Career Progression In Software Testing: How Did You Get To Where You Are Now?

I left school at 16 and did an apprenticeship in a call centre. I was “QC” and spent my day listening to sales leads and determining if they were suitable or not for our client. Technically, it was “testing” but people’s sale skills rather than software.

I then gave college a try but it wasn’t for me. Back in the call centre I went… that time as an inbound customer service advisor. Spent my whole time there (5 months) applying for other jobs and ended up on the helpdesk for a third party company supplying software to the NHS.

I got involved in all sorts… Citrix environment configs, testing, coding - I wrote up some letter templates using HML, SQL reports etc. It was an environment where if you could do it, just do it.

I got my ISTQB here and then moved into a test analyst role at another company. I became a software tester “properly” there I think. I learned python (from my now boyfriend!) and got involved in automation.

These things all led me to my current “test engineer” role where I am back to doing a bit of everything, but all software testing related this time. :slightly_smiling_face:

4 Likes

(sarcastic answer) A drunk elephant with hiccups wandering through the wilderness.

The real (longer) answer:
I got into testing sideways and possibly backwards. I left high school, finished a geology degree, and got all of 4.5 months work in the next 2 years (I graduated into the teeth of the 1987 stock market crash, and where I was pretty much killed all new geology hires). So I went back to college and got a teaching certificate. And graduated into possibly the only glut of teachers ever. 6 months trying for work, then a year of teaching sends me into a screaming breakdown (That elephant has big hiccups).

So I went back to college (again) and this time took a software engineering degree focusing on programming for the internet. Graduated in 2000… By this stage I’m starting to think I’ve got the Midas touch in reverse for any kind of career possibilities.

Eventually got work as a programmer, 6 months later the company is bankrupt. Did some pickup work for the much smaller group that emerged from the ashes to keep the long-term contracts going. Moved to the US, got married, eventually got work that kind of sort of started as testing but included network management, programming, product design, and managing offshore teams of testers and programmers. Oh, and like the teaching job, I couldn’t do anything right. Boss says do this urgent thing now, so I do it, then he wants to know why I didn’t do the other urgent thing I dropped to do the first urgent thing. Over and over. Cue breakdown #2.

Got a straight testing job 2000 miles away. Broke my ankle loading the car. Drove up anyway. Started testing full time and loved it. And stayed there for 7 years, moving from level 1 to level 3 in the process. (Tester 1, Tester 2, Tester 3, each level gets higher responsibilities).

The current position is the one I got when I was laid off from the first full-time tester position. It started with me being just a “Software Quality Analyst” and any growth that happened was/is on my initiative, since I’m the one and only.

I’m still kind of sort of the one and only, in the sense that while the company’s been acquired by one of those mega-multinational groups with offices in half the countries of the world, the group I work with is nowhere near any of the other offices, and I haven’t figured out how to contact other testers yet.

They do have a clear set of career steps on their corporate intranet, but frustratingly little in the way of concrete things to do in order to make those steps. I’ve only been part of this since April this year, so who knows what I’ll find out.

So… yeah. Drunk elephant with hiccups.

6 Likes

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school so I took the first job offered. Working in a chrome plating plant that I’d visited on work experience. I went from lacky to running the chrome plating process in 2 years.
I moved to be a labourer for a print firm packing boxes. Wagon driver, dispatch supervisor, logistics manager and Quality, Health and Safety and Environment Director came along over 14 years with Audit and creating bespoke management systems training along the way.
When that went into liquidation, not my fault, I had a young family and wanted stability so joined a big local firm as an admin. Quickly rose to supervisor and ended up testing system upgrades for M-day (big mortgage regulation change). I didn’t know what testing was so did research (as I wasn’t given any guidance) and sent off my final report. The head of testing came to see me and asked for my testing background. He was surprised when I said I didn’t have one because, his words, my report was better then some of his full time testers.
When the next job came up I was in. 14 years later I’ve been a test analyst, BI (Business Intelligence) Test Analyst, BI Manager, Audit Support Manager and back to Senior Test Analyst.
I suppose the moral of the story in terms of advancement is, take opportunities and do a good job.
Not sure where I’ll go next but I’m doing training and coaching which is very appealing and I’m always an accessibility and quality advocate.

