I’m a quality engineer at Boeing for their 777 program. After I got my job at Boeing, people have been asking me about my job as a quality engineer. What does a quality engineer do? What kind of requirements do you need to become a quality engineer? How do you like your job? What does a typical day at work look like? How did you get your job? I figured I might as well answer all those questions in this one post.
Here’s my quality engineering job in a nutshell: I make sure our people and our processes are building planes in accordance with the requirements. In other words, I make sure everything we do aligns with our quality documents and product requirements. If something isn’t going right in the process that is causing imperfections in our product, I sometimes get involved in resolving or minimizing the problem. This usually means I’ll take on a project to reduce defects for certain processes in the production line.
In the rest of this post, I’ll explain my role in more detail. Also, disclaimer: this is just from my experience at Boeing. Different companies may have different responsibilities/job titles. I know some companies prefer to call this role quality control or quality assurance engineering. However, I imagine the responsibilities are similar to mine at Boeing.
What does a Quality Engineer Do?
Every product has requirements. The screen on your phone has certain strength, conductivity, transparency, and size requirements. Bottles of hand sanitizer have alcohol content, viscosity, and volume per unit requirements. Even pieces of software have certain usability, functionality, and internal code readability requirements. These requirements come from all sorts of places, such as government regulation, customer requirements, and business requirements.
The quality engineer makes sure that these requirements are clearly understood/documented in our quality documents and that the process and the people in the process meet those requirements. If the process did not meet those requirements, the quality engineer steps in to figure out why and how we can change something in the process to meet those requirements.
So there’s really just two main parts to my job:
- Read and write quality documents.
- Fix quality problems.
Sounds simple, but I can assure you that’s a lot of work. I also help out here and there with miscellaneous production problems that pop up.
At Boeing, we probably have millions or even hundreds of millions of quality documents for every little part that goes into the plane and every process used to put those parts together. We even have documents that just give authority to and explain the hierarchy of other documents. I’m sure that this situation is pretty similar at most mid sized and large companies.
There’s also a lot that goes into fixing quality problems. Most of the work goes into figuring out what the problem is and analyzing the root cause. This always involves some form of data analysis and collaboration with a cross-functional team. It also usually involves going to the physical production area to talk to the workers who are putting the product together. Once we understand the problem, then we get into designing tests to prove it and coming up with solutions to the problem.
What does a typical day look like?
Just like a lot of high skill type of jobs, there’s almost never any days where I’m doing the exact same thing as another day (i.e. flipping the same burger the exact same way every time everyday). There’s always something different to work on everyday. Whether that be working with someone new, working on a new problem, or being brought on to a new project, things change all the time.
But I guess from an outsider’s perspective, it looks like I’m pretty much doing the same thing as any other white collar desk worker everyday.
Here’s roughly what my day looks like:
I usually get in around 6:30 and check any emails that I have. Usually at this point in the day, I might have one or two things that require my response. I’ll probably spend some time talking with my co-workers about any projects that we’ve been working on. Then I’ll usually spend some time working on things that we’ve talked about.
Then around 9 or 10, I’ll probably have some meetings that I’ll have to go to. These meetings could be related to projects that I’ve been working on, or they could be projects that other teams have been working on that I’ve been brought in to help with. Most of these meetings are with people from a different discipline, such as production engineering, manufacturing engineering, and research/technology. Usually I’ll walk out with some action items on my end to work on for the rest of the day/week.
Once my schedule frees up, then I’ll get back to my desk and work on whatever action items need to get done that day. This could be looking into some quality documents that someone had questions about or it could be some data analysis for some projects I’m working on. If I’m doing data analysis it usually means working with SQL, Python, and/or Excel. Usually completing an action item means sending out an email with my response to something.
Once in a while, I’ll have a chance to walk out on the factory floor where I get to see the planes actually being put together. I work in the world’s largest building by volume where the world’s largest planes are being built, so it almost feels like I’m in a sci-fi inspired miniature city. It’s also pretty cool to see the mechanics actually putting the plane together before my eyes.
My day usually wraps up around 3 and I go home for the day.
What are the Requirements/Qualifications of a Quality Engineer?
In my experience, I have never met someone with a quality engineering degree. According to my research, degrees in quality are out there, but I’m sure that they are very uncommon. When people hire for quality engineers they’re just looking for someone coming from a technical background. Usually this means a bachelors in engineering or some other technical degree. In my opinion, an engineering/technical degree can help check some boxes to get your foot in the door, but doesn’t help too much beyond that.
