James McCracken likes to bill himself as a “recovering entrepreneur.”
Really. It’s on his resume.
McCracken owned and operated a mobile and web applications development business — an enterprise that was successful because of his marketing background. He tackled his clients’ technology problems not like they were tech problems but, rather, business problems.
“It was consuming every waking hour, and I was spending more on the business than I was making,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t sustainable. A friend told me, ‘You’re going to have to go big or go home’ and I opted for home. Which is why I say I’m a recovering entrepreneur.”
Without his business — which also was his income — McCracken found himself in professional limbo. He didn’t have the formal credentials needed for a mid-career technology position, despite having worked exclusively with technology for six years. And he was used to earning a lot more than entry-level tech positions for which he qualified.
“I had a skill and experience gap,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to transition exclusively into the field of information technology. I was looking at training but I couldn’t afford to take a low-paying job.”
A career counselor working with McCracken suggested he apply to IT-Ready QA.
First, the skills set
Offered completely free of charge to qualified students by Creating IT Futures, IT-Ready QA teaches the skills someone needs to work as a software quality assurance (QA) analyst and software tester. Creating IT Futures is the workforce charity founded by CompTIA.
James McCracken (far left) shares coffee and camaraderie with classmates from his IT-Ready QA cohort. The classmates became friends and still get together regularly to catch up. Pictured to the right of McCracken are Namita Mirge, Vinay Dabbiru, Mai Yer Lee and Hassan Mohammed.
During their eight weeks of training in an instructor-led classroom environment, IT-Ready QA students learn best practices for breaking software and squashing bugs, as well as what’s required to test and support software throughout its life cycle, principles of test design, risk management, agile development, and mobile software testing.
“It was the first time I didn’t pay to go to school,” said McCracken, who holds an MBA from Cleveland State and a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State. “The program was quite literally a godsend. I was interested in the QA field but was struggling to find ways to get training. I needed help.”
Students who successfully complete IT-Ready QA obtain three certifications that prove their working knowledge of software testing: Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL), Certified Tester Foundation Level Agile Tester (CTFL-AT), and Certified Mobile Tester. In addition to these certifications, McCracken went on to earn his CompTIA Project+ certification.
And students also practice softer professional skills that help elevate their profiles during job searches — such as participating in mock interviews and updating their resumes.
“And that proved really helpful,” McCracken said. “My mock interviewer looked at my resume and said, ‘what world are you living in and are you really committed to IT? Because your resume reads like a guy who still wants to do marketing.’ So I re-wrote my resume.”
Recovering entrepreneur launches new career
Shortly after graduating from IT-Ready QA, McCracken secured employment with Decision One in Bloomington, Minn., where he works as a network engineer and is a subject matter expert for an enterprise-class ITSM/ITOM platform.
James McCracken was part of Creating IT Futures’ first IT-Ready QA class in the Twin Cities.
In his role, McCracken works with developers, customers and business team to identify bugs and clarify features during the development of new software.
“It’s a fun mix of QA and product development,” he said. “I spend an equal amount of time helping customers understand features, as well as document bugs and develop business cases for new features. Another aspect of my job is providing quality assurance through manual sandbox testing of existing and new features, where we identify defects and develop workflow improvements.”
And McCracken, the recovering entrepreneur, finds that his new role taps skills from when he owned his own business.
“I used to be the marketing guy who understood technology. Now I’m the technology guy who can talk to people,” he said. “Having soft professional skills and being able to communicate well about IT is really important, especially when it comes to IT terminology and being as specific as possible.”
The world of information technology needs more people who don’t follow a traditional path into such careers, he said.
“IT is changing. IT used to be in just the engineering space. But now it’s everywhere,” he said. “And as it grows and the world runs on code, people who normally wouldn’t have fit into engineering are entering IT. There’s still a perception that you can’t go into IT if you don’t have a technical background, and that perception couldn’t be further from the truth. There is so much opportunity in IT for people like me.”
If you think you’re ready for a career as a software tester, applications for the next IT-Ready QA class in the Twin Cities are open until May 10.