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Have you wondered what a quality engineer does? This professional who works in the software industry explains that his career is not based on finding and fixing software problems, but rather is about being proactive and preventing problems in the first place. He shares the tough lessons he has learned, like that some co-workers aren't above professional sabotage, and shares his dreams for the future, and how they are tied to a pretty special bottle of wine.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I’ve been both a software and quality engineer in the technology field for the past 10 years. I would describe myself as an ethical, straight-shooter that is detail-oriented.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: Funny you should ask. I actually was helped more in the industry over the years by minorities because they saw the way I was treated as a person by the majority and could identify. A few years ago, then, I took a DNA test and found out that my family was Latin or Hispanic, when they thought for centuries that they were German. Short answer, ethnicity can help or hurt you still as unfortunate as that sounds. Mine hasn’t really helped or hurt me in a large way and I don’t really think I can recall a time where I was discriminated against as a worker. With regard to gender, I’m male, although I don’t think gender really has ever mattered in the software business.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: The biggest misconception that those on the quality side in software have to contend with is that they are somehow all software testers. In fact, most quality engineers will tell you that their work is aimed at preventing problems, not discovering existing problems. With the advent of web-based applications, much of that continues to change, as the quality people need to be better at programming or engineering as well.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I would choose an 8, but only because the industry consolidation has made choice projects less commonplace and salary expectations a little lower. Software can be cyclical, 10 years ago during a major slowdown, executives focused on telling engineers that there may not be a steady stream of money forever, and so if they work because they like to make software, they should stay in the industry, otherwise move on. It still sounds applicable today.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: That is all dependent on schedule. The longer the hours, which happens often on extended projects, the less fun you carry forward with you. When planning is done correctly, however, it is a beautiful thing to see a strong piece of engineering get to market

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: Perhaps. I’ve been fortunate to work with the top minds and engineers around the world in the software industry and therefore have a pretty solid base from which to work on projects using a holistic approach.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I had job offers for 6 figures coming out of high school, owing to specialized mainframe training. I thought I’d go to university and become a businessperson instead. After I graduated, I found myself drawn back to technology. If I had to make changes, I would focus on a more lucrative niche within the technology field.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned that you need to factor sabotage into your return on investment calculations. Working at the largest computer manufacturer in the world and asking people not to interefere with your project is not enough. I’ve walked in on people brazenly sabotaging my laboratory machines, and had others break hardware, change code, and so on. In each example, critical time was lost on a project that either compromised schedule or budget, making our internal customers less happy.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: That while we are human beings, we are still all a type of animal.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: When I was very young, I worked for one of the largest hardware manufacturers in the world. They had a massive problem while I was there with their flagship product. It had to be recalled and I moved into quality from sales to help triage. In those departments, it was a real crisis type of environment. Vendors brought cots in for employees to sleep on. Everyone pitched in to try and win back the market. Pretty soon, they started bringing in experts that would give daily seminars and counseling to those that might be having a hard time continuing. Being one of the toughest guys I know, or think of, I jokingly mentioned in mixed company that I was no longer sure of my confidence and so I might have to go to a seminar. Though intended as a mildly sarcastic statement, it was repeated, spread around, and ended up in a business intelligence database somewhere. After that, even at work today, when someone looks me up in a certain system, I usually get people asking me ‘How is your confidence?’ in a knowing way. I still smile.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: We consistently release products that set a baseline or benchmark for quality, while consistently decreasing the overall budget. Hard to continue to achieve every time, but fun to do.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I can handle anything on the work site that doesn’t include violence or something illegal. I do quit and have quit when I have been subjected to either.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: There have been times where there hasn’t been a balance and my home life or family life has suffered. As the current group of industry executives has matured over the past decade, they have figured out that balance is more important for everyone and have started to make things easier.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: It could range from twenty dollars a day on a virtual project, to over 100,000 dollars a year for people with senior level experience.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I consistently take three weeks a year. I’d like more, but am quite happy with three.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Fewer than you would think. You do need to have significant experience working with computers and many people that aren’t formally educated start out as gamers and then become technicians, and then continue to climb the ladder. Formal education is good for anyone in the industry, however.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Don’t do it with software alone. Make sure that you understand how to apply quality for many products.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I have a winery that we just released a patented wine for that is pretty special. I’d like to be working in software, but devoting more time to developing the vineyard grounds and the reputation of our brand.