If you ask 10 software testers, “How did you end up in software testing?”, I’ll bet you get 5-8 different answers. But why is this so? Well, software testing is nothing you can study at a university. It’s usually a tiny part of a computer science program, but sadly does not get enough attention during this time. Most of the people I have talked to about how they got into software testing claimed it was by accident, myself included.
It’s a similar situation when a software tester wants to become a manager. There is no straight way to get into this role. The pathway is different for everyone. It depends on so many factors and circumstances like the company you work for or the industry.
However, there are some common steps that people often take when transitioning from a software tester role to a managerial role. In this article, I want to share the common steps with you. Additionally, I will describe the steps that I have taken to become a Head of Software Testing.
Common Steps From Software Tester to Manager
#1 - As a software tester, it’s important to constantly build up your technical skills and expertise in software development, testing methodologies, and general product management. This knowledge will be valuable throughout your career, no matter if you are on a pathway to becoming a manager or if you are staying on the path of a software tester.
However, especially when you are moving into the manager pathway, the testing, development, and product management skills will help you later in your managerial role to oversee, not only testing teams, but also entire development teams. You will have the knowledge of how products and services must be built with quality in mind. I call it to develop technical expertise. But, it’s important to keep in mind that building up this expertise needs time. You should work for years in different software development environments and projects. Maybe it’s also needed to change companies and maybe industries.
#2 - Once you have developed the technical expertise, it’s time to start working on your leadership skills. If you are working for years in software development teams and you excel in your role, you will automatically learn about leadership. Software testers usually take the initiative to drive change or to try out new ways of working. Software testers are helping others in the team to establish a quality mindset. All this is needed to start learning about leadership skills, and you need to show your willingness to your team lead.
At the same time, it’s important that you express your interest in becoming a manager as the next step in your career. This knowledge will help your boss support you in getting into a leadership position. For example, you can proactively take on additional tasks next to your testing role, like mentoring and training junior testers on your team. This will help shape your leadership skills to drive change, coordinate testing efforts, and lead entire teams and departments.
#3 - The third pillar of your pathway to becoming a manager is communication and networking skills. It’s one of the most important skills every software tester needs and is crucial and the key to success to be effective in the way you communicate.
Clarity in your words is important to transfer and transport bad and good news to all involved parties. Communication skills are also important to give feedback to your peers. In your management role, giving feedback and guidance is one of your main tasks. Good communication will help you in all aspects of software development, from problem-solving to team collaboration.
#4 - If you have strong communication skills, use them to build up a network inside and outside your company. Building professional relationships can be the rocket to your management career.
First, start with the inside. Connect with colleagues in different departments, from testing to development to product management and even to sales and marketing. It will help you to gain visibility in the company you are working for and might open a door in your next step.
Once you establish a strong network inside your company, the next step must be to connect with like-minded people outside your company. Go and attend conferences, talk to experts and attendees at these events, and make connections via social media and business networks. Just like your internal company network, don’t limit yourself only to software testers. Also make professional connections with developers, product managers, and other people. They might be a door opener at your next company.
#5 - In addition to having the right soft and social skills, owning a strong technical skill set will help you make your first steps in being a leader inside your team. Look out for leadership roles. If your current employer offers lateral moves, it’s important to communicate your aspirations. Let them know that you’re interested in moving into a managerial role, and seek advice on how to prepare for such a transition. If your company offers opportunities for cross-functional projects or temporary assignments in management-related tasks, take advantage of them. This can provide you with firsthand experience and exposure to managerial responsibilities.
#6 - In parallel, consider enrolling in courses, workshops, or certifications related to leadership and management. These can provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary for a managerial position. Keep an eye out for internal job postings for managerial positions or roles with leadership responsibilities. Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant skills and experiences. I am sure you will be successful in your next role as a team lead.
My Personal Pathway Into Management
This sounds all real theoretically, right? But I can assure you, this is basically the pathway that I took to get into my current leadership role. At the moment, I am working as a Head of Software Testing. I am responsible for leading and shaping an entire business unit with more than 40 software testing experts.
