The Different Career Paths in Testing: Which One is Right for You?

software testing careers

We are fortunate that no one can decide the right career path for us. Picking the right career path is as contextual as picking the next offer letter. Let us explore why it is such a personal decision. To understand more, we will have to dive deep into the history of software testing. 

Don’t worry, we will start with the 21st century, i.e., 2001. Most of the teams were still following the waterfall model of testing; releases were a few months long, and there were specific teams for development and testing. Fast forward to 2023, and we have a wide range of projects; some finish within weeks; there are no testing teams in some projects; and most of the teams are following their own version of agile methodology.

In these 20+ years, we saw a few new roles in software testing as career paths emerge, like SDET. It was never as popular as it is now in the 2010s. While there were testers performing the kind of testing required for the project, we had very few dedicated roles like performance testers, security testers, and accessibility testers. Time has evolved, and the job market is now flooded with unique roles. 

At the end of the day, while the decision is to be made by the tester, we can touch upon a few software testing skills and questions that might assist you in picking the right role and the right career path in testing.

Different Software Testing Career Roles 

Talking about the different roles, here are some with a brief explanation:

  • Individual Contributor

Mostly a full time position, this person is expected to be hands-on and fulfilling the daily responsibilities. It could be on any quality criteria – functionality, automation, security, usability, performance, accessibility, usability and so on. You could be working on only web, mobile, API, desktop or all of them depending on the team size and the company expectations. 

  • Lead or Manager

You might be expected to lead the project, provide guidance to the team, and be hands-on as necessary. You will be dedicated to one big project or 2-3 small or medium projects.

  • Architect

Your specialization is in system design, design patterns, architecture patterns, assisting multiple projects and helping build frameworks from scratch. You will be the go-to person for any technical challenges in the projects.

  • Consultant

Mostly a contract role, you will be hired for specific skills for a limited duration. It could be to fill the domain gap within the team or to strengthen the existing teams. You might be paid higher than a full time employee but without the benefits of a full-time employment like PF, leaves, insurance and so on.

Now talking about the company’s career path, each company has its own set of designations for its employees. The following are some broad designations:

  • Associate Test Engineer
  • Test Engineer
  • Senior Test Engineer
  • Test Lead
  • Senior Test Lead
  • Manager
  • Senior Manager
  • Management

Remember that startups might hand over your desired designation much quicker than an enterprise. 

Testing Roles Based on Skills

There are some roles specific to the skills one possesses:

  • Functional Testers: 

These testers are strong in functional testing skills, participate in the testing cycles from the beginning, spend time understanding the requirements, designing test ideas as cases, scenarios or checklists, executing them, filing bugs, investigating them and finally submitting the test reports highlighting the tests done, test coverage and their view of the overall product quality.

  • Automation Engineers: 

These testers are skilled in programming languages, tools used to automate the products (Web, Mobile) through different layers (UI, API, Data) using open source or commercial tools. They either help in regression testing or end-to-end testing. Sometimes, the automation can be used for generating test data and for quick validation as well. 

  • Product Owner (or Business Analyst):

With some experience in testing or development, we have seen multiple folks move towards the product development side. They are good at understanding the user and business and arriving at features for user delight and business growth.

  • DevOps Engineers

Testers who have the skill sets with pipelines and tools useful in deployment slowly seem to transition towards DevOps roles and help both the testing and development teams.

As highlighted in the diagram above, there can be a number of possible combinations.

While we have discussed the designations, roles, and skills, a number of software testing career paths are based on quality criteria.

Apart from functionality and automation, many testers have carved out their careers as specialists in security testing, usability testing, accessibility testing, and performance testing. 

Each of the quality criteria has a lot of potential for anyone to dive deep and become a specialist. You can always start with the fundamentals, gain experience, move on to the intermediate levels, and later work on the advanced stuff. 

One could also become a scrum master and facilitate releases across teams. There are a few other software testing career opportunities for those who have the PMP certification which creates opportunities for project managers. You could also be a delivery manager without any certification and be accountable for project releases.

There are some interesting paths to discover as well. You can be an evangelist for a product, a trainer on multiple topics, conduct workshops, and, in some cases, go ahead and start your own communities and companies. You could provide testing services, be a freelancer, or gain money by being a content producer through articles, blogs, videos, books, and so on.

The possibilities are ample. It is up to each one of us to decide which path will suit us. The fundamentals remain the same: get very good at the skills and keep progressing. No path is easier than another. 

Some paths may pay more, but there will be thousands of others competing with you on the same path. Some paths are so niche that they don’t pay you much, but the opportunities might be more secure. Also, remember that none of the paths prevents you from choosing another path in your software testing career. The trends are changing rapidly. As long as you are able to add value to your role, demonstrate continuous learning abilities, and get work done, your future will be bright. With every choice, remember the trade-offs too. 

So, here is a concluding list of guide words to help you decide your career path

  • Learning opportunity
  • Industry trends
  • Longevity of the skill
  • Financial aspirations
  • Work pressure
  • Interests
  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Competition

This post is a guest blog by Ajay Balamurugadas. We’d like to thank him for contributing yet another informative piece for The Test Tribe. You can connect with Ajay at :

Written by

Ajay Balamurugadas, goes by the handle ‘ajay184f’ in the testing community and is continuously re-inventing his testing methodology. He co-founded Weekend Testing – a worldwide movement for skilled testing, authored multiple books available. His friends associate the terms – ‘Change Agent, Idea Man, Motivational’ to him. He tweets under @ajay184f and loves to have long conversations on software testing and life in general. He is currently working at GSPANN Technologies, Inc. as SeniorDirector – QE. When not testing, he spends time with his wife and two children.

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