Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Staying hot, a quality assurance quandary, and a no brainer career move

This month: How can I stay all around white-hot in my systems administration career? What does it take to be the best quality assurance engineer out there? And, if it seems too good to be true, is it?

February  1998
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Edgar answers questions about careers in enterprise technologies and quality assurance testing. He also offers last-minute advice for those looking to leave a good job for what looks like an even better one. (1,400 words)

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Dear Edgar,

I have recently been looking into products like Peoplesoft and SAP. I must admit the salaries for this kind of work are impressive. Is it a good plan take one of these routes, changing careers from a traditional Sun/Unix administration background? Or will I be burned a few years down the road?

Staying Hot

Dear Staying Hot,

If you go straight into SAP or Peoplesoft, drop everything else, and don't look back, you could very well get burned. There is no guarantee with certain products and technologies -- that's part of the fun and the risk inherent in this industry.

Years ago, when MVS and COBOL came onto the scene, they were the brightest new technologies, and quickly went on to dominate the industry. But times have changed. If you haven't changed with them, the skills that once made you a star now leave you in the dust.

New enterprisewide software solutions, such as SAP and Peoplesoft, are dominating the markets they've created -- markets which have risen from niche to dominant status. There absolutely is a future here, as traditional LANs move more and more to enterprise networks.

How long these products will remain dominant is difficult to say; but for the time being engineers in this field are in high demand. In all cases, becoming an expert in a particular company product (such as with Oracle or Microsoft software) bears concomitant risks and possibilities of great reward. Peoplesoft and SAP have been hot for the past four or five years. And as long as management of these companies continues to execute and innovate, the rewards will continue.

The important thing to remember is that as long as you continue to have depth in other technologies you'll never become a useless casualty of yesterday's product.


Quality assurance career quandary

Hi Edgar,

I have a master's degree in computer science in India and have been working in a software company as a quality assurance (QA) engineer for the last year.

I have been doing automated testing using VisualTest, component testing using C++, and manual testing. I also write test plans, test specifications, and test procedures.

This is the right time to think seriously about my career. I have decided to make a career in quality assurance. I would like to know three things:

  1. What skills are required from a QA person?
  2. What languages must he or she know?
  3. What should I expect and not expect out of this field?

QA Guy

Dear QA Guy,

Large or small, software development companies must have established testing processes in place to ensure quality code. This is a fundamental part of quality production. In order for any development company to grow into a thriving industry player, testing and QA processes cannot be overlooked. With software development becoming a larger part of the world's economy and more and more code being interconnected via global networks, testing is becoming ever more crucial -- and the demand for such specialists is ever increasing.

Looking at the industry as a whole, there is more and more work being generated around Web-based, enterprise, and connectivity software packages. Microsoft Windows is still the dominant operating system of the front end, while Unix and NT control the back end of most systems.

There are several important aspects to the entire testing and QA process. You have to be familiar with the code you're working with, whether it be an object-oriented language like C++ or relatively simple HTML. The most popular languages out there are C, C++, Visual Basic, and Java. If you know the fundamentals of these, and how to test them, you'll have job security for quite some time.

You also have to be proficient in the various testing tools on the market. A couple that I've seen are QA Partner and XRunner. But sophisticated QA often requires writing your own testing programs. In this way you are, as you know, both a tester and a programmer.

To set yourself apart in the work you do, testing and QA depends less on particular technologies than it does on the entire process. The development shops that consistently crank out the best, tightest software have QA processes that start at the beginning of development and run recursively, checking at several points along the way. Testing is not something that should be done only at the moment before the shrinkwrap goes on -- it's an integral part of development itself.

Good luck with your QA career.

To leave or not to leave -- a no brainer?

Dear Edgar,

I've worked for a large financial services company for the last 15 years, both as a programmer and most recently a supervisor. I have worked mainly in the mainframe COBOL world. Recently I accepted another job within the company working with client/server technology. As a lead analyst on Lotus Notes projects, my business area really depends on me. I have received exceptional reviews and am considered to be the "Notes guru" at this point. All in all, I'm very happy.

But...I've been approached by a media company that wants to hire me to do Notes development. They have some really exciting projects, and almost nothing currently exists in this area.

My mentor recently left the financial company to consult, and he is currently working with this media company to set up their Notes network. I'm excited to have a chance to work with him again, and he's the one who has been pushing the company to make me an offer.

This is a nice quandary to be in. But I want to make sure I'm not overlooking something in this decision-making process. Are there any words of advice that you might offer me? Am I doing the right thing by leaving?

No Brainer?

Dear No Brainer,

When considering such options it's often helpful to take a step back and look at what you're doing and where you're going in terms of your career. There is always a measurable amount of security and marketability for those who stay current with new technologies. This is particularly crucial in the computer industry.

So, take a look at your resume and try to envision it a few years down the road. How will it look if you stay where you are? How will it look if you take this job at a new company? At the end of three years, as a recruiter, who do you think I would most want to talk to?

It seems as though the new job does indeed offer more possibilities to grow and advance your career than does you present job. But before you run blindly into anything, be sure to do your homework. How is this company organized? Will you be given the same freedom and management responsibilities? Is that important to you?

Though he may be a great friend, be wary of simply taking your mentor's word for everything when it comes to the work situation. He's new there too. He may also be so excited to work together again that he's brushing over the less desirable aspects of his new environment in his description. Look into the company and see if you can get in contact with someone who's been working there a little longer than he has. This way you can be confident that the decision was always yours.

Sometimes you're lucky enough to be presented with a win-win situation. Do some work, then trust your gut on this one -- it's a no brainer.


About the author
[Edgar Saadi's photo] Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. He specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employees explore all staffing alternatives. Reach Edgar at

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