The Value of Falling into Software Testing
If you ask ten people how they came to be software testers, probably nine of them will say they just fell into it.
Before I became a software tester, I worked in film labs, coffee shops, and a long stint with a construction crew. Eventually an opportunity found me, despite not having a degree at the time, and I said yes. But I never say that I just “fell” into testing. There was a long, meandering path there, but I made the choice. I think these varied paths say something important about our field.
Nearly every white-collar profession requires some sort of formal credential before you can start. If you want to be a CPA, there are finance undergraduate degrees, required graduate credit hours, and a certification exam. Most nursing jobs demand a bachelor’s degree and then passing a licensure test. Even programming jobs typically have a STEM degree requirement as a big barrier to entry-level jobs.
There are no such requirements for testers. There is a pattern I have seen more than once: A person with no formal education has been working for a software company for several years. Over that time, he has developed deep expertise in the product and the business domain. All of a sudden, there is a change in leadership and the new leaders think there needs to be a massive reorganization. This person's position is eliminated, but the manager offers him a position in testing.
The manager's expectations weren’t very high; this newly minted tester doesn’t have a computer science degree or any software expertise. But in these situations, the new tester often quickly becomes a standout on the team. This person's years of experience taught him lessons about how the product worked, patterns of failure, and what the customer values.
Credentialing systems such as university degrees and certifications are designed to show that everyone who went through the program has the same basic knowledge and skill set. Whether formal credential systems do that or not is up for debate, but they do tend to homogenize how we approach building software.
Testers who come into the field with degrees in philosophy, years of experience in the business domain, or even after working in construction have different perspectives to add. These people will often be able to discover problems no one else was able to find or present useful solutions that people with a traditional computer science background were not able to think of.
Some people might say this means anyone can be a tester. Another conclusion—the one I prefer—is that a tester can come from anywhere. It also means that anyone can choose testing when the opportunity presents itself.
While I do not say that I fell into testing, my varied background has certainly helped me to thrive in a pool of people with degrees and certifications. Don’t be afraid of your nontraditional work background. It might be your greatest asset.