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This is a startup whose product I'm passionate about, but I would like to ensure I'm not "stuck" in a different career path since I want to continue to do iOS software engineering in the medium term. There is some overlap with iOS engineering in the role in that I would be building out testing and UI testing infrastructure for a senior iOS engineer (CTO? It's a small team) as I understand it.

What would be a good way to navigate this email conversation with the co-founder, so that I align a potential job there with my career goal? One idea that came to mind is asking if I could do a fixed contract instead of full time, with the intention on transitioning to full-fledged iOS software engineering contingent on performance.

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    Something to consider re your last sentence: if you demonstrate excellent performance in QA, that's a reason to keep you in QA, not move you into engineering. Jan 25 at 9:11
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    "I want to continue to do iOS software engineering in the medium term" — do you have experience in iOS software engineering now? Jan 25 at 12:24
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    @PaulD.Waite Yes though perhaps not senior level experience since I've seen a senior iOS position from them in the past and it wasn't mentioned. Jan 25 at 22:12
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    @BittermanAndy: That's true, but that's not how all places work: I've seen organisations where the best QA employees do get moved into development. (Naturally, their QA teams had a tendency to suck, since all the good people kept leaving...)
    – psmears
    Jan 25 at 22:20
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    @lucidbrot: I'm sure there are - and they lose out too, since if they want their career to progress they have to move out of QA and into development :-/
    – psmears
    Jan 26 at 19:07

7 Answers 7

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What would be a good way to navigate this email conversation with the co-founder, so that I align a potential job there with my career goal?

Something like "Thank you, but I'm not looking for a QA position. If you have a software engineering slot, I'd love to demonstrate why I would be a great fit."

Unless you actually want to be a professional QAer, don't take a QA position. That wouldn't be good for your career, and it wouldn't be good for the QA Team. I speak from over 25 years of leading QA teams.

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    Having a full fledged software engineer is an absolute god-send for a struggling QA team, but they usually try to justify a garbage salary, and it might cause problems for future software engineering jobs.
    – Nelson
    Jan 26 at 10:58
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    Nice wording. "I'm not looking for" sounds much better than "I'm not interested in". :-)
    – Pablo H
    Jan 26 at 15:03
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Don’t take a job that you don’t want to take, in a career path that you don't want to enter. You shouldn’t start a job because you are “passionate about a product”. Find a job that is right for you, take the job, and buy a copy of that product with your first salary.

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A QA who can do software engineering can be worth their weight in gold, if the company appreciates that value. A QA-software-engineer is likely able to give vastly more detailed bug-reports, and has the skills required to automate chunks of pipelines that might otherwise be done manually.

I would navigate it by asking if they're open to you coming on with the responsibility to automate and productise their QA pipeline from a developer perspective. No manual clicking buttons to see if they work, instead be in charge of writing automated test-frameworks and working with devs to make a QA process they collaborate with rather than fight.

One of my favourite colleagues was an engineer who specialised in testing, and worked in our team as a core developer, but wrote most the complex tests.

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    Very much agree with this advice, and that a QA who is also a software engineer is worth their weight in gold. Alister B Scott is a good public example of a smart engineer in this mould. I would also have the OP ask themselves: do they like QA work, so long as it has a level of engineering complexity and challenge? Some programmers have the capability but just don't get the buzz from pushing a system and showing where it works, where it used to work, and where it never did.
    – Adam Burke
    Jan 26 at 1:35
  • In my S&P500 corp, there are 3 different job descriptions: "Verification Engineer" (=manual QA), "Automation Engineer" and "SW Engineer" (code developer). I'm guessing that a small company won't make this further distinction.
    – Jonathan
    Feb 1 at 11:34
  • It doesn't matter what you're worth, what matters is what you get paid. Being worth your weight in gold doesn't help you if the company doesn't appreciate it.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 14 at 18:01
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They do not have an open position for iOS software engineering and have already told you so.

[ How do I ] align a potential job there with my career goal?

