Multiplying the Odds: Do I have a future in testing?

I’ve taken one of the hotly discussed questions to have its own forum post. I hope I have suitably anonymised people should they not wish their org to know. Please feel free to keep the discussion going!

Hi Fiona. As a tester who is not an automator and publicly represents themself as an exploratory tester, sceptical about “traditional” testing approaches. (And is well into their 40s) I’ve come to the conclusion there is no future for me in testing and am keen to leave. Why am I wrong? Certainly I see almost no demand for people like me in the job marketplace. (I feel “the community” is something of a bubble in that respect and not reflective of the wider hiring world.)

Some of the replies to this:
I have the same thoughts. It’s sad, because not everything can or should be automated. Also, I have seen MANY releases where they ran hundreds of automated tests that never find any defects, while we find a few dozen defects (so major) in the same release. Manual Testing IS still needed, but the Execs are killed manual testing off!

Agreed. In the same position. Learn to code enough to automate or find another area.

I specialize in manual testing and have actually found that of the many employers I’ve worked with who ask for test automation in their job posts many aren’t doing it yet and have hired me without the skill.

I agree with Cindy. Lots of places ‘think’ they want automation but don’t have it and don’t understand it. I also think in the world of Mobile app testing good manual testers are still very necessary as so many apps don’t really lead themselves to automation.

I’m in a similar situation myself, and trying to make my org understand that automation isn’t the answer to everything, nor the only way.

Plus those scripts have to maintained and updated every time there is an update beofre you can even run them. It is still an expense.


I worry about the same thing. Or, well, maybe worry is the wrong word. I have no interest in automation, I prefer the requirements testing and manual/exploratory testing stuff all the way, but I wonder if that’s still going to be a thing that I can actually do as a job or if I’ll be dragged into automation and end up leaving testing altogether as everyone moves to more continuous dev/devops/etc

I don’t have an answer - I’m not short of work at the moment, but I know from recruiters that I know that the majority of testing jobs going in my area are automation testing jobs.


I love seeing jobs that say someone along the lines of “you know when automation should and shouldn’t be used”. I like to think, but perhaps I’m wrong, that even as a non automator if you know that it will help increase your perceived value to some companies. I think some of the demand to automate all the things may come from a misunderstanding of what testing/testers are and how to best use them.


I saw the question yesterday, and there were too parts that I related to strongly:

  1. feeling like leaving IT (instead of fighting for people to understand what exploratory testing is)
  2. the bubble of importance mostly among exploratory testers

I’m an exploratory tester, and my employers have found me valuable. I get regular contacts from around on recruiting me, as I seem to “market” myself through sharing what I (and we) do in conference talks. Public speaking and generally being “coach-like” is clearly helpful in staying employed. So from a personal perspective, I shouldn’t feel like there is no place for me.

As a speaker, I get to go to conferences and I’m always feeling beaten down after a developer conference or test automation conference, since both seem to collect groups of people who like telling me to my face that my kind is a dying breed. They may be right, but trying to intimidate me about future isn’t going to make me excited about code. My interest towards code needs to come within me, and mob testing (programming) has been a great gateway to those interests for me.

I also see here in Finland this wave among employers between just looking for automators and then looking specifically for exploratory testers. Now is again a good time being an exploratory tester here, but automators are always in demand.

I find that staying employable, there’s many things exploratory testers can do:

  • learn to explore code, not just applications - reading code is quite different from writing code.
  • learn to explore APIs with coding-like tools
  • learn to explore around architecture images on the whiteboard
  • learn to influence others in how they test - become comfortable pairing & mobbing, speaking up about your ideas
  • learn to provide insights for test automation through exploring - you’ll be a valuable pair for a test automator
  • learn to really explore - surprisingly many testers have too limited ideas of what the explore for
  • learn to speak about what you do - public speaking enables you to learn even when people ‘correct’ you
  • learn to speak the language of risk and value and work that with a bias to action
  • learn to be an ally for management & business in getting job done and visibility

My current company wasn’t looking for an exploratory tester. But they built a job for an exploratory tester because they were looking for me. I said I wouldn’t automate, yet I both test our automation and drive its structural improvements. You know, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I grew into a programmer at age of 40+. This industry would completely lose out on some of its good people if the only way to be relevant is through programming. I don’t believe I would be the great explorer I believe I am if I started off with less of a business & information focus. Yet programming now makes me more powerful - now that I have some bandwidth for it.


