After some time in an entry-level position in any career, a person will begin thinking about what comes next. Do I enjoy my work enough to continue down this path? Do I want to pursue something completely different? If you decide you enjoy your job and you want to continue with your current work, you may start to look at how to take it to the next level. What kind of promotions could you work towards? If the next level requires new responsibility or training, are you willing to put forth the effort? (Find out How to begin your career in QA, if you are interested in software testing but have not yet started working in the sector.)
In the software testing profession, the typical progression is to move from an entry-level QA Engineer to a Senior QA Engineer (some companies use the title QA Analyst or other less used but equivalent titles). In some companies, there may be more than just junior and senior. For example, there might be QA Engineer I, II and III. If you want to progress in your software testing career, here is what you will need to do.
Not All Titles are Equal
Each organization has different criteria for job titles and the responsibilities tied to those titles. It’s important not to rely solely on your current employer’s definition of “Senior”, for example. Some employers may reserve the “Senior QA” title for automated testers. Others may base it largely on time served. It could also be a combination of things including the number of projects tested, time served and demonstrating leadership within projects. The important point is to remember that when you eventually move on to a new employer, you may find the skills that put you into your current senior role are not sufficient to land your next one. That could technically mean a demotion when changing jobs if you don’t keep yourself informed of the market expectations. Nobody wants to end up feeling pigeonholed in a company when it is time to move on.
Choose a Direction
When planning for career growth, it’s a good idea to have a direction in mind. With software testing, there are multiple avenues to choose from. Your desire might be to focus on test case development and manual testing, or you might have an interest in automated testing. Perhaps you would like to lead a QA team and ultimately become a QA manager? Maybe Web API testing interests you. By choosing a direction, you can then take steps to move towards your chosen goal.
If you decide you are interested in developing as an automated tester, you can look at the most popular automated testing tools and begin tutorials or online courses that teach the skills necessary for using those tools. If management is something you would like to pursue, you might consider management related certifications and increase your knowledge of software development methodologies. Or perhaps it is too soon for you to make a determination. In that case you should take a wide swath and learn as many disciplines as possible. This is a good approach for anyone early in their career.
Expand your QA Skill Set
A key attribute of most Senior QA Engineers is their comprehensive knowledge of QA, which is needed for them to perform well in any specific software testing discipline. If you are currently focused on automation, it’s important to know how to write test cases well. If you don’t understand tests case development and why they are written they way they are, it can be difficult to automate them. If you are only testing front-end applications, learn to test back-end services as well. An understanding of the system as a whole provides a tester with the insight necessary to do a better job within a specialty. Expanding your knowledge of aspects outside your specialty not only makes you more valuable within your current organization, but expanding your skillset will provide you with qualifications to get your next job when or if that time comes. The key here is to remain curious and proactive about learning disciplines outside of your specific job duties. Ask questions and learn from your teammates who are focused on other areas of testing.
Look at the QA Market
Once you have decided on a direction (and even if you haven’t), look at job postings for other QA positions. What are the qualifications required for those positions? You may find you haven’t heard of the tools or skills they are looking for in a candidate. Even if you aren’t looking to leave your job, there will be a wealth of information in those job postings, and you might see a pattern. For example, you might find Web API testing is a highly desired skill that is listed in almost all Senior QA openings. If it is not something that you have needed to test in your current position, it may be something to look into. Perhaps you can find out if there is a need within your current organization. This is a great way to figure out which skills you should focus on. You may find that the work you are currently doing is not sought after by other companies and it could pose a problem if you ever find yourself looking for a new job.
Software Development Knowledge
Another key attribute of a Senior Tester is a solid understanding of the software development process and the architecture behind the system under test. To lead testing of a project, for example, the senior tester should know the ins and outs of the entire process and the teams involved in making those changes. This includes understanding the effects of all development activities and how testing should be executed based on those activities. When certain back-end changes are made, a Senior Tester will understand what those changes mean for testing and where potential issues may arise.
The overarching theme here is to keep learning. Learn from your QA teammates, your development team and from sources like QA job postings. The worst thing that can happen is to stay inside a bubble and only focus on your day to day activities. Take time each day to invest in yourself and progress your career. It may seem like just a bit of additional work, but it is very rewarding. The knowledge gained will provide you with a sense of awareness of the industry you plan to excel in.