Routes into testing

I’m going to make a guess that you (as a reader of this blog entry) never dreamt of becoming a Software Tester when you were at school or college. You may have had dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, train driver, astronaut or a whole host of other things, but Software Tester was not something you would necessarily have even heard of.

For decades, anyone wanting to get into the field of IT would aspire to a Development (or Programmer) role, as these were the main roles that we heard about. Even today, whilst Computer Science graduates have heard of testing, by virtue of the fact that A levels (in the UK) and degree courses now do something akin to a nod towards the fact that software testing is actually something important, and there are people who choose not to write code but to test it for a living. As an example, Oxford university offer a course on Software Testing as part of a Software Engineering degree, which is something that didnt happen in the 1990’s or 2000’s!

There are many graduate schemes which bring people into IT, but even today primarily this is Development, Security and Operations type roles. There are Testing Services companies that will train testers as graduates, but I wonder what the ratio is of graduate testers compared to other roles in IT?

I fell into a testing role for my second job, moving from one bank to another, from a non IT role into a role that I had never heard of. There were no training courses and I learned on the job. It took me a while to understand what the role actually was, and even now there are many people with differing opinions as to what Testing actually is – but that’s not for this post!

Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting Twitter posts about whether Testing is a role that anyone can get into or not. My view is that we are all testers anyway, without realising it. We test the temperature of bath water before bathing our small children. We test the fastest route from A to B and try different ways. We test boundaries of behaviour and acceptability. We test how much we can eat in a ‘eat all you can’ buffet before we feel full. We test just how much longer we can wear our old trainers before they fall to bits! We test all the time.

It seems to me that just about anyone could in theory become a tester, no matter their career background, but not everyone would be good at it. To be a good tester requires having the right attitude as well as technical ability and the right mindset. Technical skills can be learned, how to approach testing can also be learned, but attitude and the right mindset cannot be learned.

It’s interesting therefore to look at how current Testers (at all levels) actually got into software testing as a career. A common story is where projects have required assistance from business units with User Acceptance Testing, and those who helped out became involved that way, staying in Testing and bringing their business knowledge. I’d love to hear your stories as I’m sure there must be some very unusual routes into Testing out there so please share your story and how you found the transition.

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8 thoughts on “Routes into testing

  1. Great Article Steve ! I agree with what you mentioned about technical ability and attitude of a tester. While technical ability is something you can build on with experience, some people are by nature more inquisitive, more observant than others. They push boundaries in their attempts to discover the unknown. And this sets them apart 😉

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  2. My route into testing? It’s difficult to pinpoint when I started testing or how I suddenly became a tester. I suspect I’m not the only one who woke up one day to find they are and have been for a while a tester.

    If I roll back far enough and have a wide enough definition of ‘tester’; I would say I have always been a tester. I tested the robustness (if that’s a word) of my toys. Actively taking them apart and trying to put them back together. My mother liked to tell of how often she had to stitch tires back on my cars, because I’d taken them apart. Skip forward and at school I tested my teachers ‘theories’ – and patience – by challenging their view of the world. e.g. Question on a test in primary school: What do Giraffes have that other animals don’t. The teacher marked my answer wrong when I said “Baby Giraffes.”. Luckily for me I had a Father who wouldn’t stand for being told something I wrong, just because it doesn’t match your answer. So the teacher was ‘persuaded’ that the answer was right, what other animal has baby Giraffes? And my score was corrected and my reputation for testing what people thought was good enough, began.

    Later in life I failed in my attempts to be a BBC Camera man like my dad and fell into training to be a ‘Commissioning Engineer’. One step up from installer. This is one of those points were I didn’t know I was a tester, but know I know that ‘Commissioning Engineer’ is actually a combination of Configuration, System Integration Testing and User Acceptance Testing. Although back then the testing terms were not known, or not widely.

    I did slip into an operations mode for a few years, but easily fell back into a formal testing role when the small company I worked for was swallowed by a Multi-National company and the Engineer role (in a true sense) was degraded to technician. So I found the only role I liked and fitted with in the new organisation was managing the Test Centre. A set of labs and equipment that could replicate the companies services and be used to trial new updates, products and services. I still didn’t think of myself as a tester, even though the clue was in the name, until I left here and joined a start-up – just before the infamous IT Bubble burst at the start of the millennium. At least here the job was (Software Test Engineer) and the had a formal test team. We were still very insular and didn’t know there was a wider community of testing, and ‘proper’ ways of testing. Not until the company folded and when looking externally for test jobs I found there was an emerging market and actual qualifications for Software Testing.
    Now when I look back, I realise I’ve always tested, and other than a few years in Operations, I’ve always been a professional tester.

    BTW: I would recommend all testers spend a couple of years on the far side of the fence, in an operations role. Get some experience of the real world, living with the products we test. You will get a good appreciation of the way users think and feedback.

    My start with testing: It began in my Childhood when my parents encouraged me to question everything and not accept what you’ve been told, without evidence. It may have been formalised by a failure to do what I thought I wanted, but my testing career was set in stone by a curious mind that poked and pushed every button to see what it did, and peered for hours at backplanes full of 0.1mm pins to see which wire was to tight and causing the error – rather than send the whole unit back.

    Ah the days of the past. It’s fun to look back and analyse your own past.

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  3. I was hired as a Systems Engineer at an aerospace company which had no distinct test group. SEs were responsible for product verification, but my venerable mentor much preferred the design aspects, so as the new guy, he left the testing to me. Fortunately, I found that I greatly enjoyed testing both hardware and software, so we both got to do what we were best at. Over the past two decades the company has grown, shrunk, been bought, and been split. Test Engineering has become its own distinct role, on par (mostly) with the other development engineers. I’ve been in my managerial role for the last 10 years and have had the privilege of leading women and men with a wide variety of educational backgrounds (accounting, material science, and motion picture engineering, just to name a few of the less conventional ones). The most successful ones are the ones who act on an innate curiosity and a reluctance to take things at face value, who consistently ask “why?” and “what if..?”, and who have mastered the diplomacy of raising risks without panic or accusations.

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  4. I was a Tax Supervisor in a Public Accounting Firm getting burned out on all the hours and demands. We had a branch office in town of a company that made Income Tax software for very large corporations and partnerships that was looking specifically for CPAs to come in and do end user/exploratory testing to increase the quality and accuracy of the product. I jumped on the idea. It has since been a few years and I have obtained my CTFL, learned the basic of what we call content testing, climbed up the corporate chain in that area and am trying to expand now into suite testing and looking at ways to improve our regression testing.

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  5. I’ve recently become a tester properly/officially, after fragments of it in prior paid jobs–and I have a PhD in medieval English literature and manuscripts. 🙂 Whatever we learn, we bring to bear upon what we do next.

    (I’ve found your post via the Ministry of Testing aggregator.)

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  6. I too had my first exposure to testing when brought in as a business user for performing User Acceptance Testing where I work.

    However, it was shortly after the project had finished, when our System Test department advertised for trainee roles that I truly jumped into testing, being successful in getting one of the open positions, and being a keen and vocal tester five years later.

    I agree with you that it is a mindset that makes a tester great at their job, and even had a group discussion asking if someone had the skills to be a developer or tester, with equal pay and career opportunities, which would people pick and why. Awareness of development over testing was a big part of people leaning that way, as well as having something to show for their effort at the end.

    But with more testers speaking up for our great profession, who knows, we may even end up at schools explaining what we do and encouraging children to not only think about a job in IT, but being the next generation of testers.

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