Since I am an Automation Engineer, I suspect that my opinion will surprise some of you; companies need good exploratory/manual testers. It is true that “management” has heard that automating everything is faster and cheaper which makes them lean in that direction but they need to be reminded of the project management triangle. If their QA is fast and cheap then their quality is going to be low. I believe the place of an automation engineer is to remove recurring and tedious work from the queue so that manual testers can be more effective and proactive in their testing.

Don’t lose hope, there are managers who are seeing the value of exploratory testing and others who are helping to promote your importance.


I think that is dead right. The only way is to educate your boss / organisation. If they can’t or won’t be educated then you a tough decision about what to do. I’m lucky at the moment as I have a blend of manual (scripted and exploratory) and automated testing (and since I started off as a developer years ago I have software skills too). The manager I report to is not a tester, but luckily he listens and understands what I am trying to do, and as the lead tester at my company I’m bringing my team along for the ride.

If you have the aptitude for writing software and you test just as a job rather than vocation then learn the skills and apply them as your ‘superiors’ wish you too. I think the majority of testers in this community fall into the vocation camp - and this leads to a certain level of passion and unhappiness when forced into doing things we don’t believe are in the best interest of a project. I think the only thing you can do if your superiors won’t learn is to find a new role.

I test in the embedded software arena mainly which seems more resilient to the fashions of the testing world. I’m just off to count my blessings.


I think with a shift to the agile teams QA engineer has to be able to automate, plus do exploratory testing. Though I believe that if you are an expert in some testing type, let’s say as accessibility testing, there will be always a need for you.

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Yes automation is a buzz - I see it under the “Shift Left” label. It’s happening all over the place. But as @berenvd mentions here Multiplying the Odds Masterclass further discussion There’s more to testing that automation. There are more trends in testing too Where are testing roles shifting to?

Go find what makes you valuable to the team and tell me about it. Tell me when you handle testing of databases or when your job is to manage the road to production. I know large companies where testing is done by non-testers, yet they still deliver. They have SME’s or other technicians testing… but if we can pitch a test coach that would be valuable.

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Automated Testing: A big coded check suite that gets run and reviewed by a tester in order to assist in exploring the product manually.
Manual Testing: A tester explores the product without a big coded check suite. Small coded check suites or other interim tools are fine, I guess.
Exploratory Testing: All testing, by its nature. Sometimes used to mean “manual” as above. Done by a tester.
Tester: Anyone making an effort to discover something about the product to evaluate its perceived quality.

So some good news, all of these things are done by a tester. Good testers, bad testers, skilled or underskilled, coders and non-coders, test experts or those ignorant of the craft, professionals or fungible warm bodies, the testing will get done in some way or other. Even if it’s overly expensive or insufficient.

Either you are perceived to serve the needs of the perceived testing or not. If an employer believes that you cannot then they will replace you with someone or something they believe can. If an employer believes that something called “automation” can “automate” testing (and given the name who can blame them?), thereby relying on coding skills known to already exist in their company, then why hire anyone to do it “manually”? Just shift an employee onto a CI project and call it a day. Maybe dress it up with things like “BDD” - if you’re already failing to notice abstraction problems then BDD is perfect to abuse. That’s all just sensible business practice - people are really expensive. Besides, nobody expects a product to be perfect, just for staff to be seen to do due diligence and not have it be too awful when it reaches the end user, so who cares? Just shuffle around “solutions” like more tools or new processes.

