some point, you just never know what exactly will.

Your top 3 books for a newbie?

Telling the truth, all my experience is just practice and googling. But it doesn’t make me think of myself as a loser :) For the newcoming QA Automation Engineers I would recommend the books of the Head First Series, especially the one about Java.

If you really want to read some books about testing so you wouldn’t say that it’s not for you later, those are the ones I can recommend:

  • Introducing Software Testing by Louise Tamres,
  • Testing .Net Applications by Diane Stottlemyer (it’s really old, but still helpful if you try to understand how web apps work.)

Your top 3 sites/newsletters/information sources that every developer should read?

A very important website where you can find video tutorials with the information about the fundamental principles in QA work and learn some basic skills.

30 Things Every New Software Tester Should Learn:

The article about why testers and QA Engineers need to learn continuously:

Your working area photo

I wish you all success! Believe in yourselves, and when you don’t, open this article and you’ll be able to do anything!