listeningTo: The Simpsons Season 2 Episode 5
inRealLife: I’ve been intending to write for weeks, I really have. Things have been serious health wise, busy work wise, there’s no real good excuse. I just checked though, thinking “I bet I haven’t blogged in over a month” but AH HA! as long as I post this today as I’m writing it, I will just miss my month-a-versary by a day, so, small victories are still victories.
whatIReadThisWeek: I finished Recursion by Blake Crouch. I’m going to write a better review for my company’s consumer-facing blog later this week, but, the short version is: please read this book.
Otherwise, as the post’s title may lead you to believe, I have read a few articles on careers in testing. This is a topic I’ve been drawn to lately. Possibly because of the aforementioned “busy work wise” (to put it mildly) statement, possibly because I’m about to be 30 (alright in like 8 months) and I still don’t know if this is what I want to be when I grow up, or, possibly, because there happen to have been a bunch of good content popping up in my feeds on the topic in the last not-quite-a-month since I’ve written. If you’d like to read along, here are the links:
- CNET: Best tech jobs for women aren’t necessarily with tech companies
- Melissa Eaden via MoT: Navigating A Career Path In Software Testing
- Del Dewar‘s talk via MoT (video): Step Back to Move Forwards A Software Testing Career Introspective
- Steve Watson: Tester job ad’s need to change
whatILearnedThisWeek: Not to go too far back into my career history (you can get that on the usually-ignored About page), but, I, like most testers I’ve heard from, simply “fell into testing”. I applied for a QA Analyst/Assistant Product Management position on a whim, primarily because it was a work from home job because and I, as a 25 year old with 1/2 a masters degree, had just been asked to clean out my boss’s file cabinet which I decided was an outrage (okay I’m still bitter about it 4 years later)… Somehow I managed to twist whatever minimal job experience I had into skills my company was looking for in an entry-level tester, and, that was that. My career path so far has been QA Analyst/Assistant Product Manager > Project Manager > QA Manager.
My titles have never really meant that much to me. When someone asks me what my title is it is usually always followed up with a blank drooly stare and an immediate follow up “so, like, what do you do?”
“I test things”
(If you ask one of my friends, I am a book editor, somehow, another one thinks I’m a journalist and if you ask my mother what I do, she’ll tell you “Oh well, she gets free ebooks, really, like any ebook you could ever want to read”. My grandpa just thinks I’m unemployed since I “sit at home all day” and my dad is convinced my work-at-home company is a scam “I have health insurance and a 401K” “I don’t know, Amanda, I just don’t trust it”).
I’m a woman, and as a woman I’m as interested enough in the equal pay, equal opportunity buzz as the next chick, but probably not as much as I should be. In the publishing industry, which I work in, it’s really very common to be surrounded by female co-workers, female bosses, female mentors, and we all want to lift each other up. It’s really a beautiful thing. I know other industries are absolutely not the same.
What I found interesting about the CNET article is that there is not a big shortage of women in tech, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, but we’re in places you wouldn’t expect: non tech-companies. When I first started working in the tech field rather than the editorial field, I was like “duh, so many industries need testers, developers, ‘computer people’ – not just Google (the dream, Amanda, you’ll get there)”.
A refreshing stat from the article, in 2019, of the companies included in the study, almost 30% of entry-level tech jobs were held by women, and there is a higher rate of female promotions this year, too. Though, also, there is a higher rate of women leaving their companies. This makes me hopeful that not only are more companies hiring young women, but we are making career moves into, hopefully, bigger and better positions, more frequently.
As I soon realized from reading the articles this week, I’m not alone in the weirdness around tester job titles. Do they really even mean anything? My takeaway from Del Dewar’s Testbash talk, is, nope. In his talk – which I highly recommend for just normal life advice not even related to “stepping back” in your career or like testing at all – he explains how he went from a Test Manager title to a Test Analyst title, and a recruiter accused him of moving backward in his career, even though he did not feel that way. It’s a natural assumption that moving away from being a “Manager” is a step back, but, is it?
As explained and as I’ve noticed, every company has their own role titles, and, like Melissa Eaden’s article briefly mentions, a lot of us make up our own titles and career paths. I know I certainly did. QA Manager means… nothing? I mean I assume it would seem like I manage the QA team, but, you know, the QA team is… me. But I not only manage the test process, I write all the automated scripts, write the manual test cases, write the QA plans for every Jira case, consult with the other devs on testing approaches, and let’s not even get into the I’m-still-a-project-manager-but-no-ones-talking-about-it part of my days. How do you summarize that in a single job title? A lot of titles were thrown around when I got this promotion last year “QA Engineer” “Test Lead” and really just “Developer”. I think it was easier to just replace “Project Manager” with “QA Manager” in my email signature so we settled on that (not really, my boss just picked since I couldn’t make up my mind). Back to the point, though, as Dewar muses at the end of his talk when considering a career as a consultant,
Don’t let the role define you. You define the role.
So, what does a “typical” career path even look like? The examples from Eaden’s article are: Tester > Management, Tester > Business Analyst, or Tester > Development. Where that leaves me as a tester-project manager-developer, I’m not too sure, but it’s nice to see I’m heading in the right direction, or at least know what to realistically expect if I continue in this career.
whatIAmThinkingAbout: One more point Eaden’s article makes is that most testers will naturally navigate towards a role as Automation Tester, and while that’s great and necessary for many test teams, it is not usually a real role at many companies. It’s suggested, instead, to use automation testing skills as a stepping stone to a role as a developer or test lead. I know for me, my experience learning to code specifically for my automated test suites is making me fall more in love with software development, and making me more inclined to take on more development-related projects. I can see myself drifting off into the development side of things, eventually.
I’m still learning to code way too slow, or at least slower than I’d like to be, even considering I generally pick things up pretty quick. There isn’t enough time in the day to dedicate to learning a new skill that technically isn’t directly related to my current job, though I would like it to be. I’m always considering a coding bootcamp or other kind of paid, formal program, but then they are usually a ton of money and many require too many hours a week and, though I’m sure they are very beneficial and worth the time and money, it’s not a commitment I can make now.
Mostly I’m just thinking a lot about where I hope my career leads me, and what I think I’ll be doing in 5 years, 10 years, and more, but none of that anxiety makes for exciting blogging. Despite the anxiety that is with me, always, (love you), I do feel better digging into these articles – I feel good about the future for women in tech, and I feel good about not really understanding the tester role hierarchy and where I stand in it.
recommendationsAndTakeAways: I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to pause and think about where you are in your career and where you want to be. I’m going to be thinking even harder this week and coming up with a list of short-term and long-term career related goals and see where that takes me.