So why are you valuable? Moreover, why should you be seen to be valuable? That’s essentially what I get from these kinds of discussions. The interesting thing to me is that some people are worried about their future while other people are not too concerned; either because they don’t rely on an employer (e.g. consultants), they can play the employers game (learn to code, just write checks, follow orders) or because they’re good and also lucky enough work for someone who knows better (hopefully skilled testers doing good work including check suites where appropriate).

So does this concern about perceived value come from being seen as underskilled (and therefore be fired or not hired) because they cannot code, because their employer hasn’t the information to detect it (frustration at the unfair and sometimes dehumanising state of the industry/local employment), or not understanding and demonstrating their own value (either because they cannot see it, cannot show it, or they do not have it)? All problems with different solutions.

Edit: Removed the word “manually” from a definition of “manual testing”.


Just want to quickly say thanks to everyone for taking the time to offer their thoughts on this. (The original question was mine.) We have a newborn at home currently so I wasn’t able to take part in the thread before … and haven’t really got time to read it all now! But will definitely make some time to process your comments and maybe come back on them.


It’s unfortunate but most job ads are asking for automation skills these days. I started out as a programmer so automation’s not been that tricky to pick up for me but really it depends on whether you’re looking for someone who can produce coded automation or just record a tour around the software. They’re very different skills but in my mind both require exploratory tester (or context driven testing) skills. Too many inexperienced testers who use automation from the start of their career seem to find it difficult to figure out where to stop with their automation so you end up with a vast amount of tests that take an age to run and don’t always give value to the project. If they’re the only testers on the project then there’s a risk that the sneaky little bug that the exploratory tester finds immediately will be missed, or they won’t realise that whilst the software obeys the spec, the end user’s interaction will be clumsy and slow due to poor design. Understanding exploratory and context driven testing will help plan efficient and effective automation, afterall testing’s not just about producing a set of scripts that can be run, but also making sure the system will work for the end user and that the devs have interpreted the spec correctly. Having said that, career opportunities for those of use who won’t see 40 again are becoming increasingly limited - I’ve seen many ads that sell the job in a way that’s aimed to attract the 20 somethings (lunch rooms with nerf guns, various games consoles, pool tables and a bar for socialising in the evening are great if you’re into that thing but are definitely aimed at the younger end of the spectrum). It would be great if employers started seeing experience as a postive thing and not assuming that youth is better in this industry.


Found a similar topic on Youtube.
James Bach - The future of the Testing Role:

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Thanks again everyone for your thoughts on my original question. I think there’s a lot here that can help ANY testers wrestling with similar issues about relevance.
(Even though my original question was self-centred - sorry!)

Also interested to hear people mention cases where an apparent demand for automation skills turned out to be not quite as it seemed. Yeah, I’m sure there is an element of “fashion” to automation’s appeal - just like every org now has to be Agile without really knowing what that entails.

A lot of you have rightly talked about educating and advocating within our organisations on the value of testing etc. This is definitely all good advice. I agree, of course.
Indeed I’ve done that … admittedly without as much success as I would have liked …with my current team by introducing them to ideas beyond their sets of test cases, like Session-Based Test Management, cognitive biases etc.

For me, unfortunately, a big issue is that I need to leave my current org and find work nearer to home (and stop the 3hrs+ a day I spend commuting) for family reasons - and for my own sanity. :wink:
There aren’t many testing jobs near me anyway, and when something does comes up it’s typically focused on automation/coding skills. I struggle to remember the last time I saw a job ad that made any reference to exploratory testing being a desirable aspect of a candidate - most of them don’t even make any reference to thinking skills.
And a testing role that doesn’t value exploratory testing isn’t appealing to me.

I know that those kind of roles do exist, in the “right”" kind of companies, but they’re not common. I truly wish more (all?) software hiring managers thought like Michael Bolton but they just don’t.
(See also the community’s emphasis on blogging, twitter-presence and being at the right conferences - as per James Bach’s “build your reputation” stuff. My blog isn’t great but I do emphasise its existence on my CV etc to show hiring managers that I don’t just do testing, I also think about it. But I’ve had more than one interview where it’s become clear that they haven’t looked at my blog or twitter and have no particular interest in them.)

