How To Break Into Software Testing
By Mark Winteringham
The Software Testing Clinic is a safe environment for those who are interested in software testing to learn and enhance their testing skills. It also enables more experienced testers to learn and enhance their mentoring skills. At Software Testing Clinic events, we get asked a lot of good questions and not all of them we can answer in detail. This series explores some of the more common questions attendees ask.
One of the many questions students of the Software Testing Clinic ask is, “How do I break into software testing?” This question is asked so often we have a whole session dedicated to interviews for software testers, to give our students and mentors interviewing experience from both sides of the table. However, this opportunity isn't available to everyone but different avenues exist that are worthing exploring to help you find your first role in software testing.
Like most career advice nothing is guaranteed about any of the approaches mentioned, I hope it will increase your chances of getting into software testing. One of the things I love about testing is that people from all sorts of different backgrounds find their way into testing. Whether it’s a music, sciences, engineering or public services background, every tester has a story to tell and I encourage you to find out about them. Each story will give you more advice on how to get into testing and help you make new contacts for the future.
Manage Your Expectations
Before we start looking at different paths, you should consider what sort of role you might be getting yourself into. Most likely you will be looking for a junior testing role, where you will be following the lead of more senior testers on what to test and how to test. This will mean a lot of test execution (both product and requirements) and little in the way of strategy, or automation, or toolsmithing. Ideally, you will want to find a junior role that offers some level of training and support. Do your research before entering a role for any company.
In the UK, salaries for these roles can range widely between £15k and £30k a year, although anything above £25k is rare and they usually ask for previous experience as a tester. For salary ranges for other countries, you can check out sites such as Glassdoor which give rough approximations. My recommendation would be to ask others in the testing community which we will explore in more detail later.
Another thing to consider is the competition you face for these roles. Sadly, some still feel that software testing is a stepping stone towards a ‘better’ role in the future. Not only could you be applying alongside others looking to start a career in testing, but those hoping to find future roles as developers, business analysts, project managers, and more. It’s worth noting those that use software testing as a stepping stone are not the ones that are truly passionate about testing. Exploring all the great things about software testing will help raise your profile, increase your experience, and show to a future employer that you are passionate about software testing.
Engage In The Community
Networking and making connections in the industry is not only a key contributor to finding a role but a rewarding and satisfying way to learn more about software testing and potential jobs roles that are available. Initially going to software testing meetups can make even the most confident person anxious, but as a group, we are a warm, friendly, and accepting. Software testers love to share their experiences and help others learn about the role.
At Software Testing Clinic, we aim to offer a safe environment for new people to come along, say hello, meet other people and hopefully learn something during the session. However, we are a meetup based in London, so here are some recommendations on ways to find out about potential community events in your area:
- Meetups - Meetups are a great way to get to know Testers and find out more about testing. They are informal, usually have a smaller crowd than conferences, have regular attendees as well as interesting talks from experts. Ministry of Testing support different meetups across the globe which you can find out about here and you can also discover other meetups from sites such as meetup.com and eventbrite.com
- Online discussion - If there are no meetups nearby there are online communities that are safe and welcoming that you can join to meet people and learn about testing. Ministry of Testing offers a forum called ‘The Club’. Software Testing Clinic has space on “The Club” for you to introduce yourself and ask questions. They also support the Slack group Testers Chat which can give you access to thousands of testers across the globe.
- Social media - A lot of testers are also on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin where you can follow them and learn about their thoughts on testing. Social media can be a place for lively debates and discovering new topics. As with all social media interactions, there can be differences of opinion, approach, and even misinformation. It’s a good practice to research topics and ideas presented in these formats before implementing them or accepting them as a source of truth.
