Make Excellence Your Norm

It used to be that you would find a job and stay there for 10 years or 20 years or even until retirement. Those days are gone—as is the idea of job security. You may exceed your performance goals and still be laid off—in a turbulent and changing economy. Nonetheless, you can develop career security, which has many of the same benefits, with the addition of personal control.

Job security is the likelihood that you will keep your job over a long period. In other words, your job is secure if there is precious little chance that you will become unemployed. Assuming you have been a consistently good tester, your job security is largely controlled by factors outside of your control.

Career security is something you can establish for yourself. Career security means you are the one who makes the decisions about where you work and when. When you do what it takes to establish career security, you are in the driver’s seat. You set your own career goals, choose your own path—and then you work to get there. You don’t depend on someone else for your ability to stay employed.

I am not suggesting that you job-hop or plan to abandon your current employer—that is certainly not the case. The truth is that everything you do to enhance your career security will also help you be the best you can be at your current job. If your dream is stay with your current employer forever—the following practices will only enhance you as an employee.

How can you develop career security?

Hustle: Be the best at what you do where you are doing it now. Learn all you can. Volunteer for the hard stuff or the new stuff or the stuff no one wants and make it the envy of everyone else. If you see a problem, develop a solution—and share it. Finding a problem and solving it is your best method for developing the skills you have and gaining others—while demonstrating leadership. Make excellence your norm.

Learn: You have heard about BBST courses, Certified Software Tester (CSTE) or ASTQB certifications, and other learning opportunities. Take a course. Get a certification. Participate in learning activities like weekendtesting.com, where you gain practical experience while you explore different aspects of testing. I believe in the BBST courses and other experiential learning, but I also work with some rocking good testers who have certifications.

Choose whatever suits your interests and career goals. The point is: keep learning. Stretch yourself. Grow as a tester. Stephen Covey calls that “Sharpening Your Saw.” If you haven’t read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, do so immediately. It will change your life. By constantly honing your testing skills, you will be more valuable to your current employer—and you will also be prepared for whatever comes next.

Try something new: You have heard of testing dojos: start one at your workplace. You learned about some new technique? Why not try it? Ask your co-workers and testing friends how they run their tests—and what they look for—and then try it. You might find an exciting new path to success. You may have seen one of the many testing mnemonics (for example, HICCUPPS, which stands for History, Image, Claims, Comparable products, User expectations, Product, Purpose, and Statutes). You can find bunches of heuristics models, mnemonics, and checklists on the Internet. Choose one you haven’t used before—it may inspire you to test in a new and exciting way. You may even develop one of your own. Share it with others. You will grow and help them grow too.

Read: Read blogs by newbie testers and by long-time experts. Read testing magazines and discussion boards for Testing interest groups. You will learn a lot and have new techniques to talk about and try. When someone mentions Miagi-do belts or discusses context-driven or risk-based testing, you will be able to chime in. Reading will give you strong foundational knowledge on which to build and expand your skill set.

Join: User groups, Meetups, Software Quality societies and associations. Volunteer—and you will get noticed— and this will only enhance your learning. You will sometimes get opportunities through a volunteer effort that will help you get to the next rung on your career ladder. Plus, the people you get to know through these groups will think of you when there is an opening at their company. Conversely, you may meet someone who would make an ideal addition to the company where you are now.

Ask: Question everything and find the answers to the questions you can’t answer. Curiosity is what separates a good tester from a great one. Take 10 minutes and answer the question “What if…” as it applies to your current testing project. Asking questions will increase your knowledge and may help you find creative solutions to problems—as well as new ways of testing what you have already tested.

Network: Open an account on LinkedIn.com and update your profile regularly. In fact, update your resume at least once a year and attach it to your profile. If you keep that updated, not only are you always ready for the next opportunity, you will be prepared if the company you are working for considers you for another internal position (or, alternatively, lays you off). You will be ready—which puts you worlds ahead of other people in your field. Plus, it feels good to have a place to track your career growth.

Write: a blog, an article, a comment on subject in your field (QA, testing) via social media. A recruiter once told me that she was looking for the 1%-ers, which she explained thusly: 90% of people lurk on social media and contribute nothing. Another 9% occasionally contribute a little something. 1% drive the discussions. She said she only wanted to hire the 1%. What that means to you is active (and consistent) participation on key media channels for your industry (or specialty). If you want some ideas, visit here: http://www.ministryoftesting.com/testing-feeds/

Listen: Find podcasts and listen to them during your commute. Ask more experienced testers and managers and leaders in the field—and listen to what they say. If someone you trust gives you feedback, listen and heed their advice. This is an area where finding a mentor can take you a long way. Find a woman (or man) in your field who has the kind of career you would like to emulate and ask them to mentor you. Mentorship can be a transformational experience. When I took the BBST Foundations course—my mentor helped me understand the depth and breadth of some of the new material I learned in the course.

Attend lectures and seminars. If you get one good idea you can take back to work and apply—you will learn and grow.

Share: As you expand your foundational knowledge and grow as a tester, share what you are learning with others. You will find after a while you will become the “go-to” person. If other people know they can come to you for help and advice, it will help you practice leadership and grow contacts and trusted advocates throughout your career.

Putting it all together
Only you know what your goals are, how much money you want to make, what roles you want to play, what kinds of testing and work environments you enjoy. You know your own strengths and your own weaknesses. Develop a plan and try a few of the suggestions above— or add your own. If you do, you will not only increase your job security—more importantly, you will have career security.

About the Author

Karen O’Keefe is a Senior Quality Assurance Analyst with UTi Worldwide, a transportation logistics company. Karen is also an instructor for the BBST Foundations course.

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