Thursday, April 29, 2010

As I Explain Myself...

I'm assuming that if you are visiting this little corner of the web, you are at least somewhat interested in my plight and wondering just what the hell I'm doing.

I'm hip.

I am 57 years old, soon to be 58. I have been mostly unemployed since mid-April 2004. I've had a few small contract positions but they have been limited duration and small pay. During this period I have lived outside Tampa, FL and San Antonio, TX and am now back outside Tampa again. Each day, I check the jobs on Monster, HotJobs, and Craig's List. I don't even bother to apply if I don't think I'm at least a 90% match for the stated job requirements.

Here's part of my problem. I do have a couple of holes in my skill set. Although I have a Computer Science degree, I realized very early on that I did not have the patience and skills to be a programmer. The vast majority of Software Quality Assurance positions are looking for a "QA Programmer" or Automated Tester experience. I have had some training with one of the auto testing tools (SilkTest), but have not actually used it in real life (other than reviewing runs for regression testing). Another problem I have is because of the work I've done for various state and local government social service applications, I have not had much access to the most commonly used development tool sets such as Mercury and Rational. What little access I have had with them has been quite useful but few social service agencies have the funds to purchase the tools. Frequently, I joined a project as it was within a couple of months of starting formal testing with the instructions of "You're running the testing of this. We don't have a test plan, here's a document that is the closest thing we have to a requirements document. We don't have any defect tracking and oh yeah, testing starts next week. Have fun!"

My strengths are in Process/Procedure QA and manual testing. But those strengths can also be weaknesses. When it comes to enforcing Policies and Procedures, I am a very black and white person.

This is what you say you are doing. Show me the evidence that you are doing this then show me the evidence that it works effectively.

A lot of firms say they believe in a strong Quality Assurance program but then, unfortunately for the reputation of the QA department, they find folks that can be steam rolled and place them in QA. This leads to another one of my problems. I can be a real pain in the a**. I have worked on a lot of programs where management at various levels did not appreciate being told bad news. My work career has spanned from direct federal employment as part of Defense Contracts Administration Services (DCAS) through working as a support contractor on various DoD projects to an "independent QA" attached to a development team to QA and Independent Validation & Verification (IV&V) contractor for State and Local government social service organizations. There have been multiple projects, where I was a QA or IV&V contractor monitoring the development work done by another contractor. In most of these, I was required to provide reports to the program office on the progress of the application under development and recommend whether the application was ready to be formally rolled out to the user community. At least twice, I and my management reported that the application should not roll out on the then current schedule and explained the problems and the impact. Both times, we were overruled (since both times, the application had already had a failed roll out so the project manager was under both schedule and funding pressure to get something out the door). After being overruled in these projects, I was moved on to other projects. Both times the projects were rolled out on the original schedule. Both times, the application had to be pulled back within a month after fielding as everything we had said would go wrong did go wrong and became headlines in the local newspapers.

During the past few years, I've had a number of job interviews that I thought went well then was told later "Well, you are very strong on QA with some knowledge of [Telephony/Medical Services/Social Services/whatever] but we decided to go with this other person who had a little QA experience but a lot more [Telephony/Medical Services/Social Services/whatever]." As someone who does consider himself a professional in quality assurance, I find that insulting to me and my profession but this goes back to the lack of respect often shown for QA.

So, I'm dealing with problems of all sorts, some self-inflicted, some because of my personality, and some totally out of my control (like other folks' built in biases). And I haven't even touched on the impact of off-shoring.

So this is where I am today and part of the impulse to create a Facebook group. There are a lot of other folks in similar situations to me, a little older, maybe even a little wiser, hit by the economy, and the corporate urge to down-size or off shore. With a little bit of luck, I can raise the awareness of this issue in a way that might make some folks laugh but get the message.

So thanks for listening and please do stop by again. I promise not all the posts will be quite this serious.

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