Re: The Dark Side of Being a Test Automation Engineer

Sérgio Martins recently wrote and article on The Dark Side of Being a Test Automation Engineer. This blog post is a response to that article. I will be focusing on career growth as a tester here.

Sometimes testing is like cleaning, a thankless task that someone has to do

The 5 points that Sérgio covers are:

  1. Blame Magnet
  2. Loneliness
  3. Feeling undervalued
  4. Minimal Wage Compensation
  5. Career Growth Easily Capped

About me

I’ve worked as a software tester for 10 years now, I fell into it. It’s not like I went through school thinking, “when I grow up I want to be a tester”. However I have a knack for it, have developed some solid skills and have grown a decent career out of this path.

Blame magnet

If you find yourself ever receiving the blame for bugs in production, this is a huge red flag. This indicates the company culture around quality is sub par. I personally have rarely been made to feel like I was solely responsible for bugs in production.

I believe quality is a team responsibility and would only work with teams that shared that same value.

If you are interviewing you could ask, “how does the team respond to bugs in production? Was there a big bug recently? What happened?”. This should give you an indication if the company has a blame culture or a team culture.

Wage compensation

Yes, there is an average pay gap difference between test engineers and software engineers. Graduate developers can get paid up to 15K more per year when starting in their career here in Australia.

Source: Professionals Australia + ACS 2015 Remuneration Survey

BUT, test engineers do start with higher wages than support engineers. So we are definitely not the lowest in the pecking order.

Those poor web developers can be some of the lowest paid on this list. A database admin gets paid on average more than a software developer too. Interesting stuff.

My salary over time

Here’s how my salary as a tester has grown (all values are in AUD):

YearSalaryNotes
2011 $18 per hourWas initially offered $15 per hour, I negotiated up to $18 because I was also working in supermarkets for $23 per hour. This was a part time gig while at I was at uni.
2013$1000 per weekthis was a 6 month full time contract while I was finishing uni.
201460k to 65k a yearGraduate job in Sydney, went up to 65K a year after 6 months
2015 72K to 79K a yearTest engineer role that saw a decent pay bump
201790K a yearContracted out to a big corporate client
201895K to 110KThe year started off shakily, I broke my ankle. I had a bit of instability in my job hunting efforts
2019$650 per dayTook up a short term 4 month contract in between gigs because I was made redundant from the previous start up I was working at. Testers are expensive.
2019120K per yearBig financial institution, senior QA engineer position
2021150K-ish per yearI’m now running my own company and I’m on a 6 month contract on a pretty awesome day rate. The contract is likely to run longer and this is my projected income (minus business expenses) if I work 46 weeks in a year.

Sure, my salary started low. But I’m now consistently getting paid the same level as the software engineers I work with. I’ve been getting paid about the same amount as other engineers since 2015.

I have not felt like my career growth has ever been “capped”. My wages have grown with the ICT industry average (I’m around a level 4 now):

Lonliness and undervalued

Sometimes testing can be lonely. In my previous role the work from home arrangement made me miserable. I get a lot of energy for my work from interacting with people. And towards the end of that gig I didn’t feel like my manager appreciated the value I brought.

As testers we are more like an insurance policy, you have testers to help reduce risk with software. Hopefully if we are doing our jobs correctly everything is ticking along smoothly and we are helping our teams prevent issues before customers see them.

I prefer to work in a collaborative environment with other software engineers. I’m often seen as being on the same level but with a slightly different skill set. We are all working towards building quality products.

Summary

Sérgio raises some valid point but they should also be seen as red flags. If you aren’t enjoying your work or not feeling appreciated, it might be time to try and find something a bit more engaging.

See my career tips for testers if you want to explore this path more.

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