Be QA Today: News and Updates – Interview with Oleksii Zaichenko

Earlier, we introduced our colleague Oleksii Zaichenko — a co-organizer of the educational social project Be QA Today, IT volunteer, and an expert QA Lead at Daxx Kyiv. Be QA Today is on a mission to teach people with disabilities to test software and change their lives for the better. Daxx is happy to support the project and make a contribution to its further growth and development. We asked Oleksii a few questions about the project to see what has changed since our last talk. 

Be QA Today - Oleksii Zaichenko

1. Tell us about Be QA Today and how things are going now.  

In January 2020, we launched the third stream of our course. At the very beginning, we had over 50 active students. 13 of them are finishing their studies now. The reason is that our program is very close to real-life working conditions. You need to be ready for it. The duration of the course is 7 months (we planned it to be 6). I can hardly predict the exact number of graduates we’ll eventually have. They need to complete the course and successfully pass their final exams, so we’ll see. But I can say one thing about our students — they’re proven leaders in the market, compared to all other Junior QA engineers. I bet they could even compete with some Middle QA engineers. 🙂 

We have a simple goal — all our graduates should be similar to Junior QA specialists with 1 year of commercial experience. It means when they get on a real project, they will feel confident and will know what to do. They won’t need ongoing assistance and supervision from more experienced colleagues (like it often happens with Junior specialists). Each project is different. Sometimes, it could take from two weeks to three months even for IT veterans to pass the onboarding process. But as usual, you have much more headache with Junior specialists than with the Senior or the Middle. And that’s fine!

We train our students to become strong QA engineers who can give value to the company:

  • They know not only the theory and how to test a pencil, but they’ve got bumps and bruises dealing with tons of practice. 
  • They understand their role on the team and work as part of a well-set mechanism from the first working day.   
  • Due to solid skills, their onboarding, mentoring, and other training will take a minimum cost for the company. 

2. Has the format of the course changed since its inception?

We decided to change the format after the second stream of Be QA Today in 2019. It goes without saying that a pandemic situation made its own adjustments but it didn’t affect us that much. 

So, this is how it worked before: 

  • filling out the registration form 
  • 2 online selection interviews 
  • 3-month offline course (with a bunch of lectures, practice, homework, and tests) 
  • exam (interview + tests)
  • graduation.  

In total, it was enough and even more than enough to get a job as a Junior specialist at an IT company. But I’ll explain further why we decided to change the format and increase the duration of the course.

How it works now: 

  • filling out the registration form (no selection interviews)
  • 1st part of the course available to everyone 

3-month offline course covering fundamentals, weekly Q&A sessions and even more if needed, support in chat, lots of additional literature, free courses on Udemy, Coursera, Prometheus and similar platforms, tests and homework. We called this part “hunger games”. Plus, practice in the form of user acceptance testing (UAT) of TosMap app. 

  • 2nd part of the course — an in-depth technical part for those who completed the 1st part. 

3 months of workshops from the leading QA specialists, practice, practice and more practice (!), homework, and tests. The final part of the course is working on a real project with applying all the knowledge that students gained, and work on mistakes. 

Due to coronavirus, we had to switch the second part of the course to online mode. Previously, we planned to bring all students who completed the first 3-month part of the course to Kyiv to proceed offline, as we did it before. That’s the only way how the situation affected us. 

Be QA Today - 2nd course study
Egor Maksymchuk is giving a lecture for Be QA Today 2nd-course students (2019)

3. What exactly did you add, improve, or modify?

After each course, we always do work on mistakes and find weak spots we need to improve. 

The first and main hindrance is our national mentality. Our students have good expertise and their knowledge would be more than enough for any person without disabilities to find a job easy and fast. But when it comes to people with disabilities, things are different. A lot of companies fall into doubts and ask additional questions that are not related to their skill set. The reasons are obvious to everyone… In many countries, employers don’t pay so much attention to a candidate’s physical abilities but Ukraine has a long way to go. We’re here to fight these stereotypes. 🙂   

The second problem is that we noticed that some students drop off during the course for some reason. In 80-90% of cases, we think it happens because: a) they realized that it’s not their thing; b) they lost motivation; c) they found it too difficult.

“So what’s the problem, you may ask? It’s quite a normal and typical process.” I agree with you. But the problem is that the previous courses were completely offline. It always comes down to money and time. 

Money. Our partner IT companies make their contributions (we’ll talk about this later), and it’s not reasonable to invest money in someone who decides to drop off during the course. Especially if this person is not from Kyiv, the total sum of money could easily reach $1K for 3 months. We pay for the student’s relocation to Kyiv, their accommodation, and partially cover the cost of transportation (to get to the courses within the city) + extra costs from time to time for cookies or pizza during difficult workshops.