Before testing I was in marketing and there you needed to remember, unless you happened to produce products aimed at people in marketing, the customer was not you. They didn’t live like you, didn’t think like you, didn’t like the same things as you.
Similarly I’m finding that many people hiring testing resource aren’t like me and don’t see testing in the CDT-influenced way that got me enthusiastic about it.

It does seem that ability to automate is now perceived as a requirement for a tester to some degree.
Which is fine - it happens in different kinds of industries all the time that people need to re-skill as the world evolves. But it’s not something I can sell myself on with my minimal coding skills. And after years of self-learning in my own time (I started with no technical background at all) on top of a long commute I’ve come to the conclusion that I now have better things to do than taking part in the endless programming/tools skills arms-race.

And then, yeah, even if the skillset isn’t an issue, there’s potentially an age one. Chris described it well. I suppose until you reach a certain age you don’t even think about how many job ads contain (perhaps innocent) coded references like “we’re a young, fun team”. In 1 or 2 cases where I’ve been told that I was clearly a strong candidate but didn’t get jobs because of “fit” I always wonder whether that’s a legally acceptable way of saying I’m too old. (The truth probably is that I just don’t want to admit I smell bad and am super-annoying.)

Anyway, I don’t want to seem like I’m wallowing in self-pity here. I know that if I’m not thriving in testing that’s my own responsibility and I could make different choices.

I’m sure testing as a skill has a future and its right that those involved in testing should constantly learn and adapt. The ideas and comments you guys have contributed here will help testers do that.

I just feel that I personally don’t really fit what most orgs are looking for in a testing resource. So my future probably lies elsewhere.
Not sure where exactly, but that’s a different problem. :slight_smile:

In the meantime I am off to enjoy the Easter weekend and as much chocolate as I can stomach!


I must have a similar background to James - started off in manual testing roles, tried some automation, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. If I wanted to code, I’d have been a developer!
I am now a manager, but am increasingly finding that the industry is using the term Automation Tester, and it’s a concern to me. I have done a conference talk and magazine article on this subject, as I think it is a short-sighted view.

Good testers need to have 3 sets of skills - Analytical, Soft and Technical - and all 3 should be equally valued. I want to see testers who can analyse the requirements (stories or whatever), work out what needs to be tested, do some exploratory testing to uncover things that have been missed or not thought of (I like Maaret’s list of things that exploratory testers can do), and then write automated code to cover the main tests that need to be executed multiple times as part of a regression pack.

I am not passionate about writing code, but if a tester has a genuine passion for code, then that’s great, but no-one should be pressured into it. All it will do is create clones, and yet what we need are people with good inquisitive brains. Do we really want to drive those people away from testing?

Actually I am heartened to see this type of discussion coming to the forefront, as it really shows that we are not alone in our thinking.

Automation is an important tool to help a tester to do their job well, but automation skills alone wont cut it.

Keep the faith!


Yes, turning down a strong candidate because of “fit” is a legally-acceptable* way of saying you’re too old. I was in a redundancy situation last year and the very first job I applied for, I was interviewed for. The feedback that the agency sent me said that I was a strong candidate (the company’s offer was almost identical to the role I was then in), but “I was a poor cultural fit for the office”. I took pains to say to anyone (loudly) that it was the most mono-cultural office I’d set foot in for twenty years or more.

*Well, rather, legally unchallengeable rather than acceptable.

If you’re asking yourself ‘Do I have a future in testing?’ I’d say its the ideal time to work out where you are at in your career and whether (in the words of ‘The Lean Startup’) you need to pivot at this point?

That pivot could be a whole career change (which I wouldn’t recommend) or, it could just be adding some new skills to your skillset, such as mobile app testing, security testing etc. Or, it could even be just the act of updating your knowledge of particular areas of testing, such as learning about the different test automation frameworks, without actually putting it into practice.

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