Titles for Testers

I’ve had a few conversations on twitter over the past few weeks about tester titles. My conclusion is that test titles are meaningless, but let’s look at why I think that, and why it doesn’t matter.

Let’s say you’ve been testing for eight years, given a conference presentation or two and wrote a bit about testing on a blog. You’re definitely experienced – given the turnover in test roles, some may even call you an “expert” – you may or not be an expert, but chances are you are at least above average in the testing skills department.

Now – your company just folded and you’re looking for a new job. You go to monster.com or dice.com and  you search for “test’. You see a huge list of titles like:

  • Test Engineer (and Test Engineer II, Test Engineer III, etc.)
  • Quality Analyst
  • Testing Analyst
  • Automation Engineer
  • Test Architect
  • Test Automation Developer
  • Test Manager
  • Director of Test
  • Senior Test Engineer
  • many, many more…

OK – which one do you apply for? I’ll save you a bit of work and tell you that the job descriptions are mostly the same. I’ll give you some advice – if you’re in the job market, do not look for a job based on title – the titles don’t mean anything. With title being out of the picture, I’d suggest looking for companies and locations that interest you and applying for whatever test jobs they have available. Companies may be advertising for a “Test Engineer”, hoping to get someone with half a brain about testing, but would be delighted to have someone with experience. You may think, “How could I take a Test Engineer job when my qualifications dictate that I’m at least a Test Engineer III?” I’ll say it again – titles don’t matter. It’s what you do, and not what you’re called.

As a side note, I give this same advice to people changing jobs within Microsoft where we have standard titles to match career stage. If you find a product you want to work on, but you’re overqualified for the positions they have open, talk to them anyway. Most test managers I know are usually more than happy to up-level their team.

Now let’s fast forward. You have a new job, the work is challenging, and you’re kicking ass. Your job title is merely tester, and you’re worried that people will look down on you because you don’t have a more prestigious title like Senor Test Engineer, or Senior Software Quality Specialist, or Super Tester from Another Planet!.

One last time: in software testing, titles just don’t matter. Software testing is still a relatively new profession and definitions are still evolving for nearly every aspect of the profession. That’s ok (and expected). Focus on what you do (and on kicking ass), and you’ll be just fine.

Or – if consistent titles are that important to you, you can go get a job as a plumber or garbage man (ahem – sanitation engineer).

9 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    As ‘the’ tester for our development team in a small company, I do a little of everything test related and can pick my own title. After struggling for years to come up with something meaningful and descriptive, I finally just call myself a ‘Software Tester’ and let it go. If anyone really wants to know what I do, they can ask, but be prepared for a long response!

  2. Posted August 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    After realizing our company’s “meet the team” page had the three testers in our team listed as “test lead”, “senior test analyst” and “QA Engineer”, we decided it looked pretty stupid and changed it all to “tester”.

    The only time I’ve found that it really matters is when I put my title as “test manager” on linkedin – recruiters took that as an invitation for unsolicited phone calls asking if I wanted to hire people for my team. I changed it to “test lead” and boom, no more phone calls. I guess they think “manager” means “hiring power”.

  3. Posted August 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Alan.

    I’d argue that even the ‘tester’ title is redundant and potentially limiting:

    http://jmrtn.com/notes/2010/09/05/limiting-labels.html

  4. Posted August 27, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Really like this one!
    I´ve always seen myself just as “software tester”, allthough I had different core areas during my career so far: test manager, test team lead, automation engineer.
    And since I´m working in a scrum team for 6 month now I´m a “team member” (ok, with the core area of testing 😉

    Regards,
    Christian

  5. Posted August 29, 2011 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Alan, I think I know where you are coming from. Meeting test objectives is far more important than the test title an individual holds. Would like to add a couple of points:
    1. Even though we understand that what matters is skilled testing, the recruiters may not understand the nuances between titles. A resume showing 10 years experience in software testing against a Software Tester requirement may get rejected in screening as “over-qualified”. The same resume gets short-listed for Test Lead position.
    2. If a company makes a distinction between individual contributors and management, an individual contributor will have to test and a manager cannot test. So, people who would like to test themselves may feel a bit restricted in such a company in management role.
    3. Let us say the person joined as Software Tester and now wants to play the role of Test Manager. Difficult to achieve quickly if the company expectation is a career path like Software Tester > Test Analyst > Test Lead > Test Manager.
    I feel strongly about the discrepancy between the role and the actual work. Leaders like you should push for more standardization in naming testing titles.

    • Posted August 29, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Agreed on the first point – even at Microsoft, we have to work closely with recruiters to make sure the right candidates are getting through (and rejected). It’s critical that test leaders / hiring managers work closely with recruiters – I fear this doesn’t happen enough today.

      I don’t like – actually, I despise the concept that career growh in test means that you go into management.I’m almost as adamant about test managers NOT testing – of course they have to test. Not as much as the ICs perhaps, but if they’re not doing any testing, I wouldn’t call them a test manager.

      I think all of this stems from the fact that the industry is still figuring out what testers do and what testing is.

  6. Chris
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m a job-hopper, and it seems most of my titles have had the word “Engineer” in them. (which is not only ludicrous, it’s illegal in Texas, seriously.)

    From experience, I think “Engineer” connotes some set of technical expertise, but whether that expertise is crafting SQL queries, doing automation, or flat-out hardcore programming depends on the particular situation.

  7. Naresh Chaudhary
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I am searching job for software testing so can you suggest me resume title and subject for email

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