4 Likes

I started actual test work about 10 years ago. Looking back, a lot of the tech work I had done previously could be described as testing work, but I never had the title of “tester”, so in the eyes of anyone who looks at my CV, it doesn’t count.

But it did count in keeping that first testing job, so that’s a plus.

In that first testing job, I did move up the “ladder” from tester to test lead. Then I eliminated the role of test lead and became tester again. This suited me fine, as the team didn’t need a lead. But the return to tester was short lived. The department where we worked was eliminated, and we all hit the streets.

After that, I got involved with a toxic team and wanted to leave testing entirely. So I did. After a year with a great team in hardware testing development (aka QA), I came to the conclusion that I missed software testing a whole lot, and the problem wasn’t me or testing, but instead was the previous toxic team. So I went looking for more testing roles. I found one that was, on paper, a great role for me. But in reality, it wasn’t satisfying (for reasons I won’t get into now). So I moved on out (and up) again to my current role.

Now I’m the lone tester who works with hardware and software. I test mostly software, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

2 Likes

Hoo-boy. Graduated college with a degree in music, but started training soldiers to use specific pieces of software instead. Quit that job to take one developing training for a related piece of software after three years. Part of that job turned out to build scenario-based tests for the software, since I was the only person on either the training or test team with experience actually doing the job the software was supposed to support. When two of our three contracts went away (and ALL the training funds with it), my boss invited me to join the test team. Six months later, the test lead quit and I got tagged for that, so I learned how to write test plans VERY quickly. I also learned during that time that I hate running manual tests, so I started trying to teach myself how to create automated tests. A year later, that contract went away too, so I landed back in training development, then back in test automation. Now I find myself the lead of a testing and training team that consists of three people (including myself). I’m still trying to get better at automation, but as far as I know, I’m the only person for about 100 miles that really does test automation, so I find myself really wishing I could work with someone who REALLY knows their stuff for a few months and get over some of the roadblocks I keep bumping into.

2 Likes

I’ve often said I have a CV so chequered you could play draughts on it - I did a degree in Archaeological Science, tried and failed to get a job in that, and after temping for a while and realising that I really, really hated working in call centres I got onto a blacksmithing course at Hereford College. One thoroughly enjoyable year in Hereford later I got funding from the Prince’s Trust to set up my own business and for a while, was a self-employed blacksmith. Unfortunately, this coincided with the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, I was based in one of the badly affected areas and the shutdown pretty much did for my business plan.
Back on temping, I went through a number of clerical/admin jobs until I applied for one which was for handling sending testing work out to external contractors at a company that did e-learning. I also got tasked with doing some regression testing of courses against a new operating system and browser, which was Vista and IE7.
Over the following years, I found myself doing more and more of the testing and less of the contracting out, picking up all manner of techniques and practices along the way. As the company started going down the pan and I needed to think about my escape plan, I did my ISTQB foundation, found I knew most of what it covered but didn’t know the terminology, then when the tech staff were transferred to an outsourcer who promptly decided to have a headcount cull. I made sure I was one of the ones culled, and took my chances out in the job market again.
I managed to land a job with a company who do insurance software, and had a good year there learning more about automation and SQL, and experiencing proper DevOps. The fly in the ointment was the commute, Northern Rail’s inability to run a reliable train service really was exhausting me and I had to consider alternatives, and when I saw my present job advertised, at a location just down the road from my original testing job, I went for it.
We got asked to do a test involving some java coding which I couldn’t do but I did say why, and referenced the online resources I’d consulted. I heard nothing and thought I hadn’t got the job, but then got a call out of the blue asking if I was still available, got called for interview, and got the job. Now I’m learning to code in java and use other tools that I knew a bit about but hadn’t done much with, and generally expanding my skillset.
Onwards and upwards…

2 Likes

I’m very comforted by the number of people who, like me, got degrees and then were unable to get work in that field xD

I like telling long stories so here it comes! tldr at the bottom.

I did my degree in Earth Sciences (geology without palaeontology, which is the best bit of geology T_T) but moved home after completing my degree to help my parents because dad was ill. Wasn’t able to do a masters in my specialism (medieval building stones) or get a job in buildings conservation because of not having a masters. I worked at an iron age hill fort, dressing up and teaching kids various ancient skills. Two years later, my dad got a lot better and my friends asked me to move to Bristol.

