QUALITY IN THE FIRST PERSON
From Software Programmer to Quality Pro: The Road Less Traveled
by Angelica Arceneaux-Dobson
Like many quality professionals, I did not intend to become one. I started out with the selfish goal of looking for improvements that would benefit me.
I began my career with IBM. Although my job title was software programmer, my assignment was to be a functional tester for a computer aided software engineering product. At the time, IBM was using the waterfall model for software development, and functional testers were not involved until after the coding was done and a build (the final result after all source code is converted to executable code) was available for testing. In other words, functional testers worked with what would be very close to the final product.
However, there were problems in the development of new technology that often slowed the process and delayed the availability of the builds.
To my surprise as a young college graduate, I was still expected to meet my deadlines, because we still had to make the release date. Many of the features assigned to me to test appeared to be incomplete. There were input fields that would not take input and capabilities defined in the functional specifications that were not available.
This made me question what was going on. How could all these problems still exist at this point in the development cycle, I asked? Shouldn’t someone have checked these things before the code was delivered to me? I was frustrated by the answer I received from my colleagues: “That’s just the way things work.”
I went to my manager with concerns and questions about the process. Without my knowledge, I had just opened the door to my career as a quality professional.
From that point on, although programming was still my primary responsibility, process improvement became my secondary responsibility. I found this combination of responsibilities mutually beneficial for me and the company. I was appointed to the process improvement team and designated the subgroup leader for the functional test process. My role was to first document the current process and then work with our team to improve it.
Because my primary responsibility was still functional testing, I had a vested interest in identifying improvements that would positively impact my own day-to-day job responsibilities as well as those of my team members. This experience instilled in me the idea that process improvement should always help improve the day-to-day work environment of the customers and suppliers of the process. Improvements included eliminating unneeded activities, automating routine tasks or making information easier to find and document.
Now, 16 years later, helping implement and improve new processes is my primary responsibility. When I started on my journey, software quality was not considered a desirable career path for someone who had the skills to be a programmer. My husband and many others have often asked me why I stayed on this path. It did not make sense—there was more money and prestige in becoming a software developer.
Honestly, at first, I myself wasn’t quite sure why I stayed on the path. After all, I was smart, and most people did not appreciate what I was doing at the time.
Nevertheless, I didn’t change my path. After a few years, I could clearly see why: I could not only help better my own life, I could also better the lives of those around me. The smiles and thanks I received after helping someone else gave me a sense of satisfaction and pride.
Over the years, I have applied the same principles I use on my job to my personal life, including how to request and receive better services from my son’s school. My quality journey has taught me that we are all someone’s customer or supplier. Whether they are written or implied, we all have requirements we expect to be satisfied. Quality and customer satisfaction are at the heart of all facets of life.
Looking back, I can associate my quality journey with a passage from the poem “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.1
Although my journey started out based on selfishness, I am thankful for the positive impact it has had on my life and the lives of those around me.
- 1. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Mountain Interval, H. Holt and Company, 1921.
ANGELICA ARCENEAUX-DOBSON is a program manager in the total quality management group at i2 Technologies in Dallas. She has a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Grambling State University in Grambling, LA, and is a Senior Member of ASQ.