Ill stay a tester and will do automation as well as “manual” aka exploration.
Automation is just a tool to help your exploration.
And even with a heavy focus on automation you will have chunks of exploration. Guess what you do when you find bugs during the automation?
Can we please use manual lesser and have no implicit binary choice of “manual vs automation”?
Here is a brief description how advanced my development skills (which includes automation):
If, if was doing this today would just follow the TAU (test automation university) courses or other applicable online trainers. But personally if you want to learn how to program, you really need to find a personal project that interests you. Usually this involves writing a multiplayer computer game using the target language and platform as a way to keep interest. For me, I practice my coding skills building a home automation system for example. Everyone has their own way of making learning fun, find yours.
I think the bigger elephant in the room to becoming a test automation engineer, is that most of the test automation training courses miss some big areas that SDETs typically spend a lot of time in just working out how to automate parts of their environments. Stack overflow is full of questions by system admins and test engineers trying to do things like automate app installations. Basically in how to prepare test machines and do test setup properly. How to create a clean test environment /sandbox is not taught often enough. Even web applications need realistic environments, it’s not just desktop applications that need to make sure tests run in a clean linux/windows machine. Manual testing does prepare you for some of this, but once you automate, a lot of security hurdles jump up in your way. You suddenly have to become an expert in areas you might not have before, like how to configure VLAN’s. Or how to isolate tests that now will run at the same time as each other on a test farm, where before they would run manually one at a time.
Sebastian has dropped a few good hints above already, but keep it fun, and good luck.
We’ve collected various resources and ideas on becoming a test automation engineer that might be useful. IMO there’s no way around learning how to program if you want to contribute to a larger test automation project. And likewise it’s important to get familiar with other DevOps tooling, including source control and CI pipelines.
I can share something that I personally experienced: choose an application that you have access for, choose an automation tool and start learning by building test cases for that application. Try to spend some time per week to write few tests [spend some time to learn or fix something about the framework, the environment or the tool]