Some people love testing — and with good reason. Poking around and figuring out how to break stuff can be a lot of fun.
A role that’s often called “Software Engineer in Test” or “Software Design Engineer in Test” (abbreviated SET or SDET — essentially writing code to automate testing) appeals to people for similar reasons. You’re breaking stuff, but you’re still writing code. At many companies, there’s an added benefit of getting to work with newer technologies, since you’re less tied to the legacy code that the core product is built on. Sitting between testing and coding can be the best of both worlds – if that’s where you want to be.
However, some people take SET/SDET roles as a way into a company, and hope to move to being a plain ol’ software developer shortly thereafter. In many cases, these people find themselves stuck and unable to make that transition.
If you’re one of those people, here’s some advice for you.
1. Move As Soon As Possible
I know you’re trying, but it’s worth mentioning this anyway. Many people find themselves pigeonholed as a tester if they don’t make the hop quickly. Be aware of this.
If you can’t move within your company, you can try moving to another company. It can be especially tricky though to change companies and positions at the same time. You’ll be unproven on two dimensions. It’s a hard sell.
2. Keep Your Coding Skills Sharp
Use the developers around you as mentors. Show them what you can do – show them that you are a coder – and remember to learn from them. Look at their coding styles and consider replicating them. See if they can teach you to improve. Whether coding for work or for fun, don’t be satisfied just because your code works. You need to write code that’s readable, maintainable and sufficiently flexible.
3. Projects, Projects, Projects!
You may be a tester at work, but you don’t have to be one at home. Use your time outside of work to develop some serious projects on your own. Show people that you are a developer.
4. Use Your Resume
See those projects? They belong on your resume. They’ll be the key to showing you’re a coder, first and foremost.
In addition, focus the bullets on your resume on coding. Your resume is not a complete description of everything you’ve done. Rather, it’s a list of the relevant highlights and accomplishments in your career. This means that if you’re applying for software developer roles while you’re an SDET, your bullets can and should focus on the code you’ve built, not on the stuff you’ve tested.
5. Look at Startups and Smaller Companies
As noted earlier, it can be difficult to switch both companies and positions at the same time. You may find it easier to do that if you switch from a bigger name company to a smaller company, including a startup.
Often times, these companies don’t have the SDET role, so they can’t re-route your application toward it. And, they’ll be impressed with the big names on your resume and more likely to consider you for a software development role.
The key here is to sell yourself as a developer, through projects, your resume, and by keeping your skills sharp. The longer you stay as a SET/SDET, the harder it will be to do that.