Steve Dennis, SQS Director, Training & Conferences Division, talks to BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT about the testing market, related job opportunities, the skills needed by testers and what the future holds for software quality assurance and testing training.

What is your background and how did you get your first job in testing?
I joined SQS in 2000 from NatWest Bank, where I had been heavily involved in a joint venture with IBM to develop and test software testing tools for its bank and clients. Prior to my position with NatWest, I worked for British Airways developing and testing mission-critical software; literally working on systems that kept the planes flying.

I was also lucky to be part of a graduate programme, which gave me an excellent introduction to IT. That graduate programme also shaped my thinking on how SQS will develop its own staff training programme, on which our customer training is based.

What does your current role at SQS involve?

Within my new role as Director of SQS’ Training and Conferences Division, I take responsibility for all training operations across the SQS Group, as well as for its worldwide ignite conferences. I will also spearhead SQS’ continued provision of a wide range of software quality training and courses, as well as seminars on tools for leading vendors such as HP and Microsoft.

Can you give a brief overview of the size of the testing market and job opportunities available?
SQS’ own research, conducted by independent analysts Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC), has confirmed that businesses are already focused on the quality of their IT application landscape. 91 per cent of managers consider software testing and quality assurance to be the most important IT disciplines in their companies. Worldwide, businesses now invest more than 50 billion Euros in application testing and quality assurance every year.

Further proof that testing and quality assurance is a growing market can be seen in the multitude of jobs currently available on major UK IT jobs boards. Advanced technologies like cloud and mobile applications as well as new agile development practices have brought with them a host of challenges and opportunities, so even more jobs will become available within the testing field.

What main skills are necessary for a career in testing and QA?
There are now as many opportunities for specialists as generalists so, depending on the role SQS is recruiting for, we may be searching for individuals with different skill sets.

Most of the time, we are looking for technical expertise and someone who can work alongside architects, developers, database administrators (DBAs), network engineers and operations staff or a domain expert who understands areas like enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or complex business processes. Of course if you can find someone who is able to move between both those camps so much the better.     

In my experience, some of the best testers I’ve worked with are inquisitive people (some may say nosey!), who can dig deeper than face value in order to help the team resolve problems.

Individuals who can present their findings clearly and succinctly, who are flexible, work well in teams and manage their time well will also be likely to succeed. Above all, SQS recruits must have a high attention to detail and a strong belief that quality matters.

What major changes, if any, have affected the skills required to gain a job in testing?
Testing is now firmly accepted as a discipline in its own right. Our study by PAC reported that 86 per cent of IT managers felt that using a third-party testing company speeds up development times and eases the pressure on in-house testing teams. In addition, a full 91 per cent of those same managers stated it was important for software development and testing to be independent of each other.

Testing staff are no longer just the people we throw the system over to for checking before it goes live. We still play a key role there of course but we’re also now more widely involved across the software’s lifecycle, from business analysis and requirements definition through design, development and beyond.

More than ever we need good people who can bring their experience across all areas to the table while applying good testing and quality management practices that improve quality across the whole software development lifecycle.

Equally, non-technical skills are also as important as testing experience and knowledge. SQS now invests as much in the management and personal development skills of our administrative staff as we do in furthering our consultants’ technical expertise.

What does the future hold for software quality and testing training?
We’re seeing the demand for testing and QA training increasing as companies now recognise the benefits of investing in their testing teams.

The International Software Testing Quality Board (ISTQB) has issued over 200,000 certificates in the past 10 years, with certifications doubling between March 2009 and December 2011 alone. I see the number of certified testers continuing to rise as new programmes at Expert Level come to market.

Building the skills of your staff is about more than just gaining accreditation though. Our clients are maturing rapidly, so are looking for a training partner that can work closely with them to create a tailored programme that fits the needs of their business while ensuring best value.

Testing projects’ budgets and timescales remain under close control and many of our clients now have distributed or global teams. As a result, we are working with them to look outside traditional classroom training and, instead, use a blend of alternate delivery methods from coaching and mentoring to virtual classrooms and self-study.

This increases training flexibility and helps our clients make best use of their available budgets. We know we’re on the right track with this approach, as it’s how we train our own consultancy teams.