Lunch break at Saturday lecture (1st course of Be QA Today, 2018, UNIT. City)

Time. Our whole team works FOR FREE. Absolutely. From organizers to mentors. That’s why a question of time is much more critical. Time is priceless, and nobody will return it to you. Thus, we need to manage our time in the most efficient way and be sure that we invest it in those people who really need it. 

In my humble opinion, the fact that we changed the format completely addressed the problems I mentioned above. It’s all thanks to our work on mistakes, full transparency with our team (lecturers and mentors), asking for feedback that we always take into account, and making important and balanced decisions due to all factors.

Also, I’d like to mention our small but very cool team of lecturers of the 3rd BeQA Today course and simply list their names here: Olha Malinina, Yaroslava Bagriy, Liudmyla Fedchuk, Denys Kunytskyi, Dmytro Aponasenko, Denys Yaremenko, Olha Shkurka, Ksenia Fridman, Rostyslav Zeleniuk and Roman Yakymchuk.

Be QA Today - mentors and lecturers
Be QA Today mentors and lecturers (2018-2020)

4. How many groups have already successfully graduated? How many students completed the course? What percentage of them already work in IT?

2 groups of students have graduated and the 3rd group is now finishing their studies. We have one group per year as we don’t have a goal to make money. Our goal is to grow strong QA engineers and show that people with disabilities are no worse or even could be better than guys who don’t have them. 

People with disabilities shouldn’t be perceived as socially unprotected groups in terms of job opportunities. I’m talking specifically about those areas where they can compete with people who don’t have disabilities — intellectual work. And most importantly, these guys need to be financially secure and able to afford various expensive health treatments and other important things, rather than living from pension to pension, which is not more than $200. 

If we take the current third stream into consideration, only 24% of students almost completed the course. But our priority is not the quantity, it’s the quality of preparation. We roughly expected such a percentage as we had to filter out people and leave only those who have a true desire, motivation and ability to handle the workload (because no one will make exceptions for them on a real project).

The median employment rate for the last two courses is 75%. I am sure that this year, we’ll be able to reach over 90%, if not 100%. 

5. Why is it important to support such social projects like Be QA Today? 

It’s no secret that everything in this world is somehow connected to money, and our project is no exception. The only difference is that we spend this money not on our own needs and salaries for employees (which is typical for commercial courses). We spend money on students and operating expenses. Here are the main of them:

  • student’s relocation costs to take an offline part of the course (if a person is not from Kyiv);
  • accommodation costs during studies; 
  • renting a large conference hall for the graduation ceremony; 
  • gifts for graduates, lecturers, and mentors at graduation (printing diplomas, T-shirts, notebooks, buying pens, gift boxes, and so on and so forth);
  • a bunch of small expenses that result in a big sum of money. 

For example, if we take the 1st and 2nd points (only two days in Kyiv) + the 3rd and 4th points to bring all students for one day to graduation (they’ve never seen us in person and it would be great to have normal offline graduation for them and for us too) — this will take us about $3K overall, according to our calculations.

Be QA Today - graduation
Be QA Today graduation ceremony in the UNIT. City (2019)

Like any other social project, Be QA Today needs financial support. Thanks to our partner IT companies, our project exists and keeps growing strong IT professionals. We don’t forget about our partners that give a helping hand to our project, so we came up with a win-win strategy. At the end of each course, our partners are the first who receive a list of Be QA Today graduates with their CVs, grades, and our feedback. The idea is very simple yet effective. IT companies help us financially, and we, in turn, provide them with strong QA engineers. Everyone is happy! 

6. What are the plans for the future for Be QA Today?

I’m more than sure that the duration of the course will remain 6-7 months. Also, we started working with a startup that can potentially give us the opportunity to integrate our course into their platform and automate the first part of our course. Now everything is done manually, which is pretty tiresome for organizers and lecturers. We want to give this part of work to the software so that we could concentrate our forces and time exclusively on teaching students and other important things.

In addition, we are planning to hold a strategic session with a top consultant. We want to gather all our ideas, thoughts, and desires in one place, and define the next steps we should take to develop our project in the future.

Be QA Today - organizing team
Be QA Today organizers are holding diplomas of recognition for “Social project for vulnerable groups of the population” at EuroMaidan SOS-2019.

Summarizing all mentioned above, I can confidently say that our project is evolving every year. We’re not dependent on investors’ decisions or other factors typical for commercial projects. We do what feels right. 

Be QA Today has already changed the lives of many guys with disabilities for the better. And we’re not going to stop!

A huge thank you to Oleksii for doing very important social work! May the project blossom! We’re proud of you!

The article in RU is available on DOU.

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