Natalia Atif is a QA Lead who has over 10 years worth of experience in Quality Assurance. She has worked at Apple, Intel, and ItsOn, and she is now one of our instructors. Natalia started her QA career back in 2010, and from that moment on she’s gone from strength to strength in her various roles. We caught up with Natalia to hear about how she started out in the big wide world of tech, to learn more about her love of QA, and to find out about her job at Apple.
You’ve got more than ten years worth of experience in QA, how did your career start?
That’s a gripping story!
When I was little I told everyone that I would never ever work in an office. I didn’t think that I was an office person and I wanted to be a flight attendant. I got a job working as a tour manager in Ukraine and then I moved abroad.
I moved to the US afterwards and I realized that I had a lot of bills to pay, but I had trouble finding work as my English language wasn’t quite good enough. At that time I was 22 years old, I had a young child and there were a lot of expenses. I had to change my lifestyle to feed my family.
I started talking to my Russian-speaking friends about my concerns and they started telling me about QA, because they all worked in QA.
They were always talking about QA, and they started convincing me that this kind of job would be a good field for me to get into, it even had good salary rates. They kept trying to persuade me for a long time, but I was holding back because I had a fear of office work. I wanted to stick to my dream of flying around and writing books.
When things got really bad, I started considering this career a lot more. I self-studied because there weren’t many QA schools at that time. And the school that was in my area was too expensive. I studied a lot and I tried to get a job.
It took me over two years to find a job. I believe that I didn’t have enough basic QA knowledge to get a job to begin with. My education wasn’t anything like the education our students get at JobEasy. I suppose if I had the backing of a school like JobEasy I would have succeeded faster.
Why do you still like working in QA?
The IT industry appeals to me because it’s full of opportunities, innovation, and the possibility to learn about something that’s not on the market yet. And I like to stay informed.
Another thing is salary. I don’t have money worries anymore because the job I have offers me a really great salary. I’ve stopped looking at the price tags in shops, and I don’t think about my bank balance, because I know that with my salary I can pay for my basic needs and even more.
What made me stay in IT? The amazing potential for career growth. When you start working in QA you can change your role in no time at all, which is really appealing.
What do you do as a QA manager?
I currently have a team of 6 QA engineers working with me. They write code, because I can’t. We do manual and automated testing, and our department is responsible for product quality. We are very focused on the end-user.
Our day typically looks like this: we start with a testing plan, and we set the technologies and test types up. We make forecasts, we define where we are now and what we need to do. We get on with the tasks, and when we are happy with the product we give the green go-ahead light and the product goes to the customer.
I actually created my team and department.
How so, you might ask? Well, I was the first person the company I work for hired, and it was my job to hire other people.
As a manager it is my duty to train my team up. In fact, in the place where I work, we use very complex technology, so it’s imperative to make sure that everyone in my team understands exactly what is going on. We can’t go handing out rubbish to customers.
I also attend many meetings and I have many more managerial responsibilities.
You formed your team from scratch, tell us about this?
First I had to decide what qualities I wanted in my team, then I looked at candidates who suited these requirements. I needed people who could work in either a client-oriented or technology-oriented testing setting, with coding knowledge, and API testing experience.
Further to this, I needed individuals who were able to test out applications from a customer’s viewpoint.
I guess, I knew who I needed beforehand and I made sure I found the right people.
In total I needed six people.
During the recruitment process, I paid attention to what the individuals said they could do. And I paid special attention to their ability to learn. As a manager, I couldn’t expect people to know everything, as there isn’t a single person in the world who knows everything well. On the other hand, there are people who are able to learn quickly, and I was searching for specialists who could learn and manage without me, if need be.
I also wanted a team of individuals who were easy to work with, and individuals who didn’t need too much supervision. I mean, in the IT industry managers aren’t going to be standing next to you for hours on end, you’ve got to be able to work alone. And you should be able to manage your workflow yourself.
Basically, you’ve got to think of a manager as your supervisor. Someone that you meet once a week for a 20-minute chat, where you answer some simple questions like “How are you?” or “Do you need any help?”
What skills do you need as a QA tester?
Some hard skills are required, and knowledge of the basics.
There is no time to explain basic skills. You need somebody who understands responsibilities, and someone who knows what quality assurance is. Other things will be learned in the process.
Analytical thinking is also desirable. I mean, you cannot just tell someone that something doesn’t work, you have to think about why it doesn’t work, and then you need to spend some time finding a possible solution.
How can someone achieve career growth?
Become a tester as this is the fastest way to join the IT industry.
Then you need to choose what type of career growth you want. Basically, there are two choices in QA: management and automated testing.
There are people who do manual testing all their life, but they're a minority. Typically, if a person can learn to code very quickly, and are good at it, then the next step for them is to move into automation. It’s a good, well-paid field and worth trying.
Then there are people like me who cannot code. I started learning Java and Python but I wasn’t very successful at this. I can do some basic stuff but not much more. It’s not obligatory for a manager to code, because they don’t do it. But, as you can see, you don’t have to code to achieve career growth.
Career growth may go like this:
- QA engineer
- QA lead (not a manager yet but senior worker on the project)
- QA manager
- QA director (head of QA, the one who doesn’t code but knows what the departments should do, and is able to hire a team of professionals)
I chose management because I prefer communication to coding. And this field offers me a lot of opportunities depending on what I can and want to do in the future.
