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Ask the Experts: QA 4eva?

In the latest advice column from GameCareerGuide, a reader admits to working in quality assurance testing for nearly ten years, and by golly, isn’t that enough already? Jennifer Bullard, a senior producer at Aspyr
In the latest advice column from GameCareerGuide, a reader admits to working in quality assurance testing for nearly ten years, and by golly, isn’t that enough already? Jennifer Bullard, a senior producer at Aspyr Media and Jill Duffy, editor of GameCareerGuide, share their advice about how to advance a dead-end career. Gamasutra, which is affiliated with GameCareerGuide, is also running this exclusive game industry career advice column. For more advice about breaking into the game development industry, visit GameCareerGuide’s Getting Started section. Dear Experts, Most people would cringe at the amount of time I've spent in QA -- almost 10 years -- but I've long held the dream that I would someday get an opportunity to contribute to game design. I've been able to work into a management position, and even got the opportunity to pitch, but all this never made me any closer to my goal. It was never my plan to be a QA cog in the machine, and as the years roll by, I'm considering leaving the machine altogether. The obvious reason for my lack of success may lie in the fact that I didn't specialize in a field that is useful in the industry (BA in English). I came from a place and time where game design was not a curriculum, and gaming was a hobby more than the movement it is today. If I could return to my college years, I would have gone into a different major altogether instead of focusing on one that I believed the industry needed. My question is, should I accept the fact that the opportunity to work in production/development won't come? I realize that there is always the chance that I'll get my break, but after working at the bottom rung for so long, sometimes it's better to find another ladder to climb. Thanks for listening, Tester of All, Designer of None Dear Tester of All, I was hanging out with some game developers the other day and asked them what advice they might have for you; and the answer was ... that they had more questions. We need a little more info: 1. What is your title in the QA department? 2. What kind of game testing are you doing? 3. What platform(s) have you tested for? 4. Have you been at the same company this whole time? 5. Have you considered a job in production? If you answer those questions briefly, I think we can offer you some pretty good advice. Let me know if you still need an opinion! And thanks for reading! Jill Duffy Editor-in-Chief, GameCareerGuide.com Then What Happened? That was the initial back-and-forth between Tester of All and me. To protect Tester’s identity, we won’t share all her or his details here, but we will share the essential stuff. Tester worked for more than two companies and has had a “lead” title. Tester mostly did compliancy testing -- ensuring titles follow the console-makers' standards, including play through and gameplay testing. Tester worked on six platforms, three of which are of the most recent generation. Tester has had six years at one company, a few years with others previously. Tester has always considered a job in production but I has not had the technical experience that was required for the job openings that were available. Help is On the Way When I mentioned Tester’s situation, one of the immediate reactions a few developers had was, “If s/he’s been at the same company a while, it may be time to switch companies.” That’s decent advice in general. Once you’re in the industry, it’s much easier to find another industry job than if you have no experience whatsoever, especially if you work those connections! But I was able to get some even better and more specific advice from someone who herself used to work in QA and is now in production. Jennifer Bullard is a senior producer at Aspyr Media, but has previously worked in not only QA but game design as well, before becoming a producer. Bullard’s first piece of advice is to know exactly what you want. In your signature, you wrote “Designer of none,” but in your letter, you said you wanted to be a producer. “There are two distinct career paths, and both groups can get a bit ornery if you aren’t particularly interested in their path over another,” Bullard says. “My basic advice is to figure out which one is the most attractive and start working towards that career.” Despite whether you have regrets about your previous educational choices, there’s always time to learn more. You don’t have to have an undergraduate degree in a subject to have learned about it. “It is never too late to go back and get the appropriate training,” Bullard adds. “For example, if game design is the career path you feel passionately about, then start training yourself in editors. Making levels in published editors is the way to wow future employers. Understand scripting languages by taking classes in Lua, Java, Python, or other designer-based languages,” Bullard says. “Play everything and anything that you can get your hands on and understand why games succeed and why they fail. Designers understand underlying mechanics of what makes a game fun and quickly find the formula for excellent entertainment.” On the other hand, if you’re geared toward a production job, there are loads of training courses, certificates, and professional or technical degrees that could boost your resume. “For production,” says Bullard, “it’s all about communication and management. If you do not have much formal training in project or personnel management, then try getting some certifications. PMP (project management professional) or Scrum Master Certification are good ways to flesh out your skill set. Start the meet and greet process with other producers and flat out ask them what it would take for them to hire you.” She also says it doesn’t hurt to smarten up your appearance. “Present yourself in a positive and professional manner. In a world of t-shirts and shorts, producers regularly stand out in business casual attire.” If none of this advice is really ringing strongly for you, Tester, it might simply be time for you to jump ship. “If your current company doesn’t seem to take notice or express any interest in the changes you make, then it is time to move on,” says Bullard. “Don’t accept another QA job; keep looking until you can find something that is in the career path of your choice. If you have been in the industry for 10 years, it is time to tap into those who worked with you in QA and are now in different career paths. Reach out to them, mentioning you wish to get out of QA and into something new.” Work those connections! Jen Bullard and I both wish you the best of luck. Let us know how it goes! [Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of GameCareerGuide.com, senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine, and content manager for the Game Career Seminar series. If you have a question about careers in the game development industry that you’d like to see answered in this bi-weekly column, email it to [email protected]]

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