I am often asked to define QA. Exactly what is it I do for a living? I typically respond with my standard answer that Quality Assurance is the last line of defense between the game developer and the customer. If there is glitch in the game that would ruin the end user’s gaming experience, it is my responsibility to find it. It’s then up to the publisher to value the risk to cost/repair ratio and decide whether or not to fix the bug. The 80/20 rule. This accurate, but analytical, definition of QA is sometimes hard for people to grasp. It wasn’t until my QA skills saved my son’s life that I discovered a way to describe QA with an easy to understand human factor. “How do I do my job?” That’s a tough question to answer because I really don’t know why I see things the way I do. A good Quality Assurance person has a natural ability to find bugs; it’s an inherent knack to spot what is out of place and is not something that can be easily learned. Like a moth to a flame, bugs just show up for good QA testers. A Quality Assurance tester has more fun hunting for mistakes than playing the game and we take far too much pleasure in ruining the developer’s day with the discovery of an off the wall critical bug. One of the most important traits of a good QA person is the ability to see a change, no matter how small, and all the steps that happened prior to reproduce the issue. However, this still doesn’t explain how I do my job. I can’t give you an easy answer but I can provide an example of how being good at observing your surroundings and changes in your environment can make the difference between life and death.
My son was born 3 months early (at 28 weeks) and spent 10 weeks in the hospital. He weighed 2lbs 8ozs and had to be put on special monitors to watch the oxygen saturation in his blood, among other things. This was done using a laser that was clipped to the heel of his foot. If the oxygen level of his blood got too low, they had to increase the amount of oxygen being placed into his Isolet (plastic cased bed). We breathe roughly 22 percent oxygen, normal atmosphere. There were times when his oxygen had to be increased to 80 percent just to keep his oxygen usage within proper ranges.
We spent nearly every waking hour next to his bed. One day I watched as his oxygen dropped too low, setting of an alarm. The nurse raised the oxygen level to bring his blood saturation back up to acceptable levels but a little while later the oxygen saturation was too high and had to be lowered back to the standard atmosphere oxygen levels. This fluctuation is normal for a premature baby. But as the nurse continued to return to raise then lower his oxygen, a warning went off in my head that the intervals between the adjustments were getting shorter. That wasn’t all. I also noticed that each time the nurse had to go to a higher percentage on the oxygen concentration in order to get his levels back to normal.
I kept an eye on the situation to make sure my observation was correct. When I was certain that the periods were becoming shorter and the concentration levels were getting higher, I mentioned the situation to my wife. She asked if I was sure. She trusts my QA skills but this was our son we were talking about. The next alarm went off and the nurse dutifully came over to raise his oxygen levels again. My wife informed the nurse of my observations. The nurse gave me the look of an over concerned parent and was about to brush off my concerns but my wife became adamant that if I saw something, there was something amiss. She explained to the nurse that I am in QA and spend my days looking for the smallest differences in programs or changes in patterns with software. The nurse relented, mostly to drop the pressure from my wife, and called the doctor over. The nurse explained the situation to the doctor who had the same look that I was an over concerned parent, but to appease us he ordered a full blood workup.
Shortly after they took the sample to be tested, a group of people rushed into the NICU and asked us to leave so they could put my son on a respirator. It appeared that I was right. There was something wrong. Due to a lung condition, my son’s lungs could not expel the CO2 in his system. He was slowly dying, suffocating to death, because there was no more room for oxygen in his blood due to the CO2 levels.
In short, my observance to my surroundings and seeing the minor changes between alarms as well as the cause and effects of each, saved my son’s life.
That is QA. The ability to see what is wrong, note everything that is happening at that time and what led up to it and then being able to describe those details to people who can make a difference.