Secrets of SDET Success

This morning, I received an email from a tester in Israel. He buttered me up by telling me that he has followed my blog for a few years (he’s the one…), but then asked a great question about testing at Microsoft. As I was writing a response, I thought that it would be something the readers of this blog may find valuable as well.

[…I’ve appreciated], among other things, the way test engineers are valued in comparison to software engineers in Microsoft. I also witnessed this when I was interviewed at Microsoft, and when I interview testers coming from Microsoft-they are all proud at what they do and who they are.

I can’t relate this directly to results, or lack of them, but would love to have some of this team spirit in the newly test organization I am bringing up. So… what’s your secret?

The Secret

The real secret is that there is no secret. Some of this is shared in How We Test Software at Microsoft, but I’ll try to cover the highlights below.

Hiring

Microsoft is filled with incredibly smart people passionate about making quality software. We look for people like that when we interview and hire, so it’s not a surprise to me that many of our folks come across that way. Most of our testers don’t have any test experience when they come to Microsoft. We hire people who know how to write great code for test positions, but more importantly, we look for people who are great at solving difficult problems – and who know how to use computer programs to do it.

The Job

Our testers are proud of their jobs because (most of them) really, really enjoy their jobs. Testing at Microsoft is extremely challenging – and in turn, extremely rewarding. Here’s a quote I love from a colleague who moved from a very senior development role into test (yes, by choice!).

If you’re looking for really interesting development work then I think you’ll find that designing and writing code that can determine whether another piece of code is ready to ship is a far greater challenge than implementing yet another feature set. From my own experience I can say without a doubt that the most fascinating dev work I have ever done has been in test.

The Future

One big reason I’m still in test, and still enjoy it so much, is that Microsoft has career paths for test, for both managers and non-managers that extend far beyond what many non-MS testers can imagine (we covered the current version of these career profiles in HWTSAM).

I’m currently working on a project to come up with updated descriptions of roles testers may play on teams at Microsoft in roles ranging from entry level to executive level. I’m excited to say, that even after hours scrutinizing every word in the role descriptions (and after 17 years at the company), that the story we’re putting together for testers at Microsoft is pretty cool.

As is often typical for me, I gave the long answer first. The short answer is, hire great people, give them challenging work, and give them a vision for growth. Good luck with your new team!

-Alan

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9 Responses

  1. “hire great people, give them challenging work, and give them a vision for growth”

    Simple and powerful. Yet sadly this is so often not the case.

  2. I have to agree with Joe here. It’s come to the point I cannot recommend working at Microsoft to any tester.

  3. To be fair, anonymours, I don’t think Joe was talking about MS when he said “…this is so often not the case”.

    In fact, for smart testers, who are great at figuring things out, and know *how* and *when* to solve testing problems with code, I can’t think of a *better* place to work.

  4. I’ll throw a vote Joe’s way. The test discipline has improved immensely in my twenty-two years at Microsoft. We are now seeing employees from other disciplines transfer into Test. However, in general, SDETs are still behind other disciplines when you look at the promotion velocities and the distribution of employees across the levels.

  5. That’s interesting Bruce – do you have data you can share? When I analyzed data a few years back, I found that promotion velocity in test was equal to other disciplines across level bands (with one exception where, for a year or so, test leads were promoted faster than any other discipline), so I’m curious to see how that’s changed.

    Since I did that analysis, Microsoft has increased the number of testers in Senior and Principal bands by 10 fold each, so it’s interesting to hear that velocity is down.

  6. Folks, I’m sorry if I was confusing. My comment was NOT about Microsoft. I have no inside knowledge of testing at Microsoft.

    I meant to say that “hire great people, give them challenging work, and give them a vision for growth” is exactly the right approach that I wish was followed everywhere.

  7. I suggest every engineer try to become developer first, then consider tester if they like testing. It is mostly true that tester is second citenzen. I already saw many cases that tester convert to dev, but not anothe direction.

  8. how go SDET role at Walmart?
    can i switch to SDE role der or to other companies.
    SDET role at walmart is compatible to SDET at microsoft?????

    • I’m not quite clear on what you’re asking. I am not familiar with the SDET role at Walmart. You can scan the SDET positions at Microsoft at the web site (https://careers.microsoft.com/search.aspx) and compare responsibilities and required experiences.
      Moving between disciplines (SDET, SDE, PM, etc) at Microsoft is possible and is done. You do have to have good review numbers, pass an internal review loop, and so on.
      Does this answer your questions, aayushkumar?

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