I had 0 savings, 0 skills/experience and I was about to be offered the supervisor role at the hill fort - a role that was being created for me, to stop me from leaving xD I thought about what I wanted my future to look like, and decided that I needed to leave home and go to the big city where the streets are paved with gold. Since I didn’t yet have a job, and my parents don’t earn enough to be a guarantor, my friend’s mum offered to be my guarantor so that I could rent a flat. Basically lived in poverty for another 2 years, paid rent/utils and had maybe £3-5 left over for food per MONTH while working 2-3 zero-hours contracts at a time - hotel morning shifts, afternoons at a science workshop schools programme and nights at a fuel station. I’d also worked at a childrens’ care home because I have a lot of experience with children from that sort of background, but was forced to leave after I reported a colleague for unnecessary use of force and then assaulting me at work. When I did my 99-second talk at TestBash last year, I talked about testing myself and coming up worthless, and this is why. I was working so hard all the time, giving my all to every crappy job, and I still couldn’t afford to eat or take a bus into town. I lived in Brizzle for 2 years and didn’t even know what the city centre looked like because I never left the house except to go to the library. xD

After a while, the schools workshop people took me on full-time as an operations manager and everything got better. I’m pretty good with people, so I suspected if I kept going then eventually one of the companies I worked for would offer me a supervisory or management role xD I did it for six months, working 50+ hours and driving 1000+miles a week, doing a bunch of school assemblies, after school workshops and weekend birthday parties, on top of staff (interviews, paperwork, training), bookings and office management duties. And I was still only just earning enough to live by, because the salary was 16k a year and I was being taxed at basic rate due to a mix up that HMRC insisted they couldn’t fix until the following April - now I had £40 a month for food!

A developer friend of mine asked if I would like to come work at the company he worked for, because they were looking for a QA. He’d asked me that before and I’d declined, because I had no idea how software development worked or what the job would involve, or anything. I didn’t even know that words like ‘agile’ and ‘waterfall’ had meanings other than flexible and water falling down a lil cliff in a river. Luckily, he asked me at a house party when I was tipsy so I was like fiiiiine and the next day I had an email from the QA Manager asking for my CV.

The rest is history! Now I have been testing for a year and a half, and I’ve not been this happy in a role since I worked at the hill fort. :slight_smile: The community is amazing, and I am so determined to progress and work hard because I’m grateful just to have been given the opportunity to move into testing.

In terms of career progression, I have goals that I’m reaching for, and am following a roadmap but I have been doing it all alone so the progress has been slow, so I don’t feel like I have the opportunities I should to progress into a better role within testing. Working on that with my manager though!

TL;DR: I DID NOTHING RELEVANT AND THEN A FRIEND TOLD ME TO COME WORK WITH HIM SO THAT I WOULDN’T BE POOR FOREVER

9 Likes

I got a degree in Software Engineering, and realized I wanted to be a tester after my first internship.

After that, I bounced around through a startup, a contracting position at a huge medical company, then a small company that ended up being bought out, and finally I’m at my current job with a company that does consulting.

My career path has been interesting, as moving jobs hasn’t really given me a ‘progression’, but staying at my current company has.

A lot of this is due to where I was at each company, and the rest is because my current employer is very good about asking questions as to what you want to do with your career.

2 Likes

I came into my career different from most I’d say.
Testing fighter jets, and all their on and off aircraft bits. Including missile and bomb guidance systems. Yes, yes I can say blowing stuff up for living was fun. Testing out what is my threshold for vomiting while going MACH 1 is cool, but distressing too.
Ah, the sweet sound of silence when going faster than the speed of sound.
Ok, to be fair, the RCAF did teach me think in terms of ones and zeros and how to fault find. Getting to use a life sized cockpit in the craziest simulator you’ll ever lay eyes was slick too. I just followed the instructions of the little dude in my ear, pitch, roll and try not to crash and die he says… meh, I didn’t biff it and I got my kill on the sortie. heheh.

After that my life was not so thrilling… photocopiers. Yes, a blip but a step nonetheless.

