Developing niche skills in software testing makes you a specialist. Standing out from the crowd will open doors to higher salaries and industry influence.
Software testing is a demanding profession that requires a broad skillset. The typical tester continually learns new skills, making it tempting to become a “jack-of-all-trades”. Despite the usefulness of knowing a bit about a lot, there are significant advantages to specializing – or finding your niche skills in software testing. While it may seem counterintuitive, narrowing one’s focus can propel a tester’s career to new heights.
Specialization can bring the following advantages:
- Job security
- Higher compensation
- Increased effectiveness
- Industry influence and respect
This post explores some of the most common areas of specialization, then examines the risks involved in developing a niche. Finally, the article concludes with advice on how to go about specializing.
Areas of specialization
In every industry, firms of all sizes are building new software to help deliver extra value to their customers. By focusing on the particular business needs and software challenges in one industry, a tester can develop a valuable domain-specific skillset.
Key industries driving the demand for QA professionals include the following:
- IT / Business Services
- SaaS Providers
Testers can develop a niche by working in teams that are devoted to solving the unique technical challenges in a single industry. Truly understanding the customer’s needs and use cases helps inform the software QA process, and is thus a valuable niche to build. Testers hoping to specialize across a specific industry should work to identify trends then direct their learning to those areas.
Focusing on a single one industry within your career has added benefits. As a person’s career progresses, professionals naturally create a robust professional network within that industry. As a fellow professional within that industry, they can then access this network to find new opportunities.
By cultivating deep expertise for a particular set of technologies used in the applications under test, a test engineer can become exponentially more valuable to a company that is looking to implement those technologies. Each technology brings unique challenges, and by becoming well versed in how to test the particular technology, software testing professionals can ensure they command a high salary and never lack work.
Tech stack specializations include, but are not limited to, the following categories:
- Programming languages
- Cloud platforms / Infrastructure-as-a-Service
- AI / Machine Learning platforms
- Bitcoin / Blockchain
- Microservices / Service-oriented architecture
When considering specializing in testing specific technologies, it’s essential to make an informed choice. An engineer looking to specialize across a particular technical stack should routinely evaluate the skills they are learning and the demand they have in both their local job market and nationally.
The third category testers might consider specializing in is the toolset they use for accomplishing their tasks. Most software shops use Java, Selenium, or TestNG to drive their tests, and most engineers are becoming proficient in these toolsets. Conversely, this could mean finding skilled engineers for other toolchains is difficult, making them potentially more valuable for the right company. The world of software testing tools is continuously evolving, and by staying on top of trends and understanding powerful new tools or identifying a unique need for a specific toolset, a tester can position themselves to be incredibly valuable in specific job markets.
Risks to specializing
While finding a niche can result in rewarding and fulfilling careers, it can also carry some risk. By specializing in a narrow skillset, software testing professionals pay the opportunity cost of not having a broad skill set to call on. As industries, technologies, and toolsets change, this could result in an engineer suddenly finding their niche no longer exists.
Another risk is much more human – boredom. By developing a highly specialized career, a tester naturally limits themselves to working on only certain kinds of problems and applications. For some engineers who crave diversity and always want a new challenge, specialization might not be a good fit.
How to develop a niche
Develop a strong foundation
Specialization is only possible when a foundation is in place. Before considering “niching down,” a tester should already have a robust testing skillset, some industry experience, and, most importantly, a vision for their career.
Identify your interests and opportunities
The next stage is to consider the categories above and pinpoint any area of specialization that attracts them. He or she should find which technologies they are excited by, and what sorts of problems and applications most interest them.
Professionals seeking to specialize should identify whether any of the options that interest them are particularly valuable or required in their market by networking and learning about trends and market developments. They can then focus on delivering real business value by developing a highly needed specialized skillset.
Head into action
After identifying a few interests and opportunities, the tester can experiment by taking on small side projects in that area of specialization to learn more about it. They also might consider attending a conference or networking event for that industry or technology, or perhaps attaining an industry-specific certification. If the niche is a good fit, the tester must focus on demonstrating skills in that area by taking on projects or positions within that domain.
Evaluate your plan yearly
By honestly and continually evaluating the specialization one is building, one mitigates much of the risk of becoming stale. A software testing professional must annually review their professional development plan and identify if it needs updating. A tester may find later in their career that they need to carve out a new niche to remain relevant to the market or excited about their career.
Establishing a niche can open doors to a rewarding and lucrative software testing career. After obtaining a few years’ job experience and an excellent foundational skillset, professionals serious about personal development should consider examining areas of specialization that are of interest to them. Once finding one’s niche, a world of opportunities can open up.