Got QA? It’s the new tech apprenticeship

Quality assurance or QA is not one of the more glamorous positions in the tech world but it may be just the stepping stone necessary to bring in a new generation of programmers. That’s the thinking behind a new White House initiative called SummerQAmp, a youth internship program led by former CTO of the White House Aneesh Chopra, GroupMe co-founder Steve Martocci, Gilt Groupe VP of Quality Engineering Kevin Haggard and oddly rock star Jon Bon Jovi.
The SummerQAmp program, which builds off the White House’s SummerJobs+ initiative, will encourage technology companies to take on underprivileged youths without technical training as QA testers, teaching them how to make software and apps better. SummerQAmp’s goal is to help create at least 1,000 QA internships this summer. By introducing QA to youths, the program is hoping to promote the job as a possible career path. But perhaps more importantly, Martocci and others see QA as a pathway to a bigger job in software development, kind of like a gateway drug for programming.
Martocci worked closely with QA workers at his former job at Gilt Groupe and has seen the power of QA first hand through his brother, who has done QA work for GroupMe and is now GroupMe’s QA manager. He said during a recent talk with Bon Jovi, who has partnered with GroupMe in the past, he talked about the potential for QA as an internship program. Bon Jovi, who sits on the White House’s Council for Community Solutions, connected Martocci with the White House and Chopra.
“QA is a job that some companies don’t do, but they can take on people who are not engineers and this can be a stepping stone into a career path as a software engineer,” Martocci said. “We can train a workforce that’s not traditionally into software development.”
Companies such as eBay (s ebay), Gilt Groupe, Tumblr, Boxee, Knewton, OnSwipe, and JIBE have already signed on to participate in SummerQAmp.  Martocci said QA is increasingly becoming an important area for technology companies. And when done well, it can act as a line of defense for developers, helping spot problems that they may have missed. He said the SummerQAmp is also launching an online educational resource later this year to teach youths more about the role of QA, guide them in their careers and provides lessons on how to learn software development.
I think it may be a bit of a stretch to say a program like SummerQAmp will directly prompt a new generation of software developers. Software development is still hard work and presents a pretty big challenge for anyone, including people who get exposed to the development process. But I like the idea of encouraging youths to look at careers in technology and QA can be a way for people to get their feet wet without having coding experience. And once they’re in that environment, at least some may get a taste for building, not just testing. It could be become a sort of apprenticeship for some, letting them learn some basic lessons before moving onto bigger tasks.
The way the world is moving, everything is migrating toward technology so it’s good to try and train people early on. That’s why I’m excited about other start-ups like Codecademy, Udemy, General Assembly and others that are trying to encourage education and training, especially in software development and other technical jobs. We are already facing a talent crunch in the tech world and the more ways we can encourage careers in technology, the better.