Growing your career as a tester

Every month, I send a newsletter to all testers at Microsoft. About six months ago, I started asking a “question of the month” in the newsletter. The questions vary from yes / no to long essay-ish answers. Each month, I write a short follow up on the previous months question. As I was writing the follow-up for the July question of the month, I realized that there’s certainly nothing confidential about the answers, and that many testers in the community may be interested on what Microsoft testers say about this particular topic.

Here’s what I wrote.

Last month, I asked you to tell me what the most effective thing you’ve done to grow your career at Microsoft was. I was briefly surprised on how similar the answers were to the question. By “briefly”’, I mean I was surprised for a few seconds that so many answers were the same, but then I realized “of course” – this is what I’ve seen work the most throughout my own career.

The main areas of answers were:

  • Have a network. You need to know and talk to people outside of your immediate work group. Find people doing a job similar to yours in a different group. Find people interested in tools or approaches you are working on and have lunch with them. Find a way to get connected with more people and you will have a better chance at solving big testing challenges (see next bullet)
  • Solve big problems. Inferred in this is the desire to discover and take on big challenges. As foreshadowed above, those that have solved big problems probably have a big network of people they can call on to help solve the problems or to call upon during investigation.
  • Do something different. Many people suggested either changing teams or looking for something different on another team. Of course, few others suggested staying on the same team too. The underlying statement was that you need to make sure your work is challenging, and that you don’t let yourself get stale. Some related advice I heard few years ago was “Always put yourself on the steepest learning curve.”
  • Be an expert. Learn all that you can about your product and about testing software.

Probably not much you haven’t heard before, but this is all great stuff for testers to keep in mind anyway.