Investigate The Industry
If you walk into an interview with little knowledge of what is going on in the software testing industry and the technology industry as a whole, chances are you’re going to get caught out. Being informed about testing practices, tools and attitudes will increase your chances of being hired, and make you a better tester. Testers who are experts in their field are constantly learning from one another to help them grow and improve. By learning from the community, you can learn new skills and ideas, and form your own opinions about software testing. Motivation and dedication to self-learning is exactly what managers and leads are looking for when they hire a new tester. Here are a few ways to step up your self-learning practice:
Blogs - There are a lot of blogs available about software testing.They share their experiences, opinions, and solutions to problems for you to learn. Reading them will help you learn more about software testing and allow you to begin to inform your own opinions on the subject. To get started, check out the Ministry of Testing testing feeds page for a list of the most recent blog posts.
Write your own blog - Create your own blog to record your software testing journey. Write about what you are learning about testing. Add links to your experiments and examples. If a potential employer is aware you have a blog, they can get a better sense of your skill set and knowledge. This can be extremely useful in an interview as you can direct the conversation about topics you are advanced in. A disadvantage is that your writing topics could be restricted due to limitations set by employers.
Investigate companies and industries - Investigate any potential companies you are interested in working with. If you are currently employed in a specific industry think about targeting that industry as a software tester and sell your domain knowledge of that industry as a relevant skill. Lots of software testers gain their first jobs in industries which they worked for in a different capacity.
Searching For Jobs
If you want to find a job you are going to have to go searching for one. Whilst there are generic sites out there that will contain some roles for software testing, your best bet is to look at more specialist sites or talk to people actively involved in the industry. Here are a few options:
Job boards - Recruiters tend to advertise software testing roles on specialist job sites. It’s worth signing up, storing your CV on them, and setting up some alerts. The Ministry of Testing offer a job board with international listings, if you require something more local then search online.
Recruiters - There are many recruiters in the technology sector, some good and some bad (I could probably write a whole article on that alone). It’s worth searching for some that are local to your area to have a chat with them. They may be able to give advice on the local job market, salary, and could provide tips for your C.V.
Meetups - Meetups are a great place to meet people. Often there will be prospective employers looking for people to join their company. Some meetups will have job announcements at the start, or may sponsor the event you are at. Don’t be shy and miss a good opportunity to make an impression. Track the sponsor down and have a chat with them. Bring along some contact details and ask for theirs to continue the discussion at a later date.
Learn And Practise Testing
In a somewhat contradictory statement, some employers state that they are looking for potential junior testers that have previous experience of software testing. That doesn’t mean you should give up, even if you are not being paid to test, that doesn’t mean that you can’t practise software testing. There are many qualifications, training events, crowd testing events and exercises you can take part in which you can add to your lists of experiences as a software tester. These are just a few:
Certifications - ISQTB is the most popular certification available and usually the one most mentioned in job descriptions. Whilst there’s no denying it can help get a foot in the door at some places, the certification has been heavily criticised by elements of the testing community so remember to keep an open mind. Other training courses that can offer a different view of software testing are available. Examples are BBST from the Association for Software Testers, and Rapid Software Testing.
Online material - More and more training content is now being placed online so you can tailor your training to your schedule. Ministry of Testing offers The Dojo, which is an online learning platform for software testers to which Software Testing Clinic contributes to.
Testing exercises - There are many applications on the internet which you can run and practise your software testing skills. An option is to look for an open source tool and explore it. Additionally,you could download specific applications which have hidden bugs for you to find such as: Restful-booker, Gruyere, TicketMagpie. To learn about soft skills Software Testing Clinic offers different exercises, monthly, at our meetups as well as online exercises such as “Four Hour Tester”.
Crowd testing - Crowd testing is very popular for new starters in testing because these companies have an open door and are looking for large numbers of testers to work on specific applications. Check out sites such as uTest, Testathon, CrowdSourcedTesting, and TestBirds to find out more about opportunities to do real world software testing.
Your Mission Is….
There’s no silver bullet to finding your first job in software testing. Getting involved with the community,and learning ideas and skills will increase your chances. Remember to ask lots of questions from those currently in the industry, scan the job boards, and practise the craft of software testing. In the end, managers and leads are looking for people who care about what they are doing and have a desire to keep learning. If you can demonstrate those skills by applying them to finding a role, then you will succeed in your mission.