QA at Appfolio

TLDR: An ongoing exercise of preventing issues before they become bugs.

Depending on your prior experience with Software Quality Assurance, your perception about what QA is responsible for in the Software Development Life Cycle might range from “What is QA?” to “They are testers”. When it comes to asking the question “at what point of the SDLC does QA get involved?”, all too often organizations rely on the “ready for QA” mindset to dictate when their QA team member is thought of or brought into the mix.  At times, QA might be added at the end of the process -- like frosting on a cake. But, that cake might have questionable cake interior under that questionable frosting!

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Here at AppFolio, we view QA a little differently. Okay, maybe a lot differently. Our goal is to ensure Quality throughout the process; baking Quality into the cake. I love quality cake!

Allow me to share a bit of our approach to Quality Assurance with you. Hummm… where to start?!?

We’ll start with context.  Our teams own the challenges that they are responsible for and, as such, drive the processes of gaining the insight needed to understand the domain and areas of influence for a given problem.  We are working together to come up with the right solution. We are collectively working to build the implementation. We plan and manage the release of the solution to our customers. Additionally, we also help support the solution and monitor the solution’s success. All, collectively as a team.

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Having QA members as active participants on the team gives them insight into every aspect of the process and challenge, thus enabling them to ask the right questions early. By bringing their perspectives and thoughts to the team as soon as possible, QA members help to prevent issues before they become bugs.

One very significant engineering practice that differentiates Appfolio from other software companies and frees QA up to being able to focus on preventing bugs, is that our Developers are responsible for our Test Automation Framework and writing our Automated Tests. Our framework and tests are just as important to us as our production code; it is not an after thought or second class, this is why our engineers with the most expertise in coding are tasked with this responsibility. We will go into more detail on this topic in a future blog post.

We believe that quality starts with the team and is owned by the team. Even though the whole team owns quality, the QA Engineer is the champion of Quality, with a lens focused on:

  • Have our QA Mindset of: Focus on preventing bugs, not just finding them.

  • Identify risks, alert the team and ensure the risks are addressed in some capacity.

  • Exploratory Test as soon as possible, as it makes sense.

  • Look for opportunities to apply the above, from the beginning to the end and every spot in between.

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A distinction to point out is that our QA members are engineers, not Testers. Testing is a tool, or many different tools, depending on how specific you want to get. It’s one of the tools we have in our tool box. We hire people to learn, be creative, and use the different tools at their disposal for the right situation. You don’t call a person who knows how to use a hammer and uses it for the appropriate job a “Hammerer”, you call them a Carpenter. From an engineering perspective, in order to contribute to creating software, building healthy teams, and improving processes, we are required to learn and be familiar with different tools, technologies and techniques that span the realm of technology, process, and team building. A learning mindset and reflection is needed to build up and maintain our skills so that we can be effective at positively impacting our spheres of influence.

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Which brings us to one of our most important guiding principles: Make those around you successful and you will be successful. As your sphere of influence grows, so does your impact in helping to make people around you successful. This guiding principle is so important to us that it is also used as a measurement for career advancement on the QA team. To a degree, we view QA as a service job:  serving the developer, team, and customer. Asking ourselves, “How can I make this easier, better, more productive?”

One important example of how we go about ensuring the success of the team is the importance we place on our QAE’s ability to understand and work on interpersonal relationships on the team. The intent is to work towards Psychological Safety on the team. We need to build good relationships with our teammates in order to help make sure they feel “safe” and “heard”; constantly gauging the team's health.

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QA is still responsible for testing deliverables and because of this, there is a natural force which pulls QA’s focus towards the testing part of the process. I call this Test Gravity. The more “testing” of deliverables a QA engineer has at one time and/or the greater the “testing” effort, the greater the gravitational pull on the focus of the QA engineer to the “testing” phase and away from the rest of the process. If the QA engineers do not manage how many deliverables they need to test, the amount of effort and the timing, they will end up in a state of being reactive and could fall behind in the team’s work.  An effort will need to be made to catch back up with the team. Thus, it’s imperative for the QA engineer to be aware of Test Gravity -- to account for it, proactively mitigate it, and have strategies to handle it.

In summary, QA is an ongoing exercise of preventing issues before they become bugs and trying to help make those around you successful. In order to achieve this outcome, QA is required to gain knowledge, stay ahead of the upcoming work, and be an active participant on the team throughout the SDLC. QA at AppFolio requires a hungry curiosity, an appetite for learning, craving to be creative, and a desire to quench your analytical thinking on challenges that span the breadth and depth of software product engineering.  Mmmm… Quality cake. :)

 thanks for the cake Gary!

thanks for the cake Gary!