New Career Option: Software Testing

Article by: Mikhail Portnov
It’s not rocket science. You don’t even have to have a degree in programming. Yet there are plenty of jobs out there. All you need is persistence and hardwork. Mikhail Portnov gives you the lowdown.

The profession of Software Tester, or Software Quality Assurance Engineer, came to life in early nineties. I myself stumbled upon it quite by chance in the summer of 1993, when I was looking for a job in the computer industry. Within the first week of my job search as a tester, having sent out only seven resumes, I realized I had exhausted my possibilities. The demand was simply not there. Seven years have passed, and just last week I, when I did a quick search on the Web, in an instant the search engine brought up over two thousand open positions in the same geographic location. In the past years, demand for testers has been growing exponentially. The question on people’s mind: How long is it going to keep growing? What if that software testing fever suddenly ceases, disappearing as spontaneously as it sprang up? To this my answer is this: You can relax. I’ve been hearing the same concerns voiced for the last five years, yet the fears are absolutely groundless. From year to year the job market demand for software testers consistently grows.

So, who are those thousands upon thousands of software testers filling the cubicles of Sillicon Valley software companies? You may well be scratching you head right now, wondering whether something has changed since your college days, and whether now there is actually an undergraduate degree in that field offered by accredited colleges and universities. Please trust me when I say: “There isn’t.” If you want to get trained in the field all you have available in the Bay Area are just about 5 or 6 relatively small vocational schools, which together release to the job market no more than 1,000 graduates a year. Half of them, by the way, are very far from being fluent in English. How do I know? I am running one of the schools.

Among software testers, then, there are a lot of people who do not have degrees either in Computer Science or even in related fields such as Electronics or Mathematics. The fact of the matter is that one could be an excellent software tester with professional or educational background in accounting, music, teaching, biology, foreign languages, health sciences, mechanical engineering, … you name it.

So why is Software Testing so attractive to people from all walks of life, striving to enter the computer industry? There are several reasons:

Previous professional experience counts.

For example, those with experience in accounting, bookkeeping, banking, finance, or economics have a greater probability of getting hired by a company that produces financial software, than someone with a degree in computer science and no financial background. A working knowledge of the professional area, of its specificity, will produce a better tester than in-depth knowledge of computer programming. For thousands of testing jobs programming skills are not a must. I personally know at least 20 software testers with backgrounds in microbiology, biochemistry, medicine and pharmaceutical fields. Almost all of them are working for companies producing software for healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry and medical research.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to learn the profession.

All it takes is just hard work and determination. If these are in place, then 200 hours of training is all a beginner needs to learn the field and enter the job market. People with solid user skills can achieve the same results after only 100-120 hours of training. This does not include the thousands of people who found jobs without any training at all. Sometimes fluency in Japanese or stock brokerage experience in combination with basic computer skills is more than enough to get a job as software tester.

Age does not matter much.

If an experienced 50 year old accountant asks me about his chances of becoming an entry-level Java developer after taking some classes, I would say – good luck. At the same time, I know many people well over 50 who have successfully entered the software testing arena after short-term training at my school.

Software testing jobs are well-paid jobs.

An experienced software tester in today’s job market can earn around $100,000 per year. Beginners with a college degree (in some field, not necessarily computer science) may easily count on $40K+ a year. People with two-three years of experience and an aggressive marketing strategy can hope for an income in the $50K-75K a year range. I won’t deceive you – testers certainly make less than developers, but, on the other hand, their job isn’t nearly as intensive either.

Companies are willing to sponsor H-1B visas for software testers.

Among the people entering the software testing field there is a significant numbers of foreign nationals (holders of H4 visas) whose spouses are authorized to work in the United States. Many of them are highly educated and are willing to work. One has to also consider the difference between one and two adult incomes per family may be the difference between renting an apartment and buying a house.

The software testing boom continues as we speak. The Land of Opportunities is offering those who are used to hard work and have passion for quality another chance. Does that describe you?

Mikhail Portnov has 10 years experience in the Software Programming Industry. He is based in Mountain View, Calif.

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