This is not possible. You will have to find a different company to work for.

What would be a good way to navigate this email conversation

Politely and formally decline and allow them to contact you when they have an open iOS software engineering position.

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Perhaps don't navigate the email conversation at all, but ask for a call instead.

That is under the assumption that you don't decline the offer immediately, and want to try working out some some solution that might be satisfying for both sides. There are serious reasons to simply reject the offer, but other answers covered that.

Startups are generally very dynamic environments, so for questions like "will you need another iOS engineer in 12 months" the most honest answer is likely to be "I don't know", and crafting anything more precise in email is a lot of work. Direct conversations allows much more granularity, and way more chances for mutual understanding.

A call may give you an opportunity to explain your position and goals easier than an email, and you'll get much more clues about the intention of the other side, because you'll see the reactions, not just dry text. The CTO (or whoever you talk to) may also be way more open talking about details than in writing. Like, what development of the team they expect - do they plan to have open positions that you might transfer to? What exactly would be your role in QA and how would you work with the other people? Take it with a grain of salt though, especially if the other person agrees to easily with suggestions like working part time QA, part time on features - that might mean they just didn't think it through.

In any case be very upfront about "QA is not a role I am looking for" and that any cooperation is under the condition of working out some sort of compromise.

One possible benefit is that it may turn out you both agree that this position is not such a good fit after all, in which case you'll give it up with no regets. Perhaps.

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    OP needs to have a real time conversation with the co-founder anyway - having a passion for the project doesn't mean you'll actually like the people you'd be working with
    – Dragonel
    Jan 25 at 17:16
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I have a different opinion from the other two current answers. My answer involves more risk, but may also lead to greater rewards.

If you are truly passionate about their product, you may actually consider taking a job that is not what you currently think you desire. The idea is to get your foot in the door with the company, and slowly work towards your goal (which may change over time).

The risk is that they will never consider you for the position you desire. But by taking this risk, you have two possible rewards:

  1. You love your job, despite it not being what you originally thought you would love.
  2. You impress the company over time, and slowly work towards your dream job.

By taking this risk, you'll be working on a project for which you have passion. And for personal satisfaction, as well as thriving in the workplace, passion goes a very long way.

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    There is more risk than just not being considered for the position you desire. There is also the risk of ruining the passion you once felt by aligning it so closely with something you don't want to do. And the risk of being exploited by managers who clearly don't have a need for the role that this person wants, but thought they could tick a box and fill a seat by getting them to do something completely different. This is not to say that the possible rewards you mention aren't true, but there is much more risk than you mention. Jan 25 at 9:07
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    For what it's worth, a QA who can do software engineering can be literally worth 10 people in the right company for their output.
    – Tom
    Jan 25 at 11:02
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    @BittermanAndy While there's some risk, startups are likely to be pretty flexible about internal transfers as they grow.
    – Barmar
    Jan 25 at 15:16
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My experience of small teams (I'm not sure how small we're talking here, but say 4-6 people) is that it's very unusual to have a dedicated QA person, and even more unusual to have a QA person that has the skills to build out automated UI testing (which I think is the ask here?). In that size of team maintaining the automated tests is a shared task everyone contributes a small amount of their time to.

Creating the initial set of automated tests is almost impossible for a non-programmer to do, as you inevitably run into a bunch of bugs in the product that prevent the tests from working properly. The programmers are generally always reluctant to test their code themselves, at least at first, and their chances of finding a good programmer that wants to be "the QA guy" are small.

So one option might be to pitch:

I'm very happy to help setup the automated tests, but I expect this will mean changing some things in the product so that the tests can work to best effect and reliably, and hence "iOS engineer" is the job title I'd be looking for - especially as once the tests are setup I'll have plenty of time free to work on improving the product.

The only thing to watch for is to make sure the existing engineers are willing to create automated tests (once the framework is there) for new features as they write them. If their engineers are completely inflexible on that point, this is usually a red flag.

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