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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