6 Keys to QA and Testing Career Growth

Mike-HITIn my 17-year career, I’ve witnessed exponential growth in the QA field. Spending on quality assurance and testing now represents about a quarter of a typical IT organization budget, and the job opportunities and salaries for test professionals have grown as a function of this increased focus on software quality.

Frankly, some in IT are still dismissive of testing, but it’s an integral component of the SDLC and it can be a challenging and meaningful way to make a living. So if you are just starting out or considering a move to testing, I thought I would share some tips below from my own experience to help you grow in your QA and testing career.

Pick a path
You can take several paths in software testing. Manual testing is the most common role in software QA. This can be a rewarding career if you are detail oriented, have a natural curiosity and enjoy learning new things.

If you continually improve your skills, you can make a good living as a Manual Tester, and you can command a premium if you have specialized expertise in certain types of in-demand software (such as CRM, e.g., Salesforce, or ERP, e.g., SAP) or in-depth knowledge of certain industry verticals, like healthcare or manufacturing.

To move up in the QA organization after a few years of manual testing you can choose to follow a technical path or a test management path.

If you love testing and you have a knack for coding and scripting, consider learning automated, performance, mobile and/or security testing. If you want to grow in the technical path, you should keep up with the latest technologies.

On the other hand, If you like leading a team and motivating people to do their best, consider being a Test Lead or Test Manager. If you are a Talented QA Manager, your can move up to a Senior Manager, Director or Senior Director. With the increasing popularity of Testing Centers of Excellence (TCoE), more and more QA executive positions are opening up at the VP and SVP levels. Senior-level positions often require advanced degrees like an MBA or an MIS degree.

Be professional
I started as a QA intern, the lowest rung on the ladder, but I strove for professionalism in every task and all of my interactions. Often the biggest difference between the individual who gets promoted and the one who remains at the same level year after year is the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly and get along with others. Negative behaviors like whining and complaining and criticizing others can hold back testers from moving to the next level.

One of the most important traits of a QA professional is integrity. In order to be considered a trusted advisor it is important to be honest, dependable and transparent. When it comes to Quality Assurance, managing by facts and consistent metrics rather than emotions and opinions is the quickest path to providing value and earning trust.

Choose tough assignments
I have grown more when faced with challenging projects where I had to step outside my comfort zone. I recall the first time I was asked to set up an offshore team. After travelling to India, I gained a greater appreciation for the pros and cons of leading a globally distributed team. I learned a lot and gained confidence by doing something that I hadn’t done before. So I always recommend volunteering for tough projects if you are seeking professional growth.

Own your career growth
If you are fortunate, you will find managers or mentors that will take interest in you and help you along, and that’s great. But don’t wait until your manager asks you to learn a new skill or take a class. Proactively ask your company to invest in your skills and growth, and if it can’t (or won’t), then invest in yourself. Join a QA association and take on committee or leadership roles, attend testing meet-ups, read books and articles and apply to speak at conferences so you can attend for free.  Certifications are valuable early in your career to learn QA fundamentals.

Know when to move on
If you have hit a plateau in your career growth, or if you are consistently at odds with your supervisor, then it may be time to take on a new project or job. In technology careers, sometime you have to leave to move up. For some people, working as a contractor or consultant is the best ways to get a variety of work and industry experiences. One caution here:  If you jump from company to company too often, prospective employers may question your loyalty. You will need to find a balance between adding new skills and jobs, while demonstrating the stability that hiring managers seek.

Put customers first
Testers are always balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders. The objectives of business owners and product managers aren’t always the same—and can be in conflict with one another—especially on a critical software project.

Your job is to view software applications from the perspective of the end user and use your training and skills to improve that user experience. Is it important to consider the input of key stakeholders? Absolutely. But true testing professionals should always keep the customer at top of mind and be an advocate for their optimal experience.

If testing is your passion and career path, and you are interested in consulting opportunities, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a resume at mike.cooper@healthcareitleaders.com.