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5 reasons NOT to grow your QA department

Honest: There are times when hiring another QA professional isn’t the answer.

The good news: Your development team is producing new features as fast as they can fork them. The bad news: Your QA department, struggling to keep up with the workload, is drowning in a sea of entry fields.

It’s time to hire a new QA tester. Perhaps an entire gauntlet of QA testers, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. Recently, we spoke with QA managers about when to hire a new QA professional. (Answers included, “Because your business is growing;” “because they’re overworked;” and even “because they asked.”) But as it turns out, most of these interviewees were of two minds on the topic. In fact, they stressed that there were reasons to not hire a new QA tester.

While some of you might consider an addition to your QA department with the formula numQATesters = (numDevs+numFeatures)/(5+weWroteTests), there are five good reasons why you might keep your hiring to [hiring = 0].

When you create more (and better) automation

Nothing says, “It’s time to hire a new QA professional” like a large backlog of tests. But before you share the job listing with eager job seekers, determine how the backlog begins…by analyzing QA output.

“QA professionals should be dedicating project time to browser testing and load testing, as well as designing automation and solutions to make that testing easier,” says Christian Lavender, chief product officer of vehicle refinancing platform RateGenius. And that’s exactly what the QA team was doing—but they were taking a whole lotta time doing it.

“The director looked at how [the QA people] were doing their cross-browser testing and realized that they weren’t using one of the most modern tools for that,” says Lavender. Compare this to driving a Model T with driving a Tesla. Both get you where you need to go, but the Tesla can drive itself there.

Once the problem was identified, the solution was easy: “We introduced a new tool to the team and immediately freed up 25% of their time,” says Lavender.

In short: You don’t need to hire more people if you can get tools that can do the job for you. Testing tools — like Functionize — can improve test automation and ease the burden on already-overworked humans.

Result of better test automation: You won’t get a new Secret Santa for the team. You’re going to be stuck—again—with holiday presents from Rob, the amateur entomologist.

When the problem is with development

If your development team has adequate testing, it should be handing over clean-ish versions of their software to the QA team, particularly a version that doesn’t have obvious defects. It’s in the title: quality assurance. Your QA professionals should be assuring quality by pointing out subtle problems. They shouldn’t be bug hunting, like Rob the Amateur Entomologist.

“Check for what the development teams are passing to QA,” Lavender says. “If it was riddled with bugs, and users were having problems, now you know the development teams are not doing enough testing before they pass it to QA.”

If QA regularly spots obvious problems, it means the dev team needs to be more diligent about its due diligence. Do the programmers come from a culture of testing, where checking their code is as important as writing it? If not, it’s time to instill one.

Once your developers get with the program(ming), QA can do a better job. And you won’t need to hire another QA tester to fix these issues.

Result of too many issues from the dev team: Forget QA. You may have to hire another developer to fix these issues. Or perhaps improve the tooling or processes (or both) used in development.

When you train and promote from within

Common sense dictates that when hiring a manager, you look for someone with managerial experience. But not all sense is common. Good hiring managers know that they don’t need to hire someone who ticks every box on a list of requirements. They just need someone who is smart, eager to learn, and takes initiative.

Jessica Salter, people operations manager of Best Response Media, knew it was time to bring in “someone to take responsibility for setting team objectives, so we can expand the team with junior members.”

Rather than onboard someone new, Salter’s company decided to promote from within. Four months prior, it had hired an experienced QA tester. The company ramped up the tester’s responsibilities, and gave her more complex projects to work on, to build up her skill base.

For Lavender, who recently had an employee transfer from the marketing department under his QA wing, hiring from within has a particular advantage. “Sometimes people in a QA position won’t understand the business case behind [their work],” he says. If you hire someone from marketing, you get a QA tester who can think like a customer. And as we know, thinking like a customer is a great skill for a QA professional to have.

Result of transferring in a new QA professional: Lori from Marketing will henceforth be known as Lori from QA.

When you can hire a temp QA tester

Your company is adding a new feature, but it’s only a small tweak to your current product. Or perhaps you have a well-staffed QA team, but you just need a little extra help during crunch time. In these cases, you might not want to hire a new person. Get a temp instead.

Egor Bulyhin, project manager and team lead at consulting firm Smart IT, points out that there are companies dedicated to QA, that is, staffing agencies whose sole remit is to find people who can test cases to your heart’s content, then take their talents elsewhere. Or you can call upon crowdsourcing testing services, if you prefer. You get the help you need without spending weeks, if not months, asking interviewees, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?

And if you’re looking to eventually expand your QA department, you already know and work with that temp—plus, they already know your procedures, your company culture, and who Lori from QA is.

Result of acquiring a temporary hire: Your QA temp will appear one minute and be gone the next, leading your team to question whether they existed in the first place.

When your team is small

When you’re a small startup hoping to become a larger startup hoping to become the next unicorn, you need to be stingy with your resources. With bootstrapping in mind, Colin Ma, the founder of the OC Tech Alliance, suggests that you shouldn’t hire QA testers at all, only developers.

Instead, Ma says, “Have your developers test code,” because it saves you the money you need to keep the lights and the coffee machine on.

Despite the lack of QA, your UX doesn’t have to suffer at this stage, Ma explains. Small but scrappy startups may move fast and break things as much as Facebook does, but “Their user base is, at that point, maybe just 20 to 50 clients.” Because of this, “They have a level of personalization with the client.” The client has a problem? They call you. And you fix it.

This personalization clearly doesn’t scale. But when you’re a tiny lean coding machine, with an emphasis on the lean, you may be able to forgo a QA professional until that funding rolls in.

Result of not having a QA department: The CEO of Your-First-Client Technologies can’t talk to Lori from QA or Rob the Amateur Entomologist. But they do have a direct hotline to your CEO.

If you’re going to expect the developers to write their own test cases, make sure they know how.

by Carol Pinchefsky

Carol Pinchefsky is a freelance writer who writes about technology, science, and geek culture. She lives in New York City with her husband and their books. She can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and carol pinchefsky.com