Careers in Test

I’d like to elaborate on something from a previous post on SDETs at Microsoft. One thing that is perhaps a bit different about the test role at Microsoft is its tie to the career path. We are, for better or worse, big believers in career growth and expect growth in scope and impact from all of our testers.

Eric, a former manager of mine has a nice post on our “career stages” in this blog post. His post is on SDEs, but it applies to SDETs for the most part. Eric’s descriptions are wonderful, and well written. At risk of being a copy cat blogger, however, I’m going to offer a sentence or two of commentary on the non-manager SDET career stages at Microsoft.

SDET – This is where most of our testers start, and where you figure out how to do your job, and do it well. This stage is about learning the trade (tools, practices, dynamics, etc.). You won’t make it out of this stage just by being a fantastic tester – everyone in this stage is a fantastic tester.

SDET II – At this stage, the big thing is independence – SDET “2s” get stuff done, and don’t get stuck – in fact, they don’t let themselves get stuck. At this stage, testers also start to get their eyes of the immediate tasks at hand more often and think a bit about the future of their org. They have influence in their team, and often accomplish significant tasks that impact their entire org.

Senior SDET – Leadership is expected at this stage. It can be technical leadership or strategic influence – but the big point is that you have a huge amount of influence and impact on your entire team (with occasional forays into impact across your organization). For a longer explanation, please meet Alecha, Sanjay, Jodi and Kaz.

Principal SDET – SDETs at this level are expected to have influence and impact across their group (i.e. well beyond the testers that work in their own managers organization). We don’t have personas for this level shared externally yet, but if you think of the gang of four above with a much wider scope of impact, you’ll be close.

Partner SDET – This is scope of impact ratcheted up to 11. These folks leaders across an entire division (remember, that we’re talking about leadership – not management). They often make decisions that can save millions of dollars (and do so with consistency and confidence). Again – we have no personas for these folks, but just think of the same gang of four leading successfully across an entire division.

Internally, we have career stage profiles that define a lot more about these roles (some examples are in chapter 2 of hwtsam). The one bit of possible weirdness with the big emphasis on career paths is that we expect everyone to grow to at least Senior, and I worry sometimes that there are fantastically awesome wonderful super-testers who just aren’t capable of leadership at the Senior level. As I think about it though, I wonder if I (we?) just need a broader view of what leadership in testing really is. Right now, we have a relatively small percentage of folks at Senior+ levels, so I may be looking at this through eyes stuck on the small population of people currently “leading” at those levels.

Just hoping to clear up some mysteries – hope you find this helpful.


  1. I’ve recently graduated and have been working as an SDET. I found this blog immensely helpful in helping me understand the SDET career path. Thank you, this is exactly what I was looking for!

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