Tales from The Trenches Archive

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You get what you pay for.

This Tale From the Trench may make me sound like a douche, though it’s not meant to degrade testers in any way. I’ve been in QA for the last 6+ years so I am a tester by trade. I know what it’s like out there. Hate me if you want, but here’s my story.

I come from a quality assurance background testing all manner of things; hardware, software, firmware, mobile apps, I’ve even static tested electronics with what is essentially a giant taser (which is kind of awesome).  I thought all of that background would help me get into a decent testing position in the gaming industry, which was one of my passions.

HR at the company I sent my information to went ape shit over my resume.  I had barely closed my email after submitting the thing before they scheduled a phone interview (I was moving states and trying to set up a job for after the move).  They told me they rarely get anyone with this kind of experience and they want me to come in for an in-person interview the second I get into town.

The in-person interview went as I expected; they were drooling over the opportunity to have a tester of my skillset on the team.  There was only one hitch they half mumbled at the end of the interview:

“How does nine dollars an hour sound?”

Let me put this into perspective.  I was 25, had a wife and was trying to do adult things like buy a house and plan a family.  My starting salary for an entry-level position in testing at the non-game publisher I started QA for was more than double that.

Long story short, I declined but ran into issues finding other employment so called back to accept later with a few guidelines. Since the pay was only 9 bucks an hour and they could “do nothing” to change it, I wanted to work more than 8 hours a day.  This thrilled them immensely.  I also wanted weekends off, which they begrudgingly gave. I started work the next week.

The end of our 2-day training period, myself and another tester were given a Gold release of one of their most popular titles, a first-person shooter that I won’t name.  Our task was to simply find a single defect that had not been logged in their system against this game.  We had 2 hours to accomplish this.  I found 4 defects in the first 10 minutes.  Literally the second test I performed caused an issue.  My colleague found none over the 2-hour stretch.  In fact, I went ahead and just gave him one of the 3 I hadn’t bothered writing up in the last 15 minutes he had.

Here’s where you may think I’m being a dick.  The following evening when I started testing proper.  I quickly found the caliber of my fellow testers to be…less than stellar.  These were kids in their late teens, living in their parents’ basements for the summer, whose sole qualifications were liking games.  They had no idea about testing methodologies, they had no idea how to be thorough or even to actually TEST.  They simply pushed buttons, watched the results, and raised any issues they maybe encountered.  This in itself is not bad (this is referred to as ad hoc testing, by the way), but you will not find everything that way.

I tested circles around them.  I liked them, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t cocky about it, I simply did my job as usual.  The studio began to complain about money, about not finding all the issues or seeing them and not knowing how to recreate them later, what anyone who tests outside the game industry knows is the basics of testing anything; find, replicate, report.  They weren’t testers, they were just kids playing games.

Needless to say, I had a meeting with management that did not end well.  I did not mean to come off condescending and egotistical.  I simply come from a world where this is in no way an efficient way to test. But even the people I talked to in management were not testers by trade, they came from testing games and didn’t know how (quote, unquote) real testing was done.  My work spoke for itself, they did not want to let me go even after what they saw as blatant insubordination, but the damage was done.  I knew that this game, and all games to come, would simply go out sub-par due to inefficient testing.  I left the company (for a handful of other logistic reasons like money and hours, not just this).

So let me end this with an open call to all testing managers in the game industry: kids that play games will help you find issues, there’s no doubt about it.  Some of them are quite good at what they do.  But without having at least some person who truly knows HOW to test, you are going to have the same issues with testers that you always do. And anyone who does testing as a career knows, 9 bucks an hour just isn’t going to cut it.  If you really want to make a better return on your investments, spend a little more for better people and just have less of them.  I guarantee you, someone who really knows testing will be worth 3 kids that just like games.

Let me also say this to testers who are disenchanted after their experiences in the game industry: If you really do like testing, there are plenty of opportunities out there in the testing world that don’t make you work 16-hour days, work through meals, and sleep under your desks.  And they pay enough for you to actually afford things like groceries and rent.

In short: you get what you pay for.