As with a lot of people, my first game industry job after graduating from a game arts college was QA at one of the large development/publishing studios.
When I started, with a few other folks, things were made very clear that we were not on the same level as the actual game developers. We were told we could never enter the development area (which was blocked off by keycard access anyway) and that if we ever leave the QA area with a disc of the game we were testing there would be hell to pay.
I was unceremoniously put on a sports game and platform I had no real interest in, and stuffed in a poorly ventilated room full of 500 sweaty nerds in the middle of a crazy warm summer. Still, it wasn’t too bad. The people I worked directly beside were cool enough.
I must have somehow shown that I had a high skill level, because I was shortly singled out (along with one other) to have the great opportunity to be an “integrated tester” for the development team. This meant I’d be leaving the QA area, and getting a desk right beside the programmers and artists.
This was really an amazing opportunity, but came with a few problems. We were never actually given keycard access to the development side, and we essentially had to smuggle out our QA discs in the morning without being seen. This resulted in us hiding our discs in whatever pocket it could fit, and then hanging out by the entrance of the development area waiting for someone to come by so we could sneak in behind them.
We did this for three months, and we were never questioned or caught.
In comparison to the QA area, the development side was shangri-la. There was tons of space and natural light. Top 40 tracks from the past 10 years wafted through the air. There was plenty of washroom facilities that were regularly maintained. On top of that there was free food and snacks a plenty. It was like the promise land, except we weren’t allowed to talk, touch or eat anything because those were for the “real employees.” We were never allowed to forget that we were second or even third class citizens in paradise.
Still, the experience was great and it has no doubt helped me with my career since then.
I’m still in QA, but now lead a small team in a growing company. My goal is to never let the people in QA ever feel like they are less valuable than any other position in the company. And in that sense, I feel I have succeeded to some degree.