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Interview with head of a1qa test automation center of excellence

Dmitry Bogatko on how to manage the in-house Center of Excellence delivering value to the company's projects. 
1 August 2017
Interviews
Test automation
The article by a1qa
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Test automation is one of the key areas of a1qa expertise. In 2013, Test Automation Center of Excellence was established. We talked to Dmitry Bogatko, Head of CoE, to find out what tasks CoE solves today and how it contributes to the service overall development.

Dmitry, Test Automation CoE at a1qa was put together almost 5 years ago. What was the idea of the undertaking?

Test Automation CoE was established alongside with other centers of excellence, six altogether. In 2013 it became clear that the company accumulated huge experience in multiple areas. And this experience needed systematization.

Precisely speaking, there were four main objectives that formed the basis for Centers establishment:
1. Increase quality and speed up clients’ requests processing
2. Increase the scope of custom-tailored services
3. Employees professional development
4. Building up the expertise to rapidly improve the area of competence.

And how are these goals achieved? In other words, what type of work is performed by CoE?

First of all, we train engineers providing them with the necessary skills. For example, the client wants his manual QA engineer to write automated tests. If the client is read to pay for this, the project manager forwards the training request to CoE and we start working on it.

Why should the client want to pay for the engineer’s education? Isn’t that more effective to onboard a test automation engineer?

As a matter of fact, it’s more cost-efficient to teach a manual engineer create automated tests rather than add a test engineer to the team and wait until he or she dives into the project and gets familiar with system specifications. So training requests are not rare. By the way, we conduct both personal and group trainings. Various companies who have a need in test automation resources apply to a1qa for trainings. While developing training programs, we take into account client’s domain, type of software that should be tested automatically, number of trainees, etc.

We also provide support for the ongoing projects that involve test automation. CoE experts consult the teams on technical solutions, help to solve nontrivial tasks. If a client requests an audit of the developed automation solution, we’ll evaluate the approach, review the code, and come up with remediation recommendations.

What’s more, we may also step in at the pre-sales stage and any documentation is required to prove the needed expertise. For example, we prepare presentations, case studies of the completed projects, or white papers to prove our excellence.

Of course, we accumulate the received experience and describe it in our corporate Confluence knowledge base. Troubleshooting guidelines, specific tools description and analysis, how-to articles and many more – any automation engineer may find what he or she needs there.

We appreciate the desire of our engineers to learn new tools and approaches and encourage their participation in the in-field conferences. However, as all CoE experts are real-time engineers assigned with the project work, there is little time left for some research.

As a rule, we ask our specialists to conduct some investigation to competently reply to the customer’s request.

There are over 70 test automation engineers at a1qa today. How many of them take part in CoE?

Today, 11 highly skilled engineers are members of the CoE.

Can anyone become a member of CoE? What are the entering requirements?

In theory, any a1qa automation engineer who devotes at least 20 hours a month to the CoE tasks – be it documentation creation, frameworks development or trainings – can enter CoE.

It’s required to know one of the programming languages: Java, C# or Python, possess experience of automating testing for any type of software (web/standalone/integrated) and read technical documentation in English.

If an employee meets these criteria, we’ll invite him or her for an interview. Successful interview and the consent from the immediate manager will guarantee the accession to CoE.

It’s worth noting that we strive to make CoE activities go in line with project work. If an engineer has been working with Git suite of tools, we won’t check this skill during the interview. If there is no practical evidence of some expertise, we’ll ask the person to complete a test task.

Do you perform test automation engineers appraisal at a1qa?

Right. We appraise all automation engineers adhering to the established criteria for ranking them junior, middle, or senior. Being appraised, an employee gets to know where he or she stands in the company and what the essentials for further progress are.

I’d also like to mention the Knowledge pack, which is a skillset of every category mentioned above. For example, a manager knows that every junior test automation engineer knows to write end-to-end tests for a web application with Selenium WebDriver.

If there is a request to automate testing for a desktop application, middle specialist who will definitely possess the right skillset (according to his “Middle” grade).

And the last but not the least. As the CoE mainly include highly skilled engineers with years of experience, we regularly delegate them with automation frameworks development tasks. Based on the developed framework, clients’ employees will then write automated tests.

Sometimes, there is no need to create the automation solution from scratch. The client needs to enhance the existing ones, debug it.

CoE experts also provide consulting support as regards automation.

What challenges do you face in managing the CoE workflow?

The main challenge is to find the right balance and let the CoE tasks being solved with no compromise to project work. All CoE experts are charged with real-world projects on a daily basis and it may be hard to recall them to prepare documentation or consult the client’s team on any issue. To address the challenge, we reallocate resources and try to prepare documents when the work load is mediocre.

And the very last question. How do you manage to double-job as the Head of CoE and project manager?

At a1qa, CoE activities are closely related to the project ones: outlined goals, tasks, plans, and a team. Project work helps me keep CoE activities up-to-date, while CoE management allows to estimate project tasks more accurately and make more effective decisions.

Thank you, Dmitry, for your time. Wish Center of Excellence many interesting projects to come!

To learn more about Test Automation service at a1qa – visit this page. If you have any questions, ask them here and we’ll reach you in no time.

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