Where do I go from here in tech?
November 5, 2017 7:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm a late 20s computer enthusiast without a CS degree, though if I could do college over again I'd stick it out and try for one. I can read code better than I can write it, I'm familiar with HTMl and Javascript and a little CS, but not the "frameworks," and CMS systems which seem to be in vogue these days. I have a working knowledge of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and a knack for writing bug reports. I am totally blind.

I'm hoping for some ideas of work I might potentially be good at, or at least able to pick up relatively quickly. I'm familiar with the command line in its various permutations, but have yet to pick a focus and stick to it, more or less. My skills are broad but haven't ben learned systematically. I've done freelance web and accessibility testing of various sorts for the past couple years, and am currently working part-time doing QA for an iOS game.

My accessibility knowledge strikes me as the most unique aspect of my skill set, but I've not had much luck finding accessibility-specific openings. I feel happy doing the bug reporting dance, and discovering when something doesn't work as intended. Working as part of a team to push something out is appealing.

Does anybody have ideas for where I can go from here? I feel like I'm on the cusp of being marketable somewhere, but not sure how to get over the hump.
posted by Alensin to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you started attending accessibility (often abbreviated "a11y" because there are 11 letters between the a and y) meet-ups and conferences in your area? In your shoes I would start networking at the a11ysea meetup and a11ycamp and also target some of the sponsors of the various events for your resume. The twitter account a11yjobs also tweets out accessibility job openings and it wouldn't be a bad idea to apply to companies who are hiring accessibility specialists to ask if they have a test position for someone with your unique perspective. Good luck!
posted by hindmost at 7:55 PM on November 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

I enjoyed Marcy Sutton’s talk at the Seattle JS conference this summer; she is a web accessibility consultant and organizer of the a11ysea meetup that hindmost mentioned. I don’t know her personally but my guess is that she would be happy to network with you about opportunities in accessibility if you reached out to her directly.

I’m a full stack web developer and I run my own very small business in Seattle. I’m not sure that I’m personally connected to opportunities that would be a great fit for you, but I’d be happy to meet with you as well. MeMail me if that sounds appealing.
posted by Kwine at 9:32 PM on November 5, 2017

You say you're happy working with a team and doing QA. Some people do that for their entire careers. What's missing for you in your current gig?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:48 PM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you enjoy testing software. There's always need for good testers (I was a QA manager for years - hard to get people who have the right combination of perspective, persistence, awareness, communication, organization). The key is finding a company who is interviewing for someone who has the mindset of a tester, rather than looking specifically for buzzwords or experience. There are companies who focus on performing QA for other companies, but I always favored an in-house approach when I could.

If manual testing is what you want to do, then learning about testing heuristics and strategies (for example, context-driven testing) and reading up on best practices (one of my favorites).

If you enjoy testing and also want to write code, automated testing is one angle to take. Add in what you said about accessibility, and you could learn a tool like Selenium for website testing or one of the mobile frameworks for iOS/Android testing, with a focus on accessibility (and I have no idea how good a tool Selenium or the mobile frameworks are for accessibility testing or whether there are better tools out there).

QA can be it's own career or become an entry to development if that's your inclination.
posted by kokaku at 3:57 AM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

You might focus your search on companies that are education- and government-focused.

I work for a company that distributes electronic textbooks, and because we serve colleges and universities that get federal funding, our customers have certain legal obligations regarding accessibility. That means accessibility has always been important to our customers and therefore important to our own success. We have a standing contract with an accessibility consulting firm, and they do all our testing and work with our software engineers to get improvements made to our software.

I know this is vague advice, but I imagine you could "follow the money" to companies that are directly or indirectly federally funded, in hopes that those companies' need for Section 508 compliance would make them particularly enthusiastic about hiring a blind person as a QA analyst (or a similar role).
posted by katieinshoes at 4:45 AM on November 6, 2017

My accessibility knowledge strikes me as the most unique aspect of my skill set, but I've not had much luck finding accessibility-specific openings.

This is something that's a very big thing right now, and I suspect that a part of the chunk is that the need for testers in your position is so very specific that it almost doesn't leave any point to advertising openly for positions like that. The fact that you're near Seattle--would it be difficult for you to start getting out and to things like meetups and events for tech people in your area? Or find area-specific tech Slack/Discord servers to hang out on? It feels like you're really in a good position and basically just missing somebody to introduce you to somebody who needs somebody. I'd have been in a bad position when I got my first proper tech job if I'd had to go solely through openings; I got my first job by meeting somebody and hitting it off and he found me a spot on his team.
posted by Sequence at 6:03 AM on November 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a Seattle Area A11y Meetup group. They just did an "A11y Camp" and meet regularly.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2017

Thanks for the advice so far, all. I appreciate the QA info in particular, because I'm not as knowledgeable in that area as I'd like to be.
I attended Accessibility Camp Seattle earlier this year, which was a lot of fun, and felt like I made some decent connections there. I need to work on getting to more regular Meetup-style meetings. I appreciate the extra perspectives in general. My current gig is part-time, but I would love the chance to do something similar with more full-time hours.
posted by Alensin at 9:28 AM on November 6, 2017

Not sure if you're open to moving, or how often they even have openings, but the California Department of Rehabilitation works on Accessibility, and some of the folks they've had in that area in the past were really good. You sound like you could be a very good candidate to put accessibility practices and guidelines to practical use. In general, the State of California doesn't hire remote workers, so if you have an interest, you might have to relocate.
posted by cnc at 3:36 PM on November 6, 2017

Not sure if this is something you are interested in or how feasible but being a general API/Data QA tester is very valuable. This is a skill that requires some level of testing automation and attention to detail. Everything is backed by an API these days.
posted by andendau at 8:48 PM on November 12, 2017

I also attended Accessibility Camp Seattle earlier this year, hello! One of the recent A11y Seattle meetups was at the offices of User Research International. (Here is the meetup page for that night which lists the names of the speakers.) User Research International don't exclusively work on accessibility but the talk that night was about setting up and running software accessibility testing. The URI website has a page about staffing and helping job seekers, they might be worth getting in touch with to find out if they can offer guidance or point you in the direction of companies and organizations to look into.
posted by Miss Matheson at 11:36 AM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

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