From IT to QA

by Gary Wade

Would you like to change career paths? Many magazine articles entice us with thoughts of finding new jobs that will fulfill all our dreams, but how many experienced professionals actually make the jump? I’m one who did.

After nearly 20 years in the IT field I took advantage of an opportunity to move into quality. I made the move to inject some life into a career that had lost much of its luster. The IT field had changed drastically since the time I began as a COBOL programmer. The simple logic of designing and writing programs, which had drawn me to the field, had exploded into a complex, many-headed beast of Microsoft troubled technology that brought little joy.

Many of us find that after 10 or 15 years (or more) spent working in the same discipline, we begin to have thoughts such as “Is this how I want to spend my days for the rest of my working life? Would a change in my career to a different area recharge my attitude toward work—and maybe toward life?”

If you begin to have such thoughts, the one to surely follow is: “Is such a change possible?”

The answer is yes. I found my experience in IT had prepared me well to transition to a new position as quality assurance manager for IT. I have leveraged (I always was impressed with that term in IT seminars but never thought I would actually use it) my many years of IT experience in a new industry and new field.

What experiences of yours are universal? None of us works in a vacuum. For example, by working for seven years in an ISO 9001/QS-9000 environment, I became intimately familiar with quality requirements and disciplines. As many IT employees have done, I led many corrective actions, experienced many audits from the receiving end and developed a wide variety of test plans. I also led IT projects that created quality reporting systems.

Quality is infused into every industry today. Can you do the reverse of what I have done? Can you take your quality experience and transfuse it into a new career path?

The biggest impediment to change is often the dull, relentless inertia of our daily regimen. Are you becoming too comfortable in your current role in your organization? Is your office beginning to feel a bit too cozy?

If you fear making a change, let the fear go. It is surprising—you might think leaving your comfort zone behind would zap your confidence and make you babble like an infant in departmental meetings. It won’t. Be confident in what you have achieved. Confidence will allow you to move up and forward.

It is important to look at such a change as a move up to another career level rather than across. Your career is a series of building blocks, and your current experience is but one block—there are more blocks ahead to build on top of the current one.

It is important to have goals. My goals are to become certified by one of the professional associations and become good at what I do. Pretty simple, but it will take some dedication and effort. Still in the first year of the new job, I feel more like a rookie than a seasoned veteran.

Being in such a position raises many questions. What perspectives from outside the department can I bring to quality? Given that my colleagues are well versed in quality know-how, what are my shortcomings and what to I need to improve on? More importantly, how has the move affected my professional self-esteem? A job should satisfy you on a deep, personal level. Simply because you’ve given a large portion of your career to your present one is no reason to not change.

The experienced quality professional could probably predict the challenges I will soon confront in my new job. Will I be overwhelmed with the volume and complexity of federal and state regulations in my new industry? Will the new terminology and lingo cause me to move at a snail’s pace, missing deadlines? Will it take a long time to become comfortable in my new role? I certainly hope my experience and confidence build quickly, but I will try to remain patient and enjoy the process.

If you can stumble on something that triggers you to change, you can answer yes to the question, “Can I recharge my career?” The grass is not always greener on the other side, but it often is.

GARY WADE is a quality assurance manager for ITxM in Pittsburgh. He has a bachelor’s degree in IT from Pennsylvania State University. Wade is a member of ASQ.

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