Today, we highlight one of our QA leads, Andrew Scharf. Why Andrew? Because he’s the QA Lead on Fallout: New Vegas!
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a QA Project Lead. My responsibilities include scheduling testing throughout the various stages of the game’s lifecycle, managing the day-to-day tasks of my testing team, and maintaining the bug database to make sure that the issues we find are clearly communicated to the development team, management, and production.
Part of my job also involves the creation of test documents, including a high-level test plan that covers the “big picture” of how all the pieces fit together to make the game — and how our testing will thoroughly cover each of those pieces.
What games have you worked on?
I was the first person in QA to be hired after Fallout 3’s release, so when I started I mainly worked on the Fallout 3 Downloadable Content. This worked out perfectly for me, considering I had just finished my first playthrough at home and was itching for more content. It was pretty awesome to think that for a game I had spent countless hours enjoying at home as an end user, I was now playing an active role in the development of additional content.
Shortly after working on Broken Steel, I was brought on to lead the testing of Medieval Games, one of our externally developed titles published by Vir2L Studios. Currently, I’m the QA Lead on Fallout New Vegas.
What is the best part about being in QA? The worst part?
The best part for me is being able to work on a project from the early stages and watching improvement and changes being made to the game that are a direct result of my team’s contributions. It’s an overwhelmingly great feeling to see a game you’ve worked on sitting on store shelves, knowing that you’ve played an active role in getting it to where it is today.
I would say the worst part about being in QA is that due to the volume of bugs found in an RPG of the size and scope of our games, near the end it becomes apparent that it would be impossible to resolve every single issue in the database. Also, it can be a bit frustrating having to explain to the outside world that there’s more to the job than just playing games. No, we don’t spend our lunch breaks playing Dance Dance Revolution. Well, ok maybe some of our lunch breaks.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
For me it took equal amounts of persistence, patience, timing, and luck. Being a huge fan of the series and having played a ton of Fallout 1 and 2 in high school, I had been following the development of Fallout 3 as closely as I possibly could. I jumped at the opportunity when I heard the QA department was hiring. I sent in my cover letter and resume, and… didn’t hear back. I wasn’t too surprised; I was one of many who wanted to have the opportunity to test Fallout 3, and I’m sure there were an absolute ton of resumes to wade through. Months later, my girlfriend and I were in Seattle for the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo (side note: PAX is an awesome show – I highly recommend taking the trip and going) checking out the hands-on Fallout 3 demo and came across the ZeniMax hiring booth. After introducing myself, I was surprised to hear that someone actually recognized my name from the cover letter I wrote. A month later, I had my interview.
As for breaking in, a passion for games is first and foremost, and a cover letter is a great way to add your own voice and communicate that passion. In addition, an extremely important trait is being invested and taking pride in the work you do, no matter what it is. Not everyone in the industry gets to work on their favorite game, and it’s important to have a strong work ethic and be able to find ways to challenge yourself even when you’re not working on the ideal project. Also, being able to work effectively in a team environment is important. The QA team for each project sits in close proximity of each other for a reason, and that’s to promote communication and collaborative problem solving while carrying out the day’s testing assignments. Taking advantage of having others around you allows an outside perspective to help with finding those bugs that are more difficult to nail down.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
I’m a huge fan of the Interplay/Black Isle RPG’s, namely Fallout 1, 2, and Planescape: Torment. I can’t even begin tell you how many times I’ve replayed those games over the past 10 years. Other than those games, I’d say Diablo 2 and System Shock 2 are also favorites that I find myself coming back to every couple of years.
What games are you looking forward to?
I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything that’s come out of Blizzard, so needless to say I’m very much looking forward to Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3. I’m also really looking forward to Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, and (of course) Fallout: New Vegas.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
It’s pretty easy getting out of bed knowing that I’m heading to work on something that I absolutely love doing, with extremely smart, hard working people that I’m privileged to be working with. Aside from that, It also helps to have three staggered alarms set on my phone sitting on the other side of my bedroom which triggers a Rube Goldberg Machine that makes me coffee, breakfast, and irons my clothes.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
In high school, I was a “courtesy clerk” for a supermarket chain. Courtesy clerk is basically a fancy name for a grocery bagger that can’t accept tips under threat of termination. Oh, and part of the courtesy meant also cleaning bathrooms at the end of the day. Fun stuff.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I’ve been bitten pretty hard by the travel bug, which is an expensive but rewarding hobby. In the past couple of years, I’ve been to Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, and Japan. I honestly can’t get enough… there are tons of sights to see, pictures to take, food to eat, and incredible cultures to experience. Time and money permitting, I’ll hopefully be taking another trip sometime this year. Not entirely sure where, but I’m thinking maybe Italy. Any suggestions?
Other than traveling, I love living within walking distance to the DC Metro. I’m a half-mile walk away from being able to check out the museums, unique restaurants, concerts, shows, and all of the general craziness that the city has to offer.