Playable Profile: Meet Davina, our Lead Quality Assurance Engineer

Welcome to our latest Playable Profile with our Lead QA Engineer, Davina! We chat about her career outside of the game industry and the specific challenges that face QA in tech and game development! If you’ve ever wondered what quality assurance is, Davina provides a fantastic look into what it’s like!

VioletLight: Let’s get started! Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your role at Playable Worlds?

Davina: I'm the Lead Quality Assurance Engineer at Playable Worlds. My role is to lead testing all aspects of the game, finding bugs so that we don't ship a buggy product that pisses our customers off.

V: How did you initially get into QA? I know that this is your first foray into the game industry, so what industry were you in before Playable Worlds?

D: I’ve always been on the general tech side of things. I've been doing this for more than 25 years, which obviously spans across several companies. The most recent company that I was at wrote IT finance software; this could not possibly be more different from that.

I've had to learn a ton. I brought my QA expertise to Playable Worlds, but a lot of my experience has not been transferable. I've had to learn C# and TypeScript, it's learning every single day.

V: Do you find that to be a fun challenge?

D: Love it! QA work can get really repetitive and boring, and I’m definitely not bored here.

V: What are some differences between QA in the game industry versus the other industries that you’ve been in?

D: Because of my role, I tend to not see the big picture as much as other people do, I get really down in the weeds. The biggest difference is the type of testing. I've worked on a lot of web applications, and writing automated tests against web applications is completely different from writing automated tests against a Unity-based game. Soon now, I have heard that we are going to write some REST services, and I can test those in my sleep. So there's some overlap there with stuff that I've already done.

V: Do you have a favorite aspect of what you have learned since starting at Playable Worlds?

D: I would say basically everything I'm working on. Primarily, I am writing test automation against the script API, and it’s really rewarding because it allows me to see what I have coded in-game. For me to have made something happen in-game programmatically is really cool.

V: That's super cool. Do you have a rewarding or challenging experience during your career that you’d like to share?

D: In the tech industry, though not at Playable Worlds, QA is generally regarded as second class and treated as such. I've also come to realize that sexism has played into this a great deal. A major challenge in every job I've had except this one has been earning the respect of the developers. At previous companies, they've always assumed that I'm an idiot and I have no idea what I'm doing. I've always had to prove myself to every developer that I ever worked with, starting over again from scratch. But it's always worked because I'm really good at my job.

V: That helps for sure, but that's so frustrating because you shouldn't have to have to prove yourself at every single job that you've had. People should just accept your knowledge and expertise.

D: A couple of things that really sold me on Playable Worlds was bringing QA in so early in the process. I've never seen that happen on a project. Also, that as the QA Lead I am at the same level as the other leads, like the client lead and the server lead. This just showed me that Playable Worlds has a lot of respect for QA. I haven't had to prove myself over and over again, people assume I know how to do my job, and for the most part, they just let me do it.

V: I know that you were not really a gamer when you started here. Have you kind of delved into playing games more? And if so, has that helped your role at all?

D: I keep trying, but I don't enjoy the video games I’ve tried so far. My older child was telling me about JRPGs so I went on to Steam and just found one whose visual I liked. I was enjoying that until I hit a scene with casual violence against women, immediately followed by a fatphobic one, so I just stopped playing. Maybe I'll try another JRPG, I don't really know.

A lot of people at Playable Worlds have really jumped in to suggest games of all different genres for me to try. People really want me to be a gamer, but at the same time, they are always telling me that I bring a valuable viewpoint as a non-gamer.

V: That is true, maybe you shouldn't play games to keep that perspective. [laughs]

What hobbies are you interested in?

D: I have pets that keep me pretty occupied - my dog, my two adult cats, and my two new kittens.

I'd say my main hobby is painting. I enjoy painting with acrylics. I have a couple of pieces I've done that I'm really proud of and a lot of stuff that was just fun to paint but doesn't look terrific.

V: It's more about the fun of it, really. What kind of things do you like to paint?

D: I paint abstracts and florals.

V: Did you paint that cool mural behind you?

The readers can’t see, but Davina has a beautifully painted color-block wall behind her.

D: Yeah, I painted the mural. That's one of the styles of painting that I do is the blocks.

V: I love that so much!

What advice would you give for someone trying to get into QA?

D: Well, that's an interesting question, because you're never going to meet an eight-year-old who says, I want to be QA when I grow up. People who are going into school for computer science have never heard of QA. I think it's changing, but my experience has been that developers are not even introduced to the idea of QA until they enter the workforce. I fell into it by accident, and that is usually the story that I hear - most people that get into QA come at it sideways.

If someone were to want to specifically get into quality assurance, which I would totally suggest because I love it, either go to school for CS or self-teach or even preferably both. I would say that one of the best qualifications for becoming a QA engineer who writes test automation is to become an excellent programmer. You're still programming even though it might not be customer-facing, it might not be in the game.

I had been an admin, I came in as a black box tester, which was literally a printed piece of paper with test cases on it, like “press this button and make sure it does this thing”. Within six months, I was programming in the GUI Builder that we were testing. I just kept teaching myself from there, went back to school for CS, and came out of that a good programmer and was able to get into being a QA engineer.

V: Interesting. Do you think that computer science classes/degrees should include more about QA as a potential career path?

D: I think that it still has a reputation that it needs to overcome. What I have mostly seen is people who want to be developers, but are considered not good enough. So instead they are hired to write test automation. The result of that is poor test automation. If starting in college they can start removing the stigma of QA as less than and offer it as a career path, I think that would be fantastic. It would improve the software that is out in the world that we find bugs in every single day.

V: Where do you think that stigma comes from?

D: Well, like I said, I started out blackbox testing, and then my career developed from there. My first experience with people not respecting QA was “you people get a piece of paper and push buttons, so you're obviously not terribly bright, and you don't understand things.”

I was adding test cases, fixing broken test cases, and fixing the test applications within the first six months that I was there. So again, I earned people's respect that way. I’d say the industry is responsible for the lack of respect for QA - the industry prioritizes the developer above everyone else, raises them to a godlike status. They have the privilege of looking down on QA. They have the privilege of arguing with QA, and they have the privilege of almost always being sided with, which then further reduces QA in peoples’ estimation. But then companies like Playable Worlds who say “Yay, QA!”, more companies are doing that. That's fantastic.

As a manager, one of the things that I am looking to do is hire people into QA who maybe don’t have a background in it. Because with the right candidate - someone like me -  they could be brought up to speed and be really effective. It involves an enormous amount of creativity.

I love QA. I just love doing it. I love breaking people's code. I get a buzz when I find a new bug.

V: That was really an insightful look into QA, thanks so much for chatting with me, Davina!

I hope that you got a deeper understanding of what it's like to be in QA, and why it's such a great career path in its own right! Be sure to tune in next month for another Playable Profile - we'll just have to see who I chat with next!