A lot of the quality engineers at Boeing are industrial engineering majors, but the most applicable engineering degree may vary depending on industry. In my case, I had a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.S. in nanoengineering, which don’t have much to do with making planes.
As far as desirable skills for quality engineering, there are several basic skills that will definitely apply regardless of industry:
- Reading/writing skills. Understanding quality documents and updating them as needed is such a big part of a quality engineer’s role. So this is a must in any industry.
- Knowledge of statistical techniques. Statistical techniques will help with doing data analysis to solve quality problems. Statistics will help out a lot with convincing people of the importance of any problems you identify. Statistics will also verify the effectiveness of your solutions to those problems.
- Analytical skills. Analytical skills are a must if you hope to solve any problems with a logical, data driven approach.
- Teamwork/communication. No one works completely alone. Teams of people are always more effective at solving big problems than single individuals. There will always be a team of people you will need to work with to complete your projects. So teamwork and strong communication skills are a must for quality engineers, just like most other jobs.
My Thoughts on Getting into Quality Engineering
In my case, I was hired mainly for my data analysis skills and coding background. I have a decent amount of experience doing data analysis with Python in college. I think my team wanted someone who had experience coding because that was something the team lacked. In other words, my skill set would help to diversify the skills/background of the quality engineering team.
In my opinion, there’s no one skill or degree that will get a quality engineering job. It may not even make you stand out from the competition. It’s likely a case-by-case basis that depends on what the team needs at the time and if your background will help solve a specific problem they have. But I’m guessing employers value experience in the industry (ideally in a similar role) more than having a particular set of skills listed on your resume.
How do you like Quality Engineering?
I would say that I enjoy the work that I do as a quality engineer at Boeing. There’s a number of reasons why:
- I get to use my analytical skills to solve problems that will have measurable impacts on the plane’s production process.
- I have the opportunity to work with people from a variety of backgrounds to solve interesting problems.
- I like that I can apply the data analysis skills that I’ve developed in college. I like applying these skills to “real world” problems because data analysis is something that I really enjoy doing.
- At Boeing in particular, the pay and benefits are also pretty good. I’m not going to say what I make specifically, but the median salary for quality engineers is about $68,000. You can check out the salaries for quality engineers at Boeing on glassdoor. I think that’s pretty accurate.
There are also a few things that I don’t like as much:
- Maybe this is just at Boeing, but change happens pretty slow. I’m working with pretty important documents. So if we’re going to change them, we have to be 100% sure that we’re doing the right thing. We also have to make sure we’re not going to cause more problems in the future. This will take time to do our due diligence and get buy-in from the right people.
- The data I work with is usually messy and it takes a lot of work to clean up. I’m pretty sure that’s usually how it is when working with data.
- A lot of the learning involves just sitting down and reading the documents, which isn’t too interesting. I’m not a voracious reader so this isn’t something I enjoy too much.
Overall, the work is enjoyable and I’m happy to be a quality engineer at Boeing.
Quality Engineering vs Quality Assurance
This is something that I just want to clarify because a lot of people seem to confuse these two. Quality engineering and quality assurance are closely related to each other. They often work together to solve problems, but they differ slightly in terms of their responsibilities. This is how things work at Boeing, however different companies may have different job titles and definitions of responsibilities for these roles.
Quality assurance is more of a low-level role. They are on the production floor actively checking steps in the process to make sure that the process follows quality requirements. They are the ones who “prove” that our process meets our requirements through planned inspections. This might just be the way the job role is defined at Boeing, but I would say it’s more of a hands-on role than quality engineering.
Quality engineering on the other hand is more of a high-level role. They are overseeing, maintaining, and improving the quality system. They document what the requirements are and look for ways to improve quality by identifying and solving problems in the process.
If I could summarize the difference in one sentence, I would say this: quality assurance checks the product to make sure they are good while quality engineering defines how to check the product and what exactly is good enough.
To summarize: quality engineering manages quality documents and works with cross-functional teams to improve the product quality. It’s a typical white-collar desk job, but I really like the work that I do as a quality engineer. I like analytical problem solving and working with teams to create a measurable impact on the process quality. I’m helping to make planes faster, cheaper, and higher quality than ever before.
If you have questions about something I didn’t cover here, feel free to comment below or send me an email and I’ll get back to you. If you want some tips on finding your next job, check out some of my other related posts:
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