Where have all the good jobs gone?

If you follow and believe the twitter conversations, it seems that the main reason for getting ISTQB certification is to pass the screening when applying for work. No ISTQB? No interview!

My personal experience has been that yes, on one or two occasions I’ve failed to be interviewed based on lack of certification. Rather then see this as a negative, I see this as a blessing. After all, if your idea of a tester is that narrow, then I’m probably not suited to your company. On occasion I’ve cited ‘NO CERT’! to justify why I can’t apply for a role. “I’m so sorry, I’m not ISTQB certified…” as I edge my way to the door.

I think it’s naive to rely on a certification as a means to getting work. Especially if you are a thoughtful and intelligent tester who cares about the quality of your work, and who wants to be taken seriously in the industry.

But forget about certification for one minute. Are you seriously willingly going to put your career into a strangers hand who then decides your fate by a keyword? There are cleverer ways to play this game.

Have you not noticed that the way companies recruit is rapidly changing? To get a job that interests you, its not good enough to send in your resume or hold a silly piece of paper with a over ornate stamp on it. Those days are long gone. Now you need passion, you need to keep up to date with whats happening in your field, you need to be committed to keeping yourself relevant.

Our family has experienced this first hand when my husband was looking for work last year. He suddenly discovered at the ‘old age’ of 42 that he was unemployable. He is intelligent and personable(yes I am biased) with a first class degree in Electrical Engineering and he had made the assumption that good people always find work. But that’s not enough. Today, if you want a job that’s worthy of you, you need make sure you earn the companies respect.

This is not only based on my personal experience, I’ve spoken to many recruiters in the last few months, and all seem to have similar stories. Companies are more reluctant to use recruitment agencies to find their staff. They want recruiters who know and understand the specific skills they are seeking. I’m seeing recruiters leave the industry, or re-invent themselves as specialists in one field. Other ways the industry has changed is that many recruiting companies work for one company and are in effect the procurement arm of the company.

Of course, the testing industry has changed significantly too. Now that the major consultancies have successfully sold testing as a commodity, testing (or an excuse for testing) is being performed wherever people are cheapest. The adoption of Agile as a development process and its dependency on automation has also reduced the need for testers (though this is not necessarily a bad thing). The fact is, there are less testing jobs out there.

That doesn’t mean there are less quality testing jobs though. While its true that the crumbs from the table need to be shared among more, there is still plenty of meat and gravy at the table. The question is, have you earned a spot there? Here’s a fact. You are not going to earn a spot on this table with a certificate. The path to this table is through credibility and reputation.

My first bit of advice is if you want a worthy job, then you need to be worthy. Examine the work that you have done to date. Does it reflect your skill and perhaps more importantly, your ability? What about your attitude? Does your work reflect that of someone who is passionate and who loves testing? You don’t need rockstar status, but you do need to be an eager apprentice. If you have aspirations to get a great testing job, but you’re not prepared to put in the hard work, then why should you deserve a great role?

Here’s something I do that has proven to be very useful. When I start a new role, I ask myself two questions. The first is “If I leave, how do I want people to remember me”? and second is “what legacy do I want to leave behind me”? It may sound ruthless to think about an exit strategy when starting a role, but the reality is, NO job is permanent so why treat it as one?

So, you are now a worthy tester, the next step is to be able to demonstrate this worthiness and please, put away that tired old resume! I’m talking about blogging, and speaking and contributing to the testing community. Contributing to the community is a great way of meeting local and international people and you learn so much. Regarding speaking, this doesn’t have to be large conferences, there are plenty of small local meetups that offer you a space to speak. No tester meetups near you? Why not create one, or speak at a developer meetup.

Thirdly you need to network. I can’t emphasis this enough. This is where the jobs are. You need to consider two types of networking, local and online. Local is essential if you want to find work in your area. This means meeting people face to face at the local meetup. Yes, I know masterchef is on a Tuesday night and this clashes with the meetup, but hey, do you want a great job or not? Online networking is important too because it allows you to connect with like minded people, plus its a great source of learning. Many jobs come from both online and local networks.

You also need to research. Find out the good companies, speak to people through your network (not agencies) about the ‘good places’ to work, and make a plan on how you are going to work there. Having an online presence helps a lot here, but so does face to face networking. And be patient, great jobs don’t just drop off trees and fall into your lap.

Yes, ultimately, these jobs don’t come easy. They require hard work, and a willingness to put yourself out there. It comes at a cost to your personal lifestyle. but hey! It’s all about choice. Great jobs are around, but its about seizing the day and making the opportunity instead of relying on an agent to do it for you. This is a good thing. Trust me. As I said at the start, why should you put your fate into someone’s hands?

