There is a stereotype that automation is the only way to develop as a tester. We want to explore other potential paths and the many interesting niches available in this field.
The first thing to understand is where you can best grow and develop as a tester. Do you need to leave your job and find a position somewhere else? Are you willing to find a different job if it helps develop your skills? It is possible that you are satisfied with your current position and salary. The lack of desire to leave your current job is normal. However, if you decide to pursue a new position that will help you grow, you need to choose the direction of that growth.
Choosing a direction for development depends on what you want to study. First, decide what you like to work with more: people or numbers. How you grow from the position of junior QA (the starting testing position) will depend on this preference.
While there are many possible paths of development for a testing specialist, the following are the main roads.
Leads devote the majority of their attention to team building and the organization of testing processes. You must be able to distribute tasks among team members and improve processes.
A typical path to the role of QA lead includes the following:
- Junior QA (Junior): This is the starting position. Duties usually include manual testing on ready-made scenarios and writing basic test cases.
- Middle QA (Middle): You will independently write test scripts and draw up technical documentation at this level.
- Senior QA (Senior): The range of responsibilities includes monitoring the work of junior specialists and planning testing processes.
- Lead QA (Lead): At this level, professional competencies are required, including risk analysis, estimating deadlines, determining the scope of test automation, and project management skills.
There are no clear timelines for transitioning from one step of the career ladder to another. However, you can become a QA lead in just three years with hard work and the desire to develop.
Remember that leading a testing department is more about working with people. It helps if you are a bit of a psychologist, able to smooth out conflicts and create a comfortable working environment for your team.
Product or Project Manager
Managers include positions related to quality management issues:
- Delivery manager
- Release manager
- QA manager
Since this path is more about management, technical skills play a lesser role. Professionals in this category should be familiar with quality management principles (Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, CMMI). Deep knowledge of the product, architecture, and relationship between components and modules is also essential.
- Working with stakeholders
- Assessment of tasks
- Management of risks
Usually, reaching the expert level implies the highest degree of qualification. However, in this case, it is a parallel branch that denotes development in a narrow area.
The largest areas are:
- Performance specialist
- Usability specialist
- Security specialist
To develop as a performance specialist, you need to understand:
- Application architecture
- Methodology and types of performance testing
- Testing tools
The path of a UX / UI (usability) specialist is quite an interesting topic. Compatibility testing with different browsers, operating systems, and screen sizes is in demand, including process automation and techniques for optimizing the number of variations.
As for security specialists, certifications play a much larger role. However, most reputable certification programs require proven security experience.
There are also many directions for security specialists:
- Penetration testing
- Security testing
- Compliance testing
There are plenty of paths to choose from, and keep in mind that different transition scenarios are possible. Your path might not be direct but evolve as you try different directions and learn what you like. If something catches your interest, try to pay more attention to this area.
These are all types of testing that any manualist uses more generally, without going into detail. You can become a highly specialized expert if you go deep in a specific area. High-level professionals receive fewer job offers but also have less competition.
QA Automation Engineer
The most popular development path for a manual tester is as a QA automation engineer. Moving into automation is fairly simple if your team has both manual and automated specialists. Check with your manager to see if you can take on some tasks and gradually move into automation. If your team has only manual testing, you need to pursue your development independently.
In either case, you should first gain experience in manual testing. Otherwise, you will be the QA automation engineer who can program test cases but does not know how to write them.
To become a QA automation engineer, you need to master:
- Manual testing (and test frameworks)—understand why a particular test is needed
- QA—know which tests are required to cover different elements of functionality
- Programming—write autotests
If you know programming languages or plan to learn them, you have a green light to become a developer. Most often, QA automation engineers become developers.
When a company has a programming position available, they are often happy to hire a tester with knowledge of programming languages. Some programmers train as testers and take testing jobs. Why? Because there are now fewer testers than programmers. And companies like to hire from within, meaning getting a job in development is easier if you are already at a company.
You can use this approach: take the lists of skills needed by a tester and a developer and compare them. Note the skills needed by developers but not testers—this will be your plan for transitioning to developing. Testers often need to improve their knowledge of a programming language and practice the use of design patterns, algorithmic thinking, and the ability to find an architectural solution.
Whatever direction you choose, you should like what the path involves and be able to see yourself developing in that area. You can try several options to learn what suits you and what you like the most. Base your choice on your skills and personality —there is no right or wrong choice. If you like to understand an area in great detail, you might want to become a QA expert. If you like to organize and plan, you should look closely at being a product manager. Interested in programming but do not know where to start? Try automated testing as a QA automation engineer. If you like everything about testing, why not choose the path of QA lead? Work on yourself, and everything will work out.