Then I moved officially into IT PM’ing. I didn’t enjoy having a customer scream for hours in a room. No joke.
We had no testers, was that obvious?
I was asked to stand up a team and the rest is history. What I didn’t like was I became pigeonholed as a process problem solver for companies. So I set out to become more technical.

Now, I work for myself applying these skills to various contracts, okay maybe not the blowing sh!t up part, but the thought process is still the same.
I love how I got started and proud to have served my country.
True story. I’m an onion with layers like Donkey says, or was that Shrek…

5 Likes

Leaving high school I had a vague plan to join the airforce and train to be a pilot, but I thought I needed a backup plan in case that didn’t work out and so I figured to get a degree beforehand. I had no idea what I wanted a degree in, but figured accounting was a respectable profession and so I started a Commerce degree with a major in information systems.

It took me 6 weeks before I decided that accounting and me would never be best of friends, but I enjoyed the IT-side and so switched to a Computer Science degree. Getting to my penultimate year I thought it would be a good idea to start getting interview practice for when I applied for graduate roles and so I applied for a junior developer role in the Defence department. Against expectations I landed the role and spent 7 years working in a role more akin to DevOps before I’d even heard the term, working my way up to a senior role. After 7 years the work had lost its shine but I’d gained an interest in a new way of working permeating the fringes of government, Agile. I trained up as a scrum master, but Agile and and Government have an often frictional relationship and after 2 years of head-butting the same walls I was ready to chuck it in.

At that time my manager approached me and told me they wanted to implement a testing framework across all the development teams so that they could bring in qualified testers in a Testing-as-a-Service model, and they were looking for someone to lead the charge. I figured a change was as good as a holiday and became the test lead for a fledgling test team. After 18 months though I wanted to get out and learn from others on how they did testing, so I left govt service and joined a test consultancy, contracting to various government departments and suppliers as a test consultant.

The thirst for learning then took me to the UK to see how things were done in a different part of the world where I took on the role of Senior Test Engineer for a silicon chip design company. 2 short years later and I’m now back in Australia, leveraging my experiences to help developers, testers, and anyone who’ll listen try improve their knowledge and processes, and attempting to carve out more of a Quality Engineer role, at an accounting software provider of all places!

2 Likes

Shrek used the onion metaphor when talking to Donkey. :upside_down_face:

1 Like

My first a few tastes of testing in waterfall UAT phase, got me interested. Then, I started seeking out more opportunities in testing. Eventually, I become the tester.

I was planning to climb the ladder to become TM etc. at the beginning. Then, I realized that’s not what I think fun at the moment after I carry the duty for a year or so.

From that point, I know I just want be in the practices not out in meetings and reports. So I am going to expanding my width instead of climbing up.

I think there’s more fun by expanding…:hugs:

2 Likes

Whaaaaaaaat fighter jets!? That’s so cool! I know what you mean bout having a job with wow factor to a more normal one. I used to do warrior training, run around chasing kids with a spear all day and telling old Welsh stories around a fire. It was always so nice when people asked me what I did, and I imagine it was similar with testing military stuffs. Now when people ask me what I do, I’m still super proud of myself and I love my job, but I miss being able to say “I wear a woollen cloak and handmade leather shoes, and teach children how to fight”. xD

I know, right!
How do you top MACH 1?
And to think I failed one of my electronics classes and had to retake it, which aligned my new course (people) to fill the Air Weapons trade rather then Instrumentation.
So much more fun!
People used to ask me if I was afraid to work with explosives all day.
To borrow a line from Maverick: “You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead.”
Same applies. If you’re afraid you’re dead.
We used say if you see an Armourer (my trade nic name) running on the tarmac you better be on their heels.

2 Likes

I originally intended to be an English Teacher but dropped out of Uni and got a job in Accounts and HR. Got bored very quickly and moved to a developer role (the job offer came with a uni place, paid fees, study time etc - what’s not to like?). From there I spent a number of years as an analyst programmer for a software house but also had the occasional foray into Sales, Training and Support (I had a boss who encouraged us to feel the fear - Sales definitely did that for me!). When the site closed I moved to introduce QA into the development team in my present software house and now split my time between managing a development department, analysis and testing.

Well!