The good news is more than ever before, companies who recognise and value their staff, who recognise and value quality testing, are recruiting in a grass roots way. If you want these types of jobs, it’s easier to get them.

Now maybe this all seems like too much work and you know? I can live with that! Seriously, its your call. But don’t tell me that certificate is mandatory to work in testing, because its not true. Many companies who ‘get’ testing will hire you without a cert. The question that is probably more pertinent is: “Do they want you?”

So get out there, work your butt off and then market your fabulous testing skills. If you stop putting your pearls before swine, one day that dream job will be yours!

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this one AMC.

    I wrote recently in the comments of another blog that we testers need little pieces of motivation every now and again… and this is just that.

    Reply

  2. While I agree… I also think it’s time to stop putting all the onus on the testers. The reason certification is such a hot button is because it’s the ONLY way to say this tester’s been trained. As someone who has spent many years hiring developers and testers, i can tell you that I would much rather be able to hire a tester who has earned a degree in Software Testing just like the developers earn a degree in Computer Science/Programming. But that doesn’t exist. We should fix that… and put the testers on level ground with the other software professionals looking for jobs.

    Reply

    1. Hi Lorinda, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      So if all testers had degrees from a respected organisation, then certification would go away?

      Personally, I love the fact that some of the testers I hire have degrees in Philosophy or Anthropology. It creates such as lovely mix of views. I also like to have people on my team of have wonderful domain knowledge, that has been built up through years of using a system. So while a degree in Software Testing may help to create a level playing field, I would be concerned if this was the only way someone can become a tester.

      Incidentally, I think Universities and how people are viewing them is changing too. Moocs and other free online courses are really threatening (and I think rightly so) the validity of some courses at Uni. I see this problem becoming harder not easier.

      Reply

      1. I think many testers interview for original thinking, reasoning and testing knowledge too. I’m not sure what you mean by the cert issue is deeper than the current debate. I look forward to your thoughts on that.

        Reply

      2. Hi Anne-Marie and Lorinda,

        So if all testers had degrees from a respected organisation, then certification would go away?

        No, based on the large number of certifications available to programmers (and other people involved in software development), I wouldn’t think so. Take the abbreviations alone: There’s CSQE, CSSLP, CSDP, CSDA, MCITP, PMP, CCNA. Not to forget the CSM and I believe for ITIL and other processes/methodologies there are also certificates…
        Just google for “certification development”. All that’s on top of university degrees. I doubt that this really helps in hiring the right people.
        At least with a university degree you show that you were able to study a topic for a longer period of time, stayed with the topic an wrote a thesis on the topic. Whether that makes someone a good hire, is another question, though.

        Reply

  3. It also depends heavily on the level of position you are looking for. At the beginning of your career certification may be beneficial. For a very senior position it doesn’t make much sense. The more senior position is, the less chances that you find any just to send out your resumes. Things are very different for, for example, you and entry level positions.

    So while I am fully agree with everything said in general, I just want to note that it is rather a starting trend than a status quo for now. I never stop to be surprised how small is the share of those who do anything extra at all.

    Reply

    1. I’ve some some young testers jumping into this type of approach to work and its great to see. People who are refusing to use traditional methods to work their career.

      Yes, I would say its a trend too, but I was really surprised how our family got caught out by it. That I did not expect.

      Reply

  4. Writing this comment from the office of a great little company called Atomic Object in Grand Rapids, MI USA after my move there from England. I’m there pretty much because I followed the course you outline in this post – and also because they did some grass roots recruitment and got a local tester to post their job ad to a s/w testing mailing list.

    What advice would you give to a newbie tester though trying to get into the field? How do they get past the ‘cert needed’ companies and get an opportunity to get themselves known?

    Reply

    1. Hi Phil,

      I thought of you when I was writing this blog post! Personally, I think its best to avoid ‘cert needed’ companies, than try and convince them to change. I would be targeting start ups and smaller business to try and get some work experience under your belt. Once you have some of that, then it becomes much easier to negotiate. Another way to get experience is to work volunteer to work on an open source project.

      I think the software testing community is very welcoming to younger testers and I would suggest they approach places like the Software Testing Club for advice.

      I’d like to see more blogs from newbie testers. They have a viewpoint that no-one else has in the testing community. Then we will have a body of work that we can point to and say, “go to Danny’s blog, he’s posting about what its like to get work as a newbie tester”.

      One of the ideas I’m working on with my training courses is to add a level of work experience to them. For instance, you get 6 months placement at a company, but I need some companies to come on board with the idea.

