Picture it. Los Angeles. January 2003. I was pounding the internet pavement looking for a paying job when I found a local video game company was hiring testers. Score!
It began with a normal in-person interview. After that, you came in for a week (paid) and learned how to do the job. The week focused on following directions, writing clearly, and remembering guidelines. Surprisingly, it was not about how well you played video games.
At the end of the week, the survivors received their assignment. Teams were not only divided by game, but then by sub-divided by console (X-Box, PlayStation, Nintendo, etc). My assignment was a movie-based game on X-Box that was a few months into the testing process.
SKILL #1: Proactive Problem Solving
Now when I receive a new project or task, I approach it like a video game test. I want to make sure there are no structural issues so that if any problems do arise, they are cosmetic and fixable. First, I look for the obvious flaws. Then, I read it thinking only about all the different things that could go wrong no matter how improbable.
For example, in a game, the character has a choice of weapons. What if the player chooses to only use one for the whole game? Could they still win? When given an assignment, what are the core tools that I need to complete the task? Can I get away with using fewer resources? Do I have access to more resources to complete sooner?
In my current position, this skill has come in handy as I can read through a request, troubleshoot different scenarios, and then respond. I can either ask any clarifying questions to the customer or elaborate on something to the team member handling.
SKILL #2: User Error
When you find a bug in a game, the first thing you do is try to duplicate the scenario. You need to confirm that what happened was repeatable. After that, you see if the bug occurs on another console. Then, you try changing different variables to see if it still is an issue. Finally, you write out all the details. The reason you do this is to make sure that it is an error in the game and not with the system or the user.
Before escalating any issues up the chain of command, I make sure that I completely understand the problem first. I approach it from several angles and make sure I know all the moving parts and why they aren’t moving. This way I can effectively communicate that to the appropriate people so finding a solution happens that much sooner.
Solving issues without escalation is easier using this approach. One avoidable user error is to confirm that everyone looking at a Word document in the same layout. Otherwise, the page numbers are different or not there at all. This prevents people from thinking there is a version control issue or a problem with the document itself.
SKILL #3: Verbose Verbiage
With real estate, it is location, location, location. With everything else, it is communication, communication, communication.
After you have ruled out user error, you need to write up the issue to the programmers. This is the part that a lot of people failed in the week long interview. While the temptation would be to write, “if you kill a character with lightning on level two, the game crashes.” Any number of scenarios can cause a bug so the description needs to be far more detailed. This way they can know exactly what happened.
When working with a team, you need to have everyone on the same page. This helps eliminate interpretation if it is clear and concise writing. For example, you tell the team you need a project back by “early afternoon.” You think this means by 1 p.m. but the team takes it to mean before 3 p.m. If the meeting is at 2 p.m., there could be a problem. If the team is working in another time zone, that problem could be even worse. A few extra keystrokes and everyone can understand the issue.
If you work in a specialized field, word choice can be imperative. Some customers throw the word “proposal” out casually. For example, there is a different procedure when working on a proposal that is a response to an RFP versus a simple presentation proposing something. Once, I received a one-page agenda they said was a proposal. They explained, “it is a proposal of what we would like to discuss at our meeting.”
SKILL #4: Friday Fun
You lose morale, you lose the ship. Now, morale boosting doesn’t always need to come from management to keep a team going. It doesn’t have to cost anything. It just needs to be genuine.
One of the teams was working on a game that had been testing for more than a year with no end in sight. Everyone was super burnt out on the game. Yet, they had a great time a much lower turnover than the other teams. A team member organized a coloring contest during lunch on Fridays. It was fun to see everyone concentrating and laughing as they colored while they ate. It ended the week in a good place and made all the other teams want to be more like them.
With my current job, I send out a Friday Fun email. It is one email that my team gets that is not asking them to do anything, remind them of anything, or anything work related. It has the list of movies opening that weekend with links to the trailers, an inspirational quote, minimum of two cute/fluffy animals, and then a couple of funny photos, memes, or jokes. It was only for my team at first, but as word spread, more people are now on the list.
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “A skill’s a skill, no matter how small.” You may start your career far from where you want to end up, but you can always learn something as you level up.