The Ballad of the Senior Tester

I’m a Senior Tester, don’t you know

Been testing software for five years or so

I got bills to pay and need a better job…

Looking for jobs with ‘Senior’ in the name

Gotta’s admit, they’re all pretty lame

Looks like I’m over-qualified…

Someone (non-Microsoft) asked me recently what a “Senior Tester” does. I told them that I knew in the context of Microsoft, but really had no idea if the term meant anything in the industry. After a quick (and painful) trip to a jobs website, I was able to confirm that the ‘Senior’ title doesn’t carry a lot of weight. Consider some of these quotes – all from positions advertised as “Senior Tester”, or “Senior QA Tester (on a side note, wtf is a QA Tester?):

  • With minimal direction writes scripts and executes test cases during functional/system/integration testing.
  • Modify existing test plans and testing information to correct errors, to adapt to new test scenarios, upgraded interfaces and performance enhancements.
  • Monitor bug resolution efforts and track successes.
  • Participates in analysis and design walkthroughs, as well as team meetings
  • The Senior Tester will work extensively with the Test Lead to provide test estimates
  • Complete knowledge of QA Best Practices and the full Testing SDLC


Let me rant on the last bullet point first. Actually, never mind – anything I can say is something you’ve probably already thought.

As for the first five bullet points, are those really considered “Senior” activities? I was surprised that being able to cross the street by themselves or washing their hands after using the bathroom weren’t required attributes. Then again, I’ve been sheltered in the world of Microsoft for the past 17 years (and as a noob in a startup for 2 years before that), so my world view of testing has limitations.

So, let me talk about what I do know. Here at the evil empire, we have standard titles for all roles (more details on test titles are here). As I mentioned in the link (which I know you haven’t read yet), we have a “Senior SDET” title at MS, and this is where we expect testers to exhibit some leadership skills (they learn how to find the bathroom by themselves at a much lower level). To be clear, leadership does not mean management. ‘Senior’ is the minimum level where we like people (who are interested) to move into management roles, but we have hundreds of non-managers at the Senior level (about 8% of the total test population if you’re curious).

My random search for Senior test roles wasn’t entirely in vain. Consider the following:

  • Experience with leading testing efforts on integrated teams and developing and implementing sound testing methodologies
  • This is a senior role that includes evaluating existing automated testing process and recommending improvements

Now those seem a little better – now the role requires some leadership and decision making, so let’s look a bit closer at these a few other attributes I expect to see in Senior testers at MS.

  • Decision Making – senior testers make confident decisions, and do not rely on consensus for making (most) decisions.
  • Influence – Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  Senior testers make their team better through influence rather than mandates – they are the point guard of the test team.
  • Network – senior testers use their network to find answers (or knowledge), and connect their teammates with their network (i.e. tester matchmaking)
  • Credibility – senior testers don’t proclaim they’re a leader, and no title demands respect. Leaders know that respect as a leader comes through establishing credibility with their team and peers. For me, the moment you demand respect as a leader is the moment you lose my respect as a leader.

That’s not an exhaustive list, and each of those points could be (and may be) a post unto its own. But that’s what ‘Senior Tester’ means to me (In my sheltered life). Undoubtedly, your definition is different, and that’s fine. Regardless of where your opinions lie, I hope this provides some food for thought on your own views of what ‘Senior’ means.


  1. Thanks, Alan,

    I wouldn’t consider myself ‘senior’, with a bit over 7 years experience testing, but some of those job descriptions you found make me wonder what kind of so-called testers these places are using.

    At least there are some that call for a degree of leadership, decision-making and the like.

    As for QA Best Practices and SDLC (since when did any SDLC join the “best practices” rank, anyway?, I’m sure there’s a whole separate rant on that topic.

  2. The thing that I like to use as a criteria for the transition from intermediate to senior is that your attitude towards quality shifts away from finding the issues and getting them fixed to doing that while also watching the processes that are in play to start thinking about how to reduce the probability that a similar issue will re-occur next time. details remain important but the bigger picture becomes more important.


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