      Reply

  5. Hi Anne-Marie,

    Excellent post. I’ve got a book in the final stages of draft which has ideas along the same line as this. It’s great to hear that I’m not alone in thinking that those who want jobs need to take ownership of their own fate…

    Enjoyed it – thanks.

    Rob..

    Reply

  6. I have been lucky enough to get a job without a certificate using my enthusiasms and will to learn (i did not have a lot of experience and am not “technical” beyond using a computer on a daily basis for work).
    But I have been asked to do the certificate because actually the customers want the test team to be certified. It has been used as a question when putting out a tender. seems the certification debate goes to the customer level now too!

    Reply

    1. Hi Kim
      thanks for taking the time to write. I’m always interested in hearing ‘newbie’ tester stories.

      Recently I was undecided if I should go for a tender as it was for a heavily certified environment. In the end, I decided not to put a tender forward.

      I don’t envy your position though! I hope you manage to work something out for yourself.

      Reply

  7. Hi,

    Really good post.

    I think we also all have a part to play in breaking the cycle of certification – lazy test managers can find it easy to just put ‘ISTQB Certified’ on job ads, as much as lazy testers can think just having the certification ‘guarantees’ them a job. I guess the question then is ‘do I want to work for somewhere like that?’ but sometimes one does not get a choice.

    I’d really like more testers to start to think they way you have described. I was recently recruiting for testers, and tried using tester meetup groups, forums, etc to find suitable people, but actually found it really difficult to find the right people. I’d have loved to have not had to use agencies (and therefore continue, albeit in-directly, the certification way) but it seems, at least in the UK, that everything is still setup the ‘traditional’ way. It’s something we need to break from both sides.

    Stephen

    Reply

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I think you are right. It is a mixed success. I have got some great stories of testers getting good work from networking and meetups, but I’ve also seen companies frustrated at mot getting the staff they want. I’m not sure if there is a solution here, I guess no matter what the approach there will always be a shortage for great testers?

      Reply

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for this – good advice. Certainly people need to work hard to get and keep a job nowadays. The industry is changing. But I think in future, there will be fewer testers out there. I’ve said that in five years there would be 50% fewer testers required. I said that maybe two years ago. Maybe we’re half way in that reshuffle.

    Last week I met a friend who told me his bank laid off 1000+ testers last year. That’s the scale of it. It’s not enough to ‘put oneself about’ in the meetups, conferences and blogosphere. You have to actively pursue a different direction and certainly differentiate yourself from the army of “plain old functional testers” who have but one or two skills.

    Here’s the original ‘Redistribution of testing’ article I wrote for Atlassian.(originally).

    Reply

  9. One of the best blogs on the state of testing I’ve read! Any company that is so short-sighted as to think that ISTBQ certification is a deal-breaker for hiring a quality professional is probably not a good company for which to work.

    And yes, it really does come down to how good you are based on your abilities, talent and applicable skills.

    You do folks a great service by posting this entry!

    Reply

  10. Hi Anne-Marie, this is an excellent post. I am in the process of changing my career to software testing. However I don’t have a background and experience in this field. My work experiences are mostly associated with team support administration, executive assistant, customer service and health care. I also have a degree in bachelor of health science.

    I have recently been reading the istqb syllabus to prepare myself for the certification exam.

    Can you please advice if this is the right path I am going?

    Also, how should I restructure my cv to get an entry level software testing position with training?

    I appreciate your genuine feedback.

    Regards,

    Isabella

    Reply

  11. There are good jobs out there. They can be hard to find — just as good candidates are hard to find for those good jobs.

    Just as I have intentionally chosen to not get any ISTQB certification, I intentionally choose to not work for people who make the certification a prerequisite for a job.

    There was a time, earlier in my career that I thought getting various certifications might help me get a better job. At that time, I also had people telling me I needed go back to school to advance. I learned that I needed neither — and dismissing the idea that I needed certifications or more schooling to advance was key to propelling my career forward.

    I now believe that getting involved with other testers outside my workplaces, and focusing my self-directed learning on what interests me and the authentic problems I encounter on the job, has provided more benefit than what I once thought I could have gained by getting certified or going back to school.

    So, now if someone tells me that a certification is required for a job, I take that as a sign that it probably isn’t a job I want to have. There are better jobs out there.

    Ben

    PS: Also, I’ve learned that the requirements published in a job advertisement often stress things that aren’t things valued by those with whom the hired candidate will work. So, if you see a requirement in an advert that you don’t meet, don’t let that stop you from engaging in a conversation about a job that is otherwise appealing.

    Reply

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