How I Started my Career as a QA Engineer

Meet Natasha Rollason, QA Engineer at Sidetrade, and graduate of Sidetrade Code Academy 2019. We sat down with her to discuss how she got started in her career, how she overcame the initial imposter syndrome, and her advice to anyone looking to start their own career in tech.

Photo of Natasha smiling and wearing a red jumper whilst sat at a desk typing on a laptop.
Image by Sidetrade

How did you first get into your line of work?

I have always had an interest in STEM subjects. I studied Physics at university and had the opportunity to take a module on coding. This gave me my first look into coding and opened me up to the possibility of a career in code.

After university I got a part-time retail job and had been working there for about a year when I came across Sidetrade Code Academy in Birmingham, UK.

Initially, I worried that my coding experience wouldn’t make the cut, given that Sidetrade was looking to hire graduates from the programme… I thought surely they’d prioritise people who had much more experience in programming than me?

But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. It became clear from the very beginning of me applying to the programme that the organisers were much more interested in applicants’ attitude and passion for learning, than what was on their CV.

Whilst I had of course had some coding experience, there were others on the course that had absolutely zero experience in it and who were also offered full time roles at Sidetrade at graduation.

Four weeks isn’t very long… is that really enough time to prepare yourself for a coding skills-based role?

It’s amazing how much you can learn in just four weeks to be honest. I came away from the programme feeling far more confident in not only my coding abilities, but also my professional skillset than I thought I would.

Before starting the programme, I had no idea how websites were built or the different elements to it. But throughout the course I got the chance to learn all of that and see it in action. So not only did I feel technically more adept, I also felt a lot more confident in my understanding of professional applications and how businesses work.

What’s more, because there’s a mix of in person and remote elements to the course, I had plenty of opportunities to engage with Sidetrade’s team of engineers who were running the programme. I also got really valuable insight into what it would be like to work at Sidetrade, so when they offered me my full time role, I was already convinced it was a company and a team I wanted to work with.

What role did you take on at Sidetrade at graduation of the programme?

When I applied for the programme, I had assumed that if I was going to be offered a job at the end, that it would be as a software engineer. But I was actually offered a role as a QA tester instead.

Because you work so closely with the Sidetrade Code Academy programme leads, and provide ongoing mentorship and support, they are able to recognise the strengths of participants, and get a sense of where they would best fit within the organisation.

This aspect of the programme really gave me an added boost of confidence that I was going in the right direction with my career; it was very clear that the team had faith in me and my abilities and this wouldn’t be the case if I’d simply just applied to a job and gone through the standard interview process.

Since you graduated from Sidetrade Code Academy three years ago, how has your role evolved?

I’ve learnt so much over these last three years at Sidetrade and been able to build on everything I learnt through Sidetrade Code Academy.

I’ve grown in confidence in my coding and automation skills, taken on more responsibilities, and I’m even now reviewing and critiquing other peoples’ code.

And the learning and development opportunities didn’t stop after I graduated the course either: in fact I’ve just completed my International Software Testing Qualifications Board exam (which Sidetrade fully supported me on) and I’m a key member of the QA guild, where we’re given opportunities to explore new technologies on a fortnightly basis alongside senior team members who offer continued mentorship.

Beyond my day-to-day role, I’ve been able to get involved in Sidetrade’s wider corporate initiatives too, including their recent collaboration with Women in Tech Birmingham networking event which I was invited to support organise and promote.

What would be your advice to someone interested in starting a technical skills-based career?

Firstly, and most importantly, make an effort to address any imposter syndrome you may have as early as possible. If you’re going after something you’re excited about, that’s the most important qualification you need to succeed. So, take every opportunity that comes your way, ask for help, and surround yourself by a strong professional support network. Mentors are a fantastic confidence booster!

Secondly, know that you will never stop learning. There’s always something new to get your head around in any technical skills-based career, and for me personally, I think that’s the best part of the job. So don’t get disheartened if you don’t feel like you know everything you need to know straight away; that comes with time, practice and asking plenty of questions.

And that brings me to my third point; don’t be afraid to ask questions from people who are more senior than you. And if you are, just remember that they had to ask these questions too at some point!

And a bonus one for anyone specifically looking at a QA Tester role… Ministry of Testing is your best friend. Take full advantage of this site!

Find out more about the Sidetrade Code Academy in Birmingham (UK) here. Applications for the 2023 programme are open until Wednesday 14 December 2022.

Sidetrade Code Academy logo. Blue background, with white and orange text.
Image by Sidetrade

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Views from the software developers, data scientists and other tech experts at Sidetrade — the global AI-powered Order-To-Cash platform: www.sidetrade.com