Here are the steps that I took:
I started my career as a junior software tester. I was a greenhorn, coming straight out of university. Furthermore, I had no idea how to test software professionally. So I started to build up my technical foundation. I was working in an agile development team for a web application. I learned testing from fellow testing colleagues. They taught me all aspects of the role from test case design, and test data management to test automation. At the same time, I was learning about modern web development, APIs, and backends. This was all from a theoretical point of view, but I always had an interest in learning more about the system I was testing.
After some years in this role, I became the go-to person on my team. No matter what technical question came up, people stopped by my desk. I liked that, and I was happy to help out. In this phase, I wasn’t aware that I was the leader of the team. I built up my leadership skills without knowing it. Back then, one of my managers gave me that positive feedback. She saw the potential and gave me first leadership tasks and transferred me to a new department and team to learn new skills.
I basically repeated all the things I have done before. I learned all about the product, the development, and the testing for this new department. During that phase, I paired with many people in and outside the team, from product over-development to product support. The previously gained domain knowledge helped me to step up again and to take responsibility. At the same time, I was building up my network inside the company. People from different departments knew that I was a go-to person in case they needed help, not only testing-related. I also had the first people in my own team that I was leading.
Then one day, the product manager I was working closely with left the company. The next day, the product director invited me to a meeting with my team lead to talk about a topic. They asked me if I wanted to take over the product management role for the team I was working in.
I was really surprised, why did they ask me? I was the tester in the team, I never would have thought about that. They told me about my great work and contribution to the overall success of the team. I was really great at doing the testing job, but at the same time, I was the product expert and domain expert on the team. Long story short, I accepted the offer to switch, temporarily, into the role of product manager.
It felt good to step into a new role and learn again more about product management. Since it was a temporary role, I went back to testing after seven months. But what I have seen really impressed me. I wanted to learn more about product management. I was in a lucky position because my company was open-minded about lateral moves. So I told my manager that this is a role I can think of as my next step. I was talking to other product managers and directors, and in case there is a position available, I would be open for an interview.
Some months later, I got the message that there was an open position in product management and I took the chance. It wasn’t an easy step for me, since I really enjoy testing, but my curiosity to learn something new was bigger. Fast forwarding, my career a bit. I was in the product management role for more than three years and I enjoyed every minute. I learned many things about product development and how to lead a team of developers, testers, and designers. Talking to different stakeholders really helped me a lot to shape and train my social and soft skills.
But how did I end up in testing again? Well, my outside network made it happen. During my time as a software tester, I gave talks at conferences, I was sharing knowledge on my blog, and was an active member of the testing community. During this time I made lots of professional connections and even met real friends.
One day I received a message from a contact that the company was looking for a head of software testing. They wanted a person with great communication skills, well-connected in the testing world, and who has a brought understanding of software development. And they saw this in me.
I was happy to receive such a message, and we started a conversation about the role, the tasks, and the responsibilities. I always wanted to be a modern leader that helps software testers in getting better every day. So I took the chance. And here I am, working as a head of software testing. I never expected to get into this role so fast, it took me only 14 years, but I am really happy that my pathway wasn’t straightforward. I liked my little detour into product management. However, I have to admit that I was also a lucky person. I always had great people managers and mentors who saw the potential in me and who pushed me to take the steps.
Remember that the transition from a software tester to a manager requires a combination of technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills. It’s important to continuously learn and adapt as you progress along your career pathway. As you have seen from my personal story, the pathway from software tester to manager is not always a straight path. It will look different for each of you. It depends on many factors. Some you have in your own hands, some are in the hand of others.
In case you want to take the steps to become a manager, keep in mind this change will not happen immediately. Be patient and persistent in pursuing your goals. Continue to learn and grow in your current role while actively seeking opportunities even outside your current department or role. Actively ask for feedback from your managers and colleagues on your performance and areas for improvement. Always demonstrate a willingness to learn and adapt, it will show your readiness for a leadership role.