Are QA Analysts Becoming Extinct?
More than one person has observed lately that it seems all the job openings are for automation engineers while QA analyst opportunities are declining. I have also seen discussions about whether automation can replace analysts. Does that mean analysts are becoming extinct?
To test this observation, I visited the Monster, Dice, and CareerBuilder sites—I am sure there are many more—and searched for QA Analyst and QA Engineer. It turns out they might be onto something. The ratio of Analyst to Engineer openings averaged a little less than 1:2. Said another way, there are more than twice as many jobs for engineers as there are for analysts.
There are two ways to interpret these results. One is that companies are replacing analysts with engineers, and the other is that engineers are augmenting instead of replacing analysts. But in either case the pattern is clear: New hires are trending toward engineering. Whether this is a long-term trend is not clear—nor is whether it is necessarily a good thing.
I recently consulted with a company who was determined to replace their analysts with engineers because automation was lacking. The problem was that their applications were highly complex, and their analysts had deep subject matter expertise in the software and industry. Replacing them with engineers might ramp up the automation code but would dumb down the test cases. In the end, their quality would suffer. Subject matter experts really do matter.
And this is a point that seems to be consistently missed: Automated tests aren’t inherently better than manual tests; they are only more efficient and arguably more objective. Not that efficiency and objectivity aren’t benefits—given the time and resource constraints we are all under—but it doesn’t make up for the content of the tests. Thoughtful, well-designed tests are essential to any test strategy.
The risk of focusing exclusively on automation is that quantity becomes a substitute for quality. For example, an engineering manager was touting the thousands of automated unit tests his team executed, but the software would not even install when it reached QA. In my experience, volume is not a virtue. Each test should be targeted, well-designed, and documented. Too many tests can actually become a burden to execute and maintain.
So don’t undersell your analytical QA skills. That doesn’t mean clinging stubbornly to manual testing out of fear that automation will replace you. It means learning how to employ your talents in an environment where the execution of the tests might be automated, but the analysis, design, and review still very much require traditional QA experience and application expertise.
You can expand your understanding of how to exploit automation through data-driven strategies and other techniques, and learn to work hand-in-hand with engineers to deliver the highest quality product possible within the budget and schedule you have—which, in the end, is the best job security insurance there is.