When you work in IT you learn about what interests you and what doesn’t. So, you’ll know what you want to do and when.
Moreover, you might find that you can grow within the company you are working in. Sometimes a job opening comes up and you want to try for it. And, if you communicate your interests to your managers they will give you a chance to grow. Plus, in some cases if you’re a valued employee, the company you work for may pay for your further studies to help you grow within the company.
This happened to a friend of mine, she is a trained Psychologist, but she decided that she wanted to try something new. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to work in medicine all her life, so she asked me about my job. She was very interested in QA after this chat. She attended a QA school in Kyiv, Ukraine, and she found a job in QA shortly afterwards.
The company was incredibly pleased with her work, and after a while they relocated her to the central office in Norway. During this time she worked as a QA engineer, and then as a QA lead. But, lately she decided to switch to a role within Program Management. Before doing anything, she spoke with her manager about her intentions. The company is now going to pay for her studies, and soon she will become a Program Manager in the company.
So, it’s worth chatting with your managers about career growth.
Other directions you could choose are program management, project management, developers, and SCRUM master roles.
IT doesn’t seem to have many female workers, do you think this is an issue?
I had a friend in one company and he kept saying we become genderless the moment we go into a company. There are no men or women, but there are product managers, designers, and QA engineers, etc.
All IT companies are results-driven and your gender doesn’t really matter. It’s important to do your job well and if you do it well, then the company will reward you.
Indeed, the number of women working in IT companies is low, but it’s changing now.
IT is very specific, and some roles require you to work night shifts in order to complete projects on time. Women sometimes prefer more stable jobs, where you work during the day, so that they can go home to take care of their home and kids at night. So, the jobs aren’t always suitable, but as I said, things are changing now.
I have found that women are more creative, and because of this reason, they often find themselves working in design and management roles, while men are found in more analytical-based roles.
When I was hiring my team I didn’t think about gender at all. I was looking for the right person with the right skills for the job. We also have an equal number of men and women on the team.
Let’s talk about teaching. When did you decide to become a teacher and what do you like about it?
I have always been into teaching.
But before I became an actual teacher, I worked face-to-face with people and managed small groups.
Max offered me a teaching position and I agreed immediately. If you know something, you have to share your knowledge with others.
I see the feedback we get from our students, and being able to help them in some small way is what inspires me the most.
You mentioned your hobby is writing, tell us more about it.
When I studied at school I was always writing my essays really fast. I mean, I could write up to three essays in one class. I guess, I just didn’t understand how some students could only write a line or two in an hour.
I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I like to share my hobby with others who have similar interests.
I write on Facebook using the hashtag ‘from bartender to manager’. This is where I share some insights on my career and where I am now. I write articles for papers and magazines too.
I hope to write a book one day.
What were your first lot of interviews like? Do you have any tips?
I failed all of my interviews to start off with.
I even stopped believing in myself at one point. I thought that I would never find a job in IT. I guess, I didn’t have enough QA knowledge and I wasn't too good at using the English language. These were the main reasons why I was so unsuccessful.
Eventually I joined a garage startup. There were two developers, a CEO and me. They took me on because I was very persistent. At the time I was ready to work for free because I needed to gain some experience. I was driving very far every single day, and almost all my salary was spent on gas. For a few months I wrote documents and I did everything I could.
I then got an offer at Apple and went to work there.
The company I worked for before is now very successful. They generate huge sales every year and they’ve got many devices on the market. A few years later they invited me to join them again, but I said no.
Any new start is difficult, but you have to be confident, and you’ve got to persuade the employer that they need you! I strongly recommend that you don’t give up after your first lot of interviews. I mean, every ‘no’ you get is basically a step closer to a ‘yes’.
Make sure a manager believes in you and the value you could bring to the company.
You just have to keep searching for jobs, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
You may not be entirely happy in your very first job, but it’ll help you when you go looking for your next job. Looking back at the first job I had, I wasn’t satisfied with the salary, but I gained invaluable experience that helped me to get a job at Apple.
What is it like to work at Apple? And how did you get your job at Apple?
Working at Apple was like a dream come true. It’s almost impossible to get a job at Apple if you don’t know someone in the company. I was very lucky.
Before Apple, I didn’t earn much money. I did some QA work and in my free time I was a model. I had a profile on Vkontakte [social networking site], and I did get work through this site.
I got a contract at Apple because they urgently needed somebody, and just two days after applying I started my job there.
It was a pleasure to work at Apple, the processes were smooth and it was a comfortable environment. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that I could spread my wings enough at Apple, and that’s why I decided to go to work on a startup project.
Apple, Intel, Facebook, and Google are all good names to add to your resume. It’s like a whole new level of coolness when you can add them to your profile, and anyone will take you on because of it.
I am grateful to Apple because I learned a lot there.
I’m very happy working in my startup now and I get to learn something new all the time. The last five years have been amazing and now I’m a manager - which is cool in itself.
What would you say to people who are unsure about taking up a career in QA?
I doubted whether a career in QA would work out for me too.
But a career in QA changed my life. I only knew the basics when I started out, but still found the perfect job and I realized my true potential in this field. Plus, I earn a good salary.
Moreover, there are so many amazing online courses out there today, so you’re guaranteed a top class education from instructors that really know their stuff too. I didn’t get this when I started out, so you’re all so lucky to be learning QA today!
Finally, when you work in IT, you’ve got to be prepared to keep trying new things and learning all the time. But it’s well worth it.