Understanding the different software tester job roles and their various responsibilities can be a little overwhelming, especially when looking at new opportunities. In this article, Jon tries to help you to, in the immortal words of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, ‘know your role’.
I could probably fill this page with a list of the different software tester job titles you’re likely to see while scanning the listings, from just plain ‘Software Tester’ to the somewhat pretentious ‘Test Evangelist.’ Instead, I will focus on the common levels I have seen across most companies, from Junior all the way up to Head of Testing.
Although there is much debate within the industry regarding the use of ‘Test’ vs. ‘QA’ in terminology, for the sake of simplicity I have kept to just using ‘Test,’ although you will see the two interchange regularly.
A junior tester is someone fresh to the profession looking to learn the trade and build up their skill set. Most often it’s their first testing role, and they’re looking to impress and progress quickly. They are not expected to lead projects or work autonomously, and where possible will be paired up with a senior team member who can guide and mentor them through the early challenges.
Test Analyst/Software Tester
Having progressed from the junior level, they will find themselves to be a regular software tester. In this role, they will be trusted to work autonomously and be expected to drive their own learning and improvement. Whether the work is primarily manual or automated testing, at this level, they may also be expected to lead small projects or pieces of work.
Acting as a role model to the junior team members and as a champion of quality across the wider company/division, the senior tester is expected to lead medium sized projects and to push for change and improvement across the department. Due to their skills and experience they serve as a mentor and trainer to others in the team, actively offering help where they see struggles or knowledge gaps.
The test lead will be an expert not just in testing, but also in strategy. Given projects sizing from small to large, they will organize the work that needs to be done, research the tools and technology to aid the project team in the testing, motivate and monitor the work as it progresses. Interacting with the development lead, project manager, and product lead, they will define a bespoke strategy for the project, carefully considering the available resources and the time available.
The role is to lead the testing, not necessarily the people. Which brings us nicely to…
A team leader isn’t usually expected to be a testing expert or specialist. It is more of a supervisory role serving as a buffer between the smaller teams and the test manager. By overseeing the team members, helping with objective setting and dealing with HR matters like holidays and sickness, the team leaders free up the test manager’s schedule.
The test manager is responsible for deciding who does what and how. Working with other departments and staying aware of all of the projects and assigning the right people with the right skills for the job. They should be guiding the different teams’ strategies and skill sets and overseeing the progression and improvements of the testers.
Head of Testing
The head of testing role is often reserved for companies with lots of testers to the point where there are multiple teams with multiple managers. It is also a role that requires solid leadership as it entails managing managers and ensuring the plans and strategies feed down throughout all of the teams. It also requires an ability to negotiate as it can often be a battle to get the budget, whether for extra people or training, to deliver a reliable, consistent quality of testing.
I can’t stress enough that these are only summaries based on what I’ve seen to be the typical responsibilities for these roles. In reality, the typical duties in these roles vary wildly, so use this post as a rough guide to help you in deciding your next testing role, or when you’re negotiating your next promotion at work.