I’ve often used test pilots as a metaphor for modern software testing (“We’re not the guys who flip the switches to make sure the landing lights come on; we’re the guys who get in this new and untried plane and take it up to push the edges of the envelope. Not just how high, how fast, how low and how slow it flies, but also whether the aircraft can do what it’s supposed to, safely and effectively, not just the once but the many times.”) but for someone to come along who’s done it for real???

Respect.

(PS: you have a unique perspective, so tell me: do you think the analogy holds?)

Your comment about armourers made me think of this from last year:

1 Like

Just to clarify, I’ve only ever flown from the back seat.
But yes, I would say that analogy holds. We always knew in the back of our minds that a fellow teammate’s life depended upon us doing our jobs.
That’s why safety is driven home from day one.
Regarding the ground crew in Belgium, a series of unfortunate events would have to occur. Its clearly possible, but rare. The safety pins (remove before flight flags) would have been missing. This is a human intervention… number of reasons but results are same. And for the WOW (weight of wheels) switch fail. That’s also rare, but some seriously crappy luck. Accidents happen on the line and a root cause investigations occurs and are very serious.
Walking down the line on a very cold winter day I saw the pin on the ground of the Arrest Hook. That puppy has the ability to do harn in a big way. I was trying to replace the pin, but was very focused on what I was doing and walked into the trailing edge of the flap and was flat out on the tarmac with stars about my head. Could have been worse… I had my toque on so no scars on my forehead. The plane may have won the battle but I won the war. The pin was returned to where it belonged and safety restored.

That’s more than I’ve done; but still, Respect.

For me, this thread is more about the role of testing as a step in career progression, rather than “how I got where I am today as a tester”, because I sense that the argument within the profession is that there is little or no career progression beyond stepping up from tester to Test Manager. If anyone has a better example, please share!

I can demonstrate how testing can prevent career progression, though. For 20 years, I worked for the UK water economic regulator, Ofwat. For 15 of those years, I was test lead on our main data collection tool, which was sent out to water companies. They populated it with data, sent it back to us (no Internet in those days and strict limits on e-mail mailbox sizes) and then we used an uploader to scrape data off into our main database. My testing was intended to demonstrate to Very Senior People that this system was more foolproof than pen and paper and that data collected was uploaded correctly, ended up in the right places in the database, and that calculated values were correct. Every analyst in the organisation used that data and relied on its integrity; and as a result of their analysis, decisions would be taken over the scale of water bills for every consumer in England and Wales. So no pressure there at all.

In organisational terms, though, this was a dead-end. So at various times during those 15 years, I tried to engineer a sideways move. (For the first five years of my Ofwat career, I’d worked in the Director General’s outer office, at various times directly either to him or to his professional PA; at other times, in the press office. If, in the years 1990-95, you ever saw a quote in a UK national newspaper attributed to “an Ofwat spokesman”, that was me, as I wasn’t a press officer and so shouldn’t have stuff attributed to me by name; but we were a small organisation, we all multi-tasked, and as long as I was given a line to take, I was a pretty safe pair of hands because I’d spent ten years working in social security and had had to sometimes explain difficult stuff to people who were sometimes definitely not ready to hear it.

The trouble was that every time I tried to move sideways, I was kicked back because no-one really understood where my experience and knowledge was coming from. Very few of my colleagues even understood what I did, even though they used the products of my work every day. Things came to a head when I applied for a quite high-profile role in EU policy liaison. I did detailed research on the role, the lines of policy and communication, and a proposed workplan for Day One, Week One and Month One. But the guys running the recruitment had already decided who they wanted to bring in from Brussels given half a chance, so I didn’t get the job despite doing the interview of my life. In the feedback session, they said “We never knew you had any sort of ambition at all to do this job.” (They’d had cloth ears for all the hints I’d been dropping for the previous 18 months, but still.)

So if there’d been any career progression in testing in some organisations, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d probably have ended up being headhunted into the Department for Exiting the EU three years ago. Instead, I stuck with the testing role for another two years, by which time I was pretty jaded with testing the same thing for so long. I left the Civil Service with the intention of making my name as a writer and photographer; that lasted about two years before the money ran out, after which I had to go into testing again. But the testing I went back into was very different to the testing role I’d had before. The rest is history - though in terms of career progression, that’s more been down to the way the different organisations I’ve worked for have treated testers (or staff generally) rather than any sort of planned or ordered career progression as such.

1 Like