The other day I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at a small software testing conference in Melbourne. The invite also included a request to sit on an “Experts Panel” to discuss current and future challenges within the Australian Software Testing market.
The most surprising challenge (from my perspective) was that a significant number of the attendees were worried about their ongoing job prospects. Quite a few were concerned that their technical skills were insufficient, while others were concerned about the continuing shift of software testing jobs offshore. My response to these concerns was to provide an insight into how I approached my entire career in software testing.
Firstly, I stayed current with technology as it developed. I’ve worked with computers since 1971 and can honestly say that I was always looking for the next trend or innovation. Technological advancement has been relentless for as long as I can remember and continues to gather momentum. Agility (the desire and willingness to change, not Agile techniques) and flexibility (to have a go at every opportunity that comes your way) are essential to remaining in demand as a professional software tester.
Secondly, I specialised at various times in my career in specific technologies and techniques. I spent the 80’s specialising in banking software, I spent the 90’s learning the basics of software testing and the 00’s were spent becoming a strategic consultant. Every 5 years or so I took stock of where I was at and where the technology sector was at in order that I position myself for the next 5 – 10 years. I took responsibility for my own career and never relied on my employers.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding software testers acquiring coding skills (I wrote about this late last year) but I don’t subscribe to this. I agree that technical skills are useful but that doesn’t have to mean writing or coding software. There are many technical aspects to the software testing world and coding is just one.
From my perspective, if you are good enough, you will always be in demand. If you take responsibility for your own career you will have a better chance of staying current with technological advances. I often say that I was fortunate to never be out of work during my entire career but the truth is, I wasn’t fortunate I was professional, proactive and flexible.
If I was to give just one piece of advice to young software testing professionals it would be to specialise in a specific area of our craft and be the best you can be (become an expert). If I was pushed for a second it would be to always be flexible with what you work on and where you work. Don’t be proud about a specific role and don’t restrict yourself by geography.
You don’t need luck to remain in work, you need a defined strategy and a plan to execute it.
Dateline: Melbourne, Monday May 26, 2014