In our blog, we often talk about the importance of continued education. The learning process never really stops, and serious software testers should constantly hone their skills outside the office with deliberate, self-directed study.

This is especially important since ours is a profession without an “official” university-level career path. Most of what we learn, we learn on our own.

Continued education is easy enough if you’re a mid-career professional. By this point, you have a good idea of where gaps exist in your understanding. And you can work to fill them as needed.

As a seasoned veteran, you know what you don’t know.

But what about when you don’t know?

What if you’re a complete novice and aren’t aware of what gaps exist in your learning. Where do you even begin? And how do you prepare yourself for a career in software testing?

The Most Important Step in Software Testing Mastery?

Arguably the most important step involves deciding whether or not you really want to pursue this path. Software testing can be an extremely fulfilling profession – but it isn’t for everyone:

  • If you’re the type of person who looks at the answers in the back of the book or hates “problem-solving,” there might be better careers out there for you.
  • If you seek the limelight, think again. Ours is an unsung profession in which the glory comes from quality workmanship – not recognition.

If you understand and accept these facts, you’re ready to begin the learning process. Below are 3 of the most common career paths that software testers take.

1. The Pedagogical Route
Although there is no official university track, there do exist countless unofficial training options that can help you get started.

The most obvious is an associates, bachelors, or masters degree in some area of computer science or programming. With this as your foundation, transitioning to software testing is relatively easy.

Another common strategy is to complete any number of software testing certifications, including ISTQB and CSTE. Although these programs won’t always have curricula attached, the exam requirements will help you determine what you need to learn.

And of course, there is no shortage of third-party software testing tutorials offered online.

2. The Laser Focused Route
When you’re just starting out, it can seem overwhelming. After all, there exist:

But there’s good news.

Despite the seemingly endless options out there, most software testing tools and products follow the same basic logic. So if you master one area of the testing universe, you can easily branch out from there.

So become ultra-specific and select just:

  • 1 methodology (ex: agile vs. exploratory)
  • 1 coding language (ex: PHP vs. HTML 5)
  • 1 platform (ex: Android vs. Linux)

And ignore everything else until you’ve developed a core foundation in the above. Although automated testing will make things easier, we recommend manual testing – at least in the beginning.

Ultra specificity will allow you to limit the number of books, forums, and articles required during your journey of self-discovery. Choosing a niche will also make it easier to market your skills once you’re ready.

3. The Organic Software Testing Route
This is the least specific and most roundabout strategy. But it’s also one of the most beneficial.

Simply START testing.

It’s easy (and comforting) to surround yourself with book-learning and theory. You can develop a very solid academic understanding of what all is involved. But most of the job comes from experience. And the absolute best education involves rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.

You’ll experience the most bumps and the slowest initial progress. But in the long term, this hands-on approach will provide you with the deepest and richest understanding of what software testing involves.

If you already have some applications that you’re ready to debug, great. Get cracking.

But if you’re looking for a little guidance, simply find a company that is looking for testers – especially beta testers. Want ads, company websites, Craigslist, and word-of-mouth are all great avenues.

Once you’ve connected with a prospective company, download its product and begin exploring.

Learn it, use it, poke it, break it.

Along the way, you’ll need to download a QA management tool (we can recommend a terrific one right here). And begin writing and executing tests.

Report your findings and send these results to the company together with your CV.

Just keep in mind that the goal isn’t to make money. In fact, most beta testers aren’t even paid.

The true goal is to learn “on the job” and prove yourself along the way:

  • If no bugs are found, at least you’ve gleaned some valuable skills.
  • If you do discover defects, however, the company will have found a valuable asset (in you).

No Matter How You Decide to Learn…

The above routes are all mutually compatible, and you’ll likely find the best results by mixing and matching aspects of each. But no matter which combination of “learning” tools you adopt, you should always:

  • Keep mastering code. The more programming chops you have under your belt, the easier software testing becomes.
  • Stay informed. There are countless podcasts, blogs, and books to help guide you through your journey from zero to launch.
  • Build a community. Testers love to share. No matter where you live, you’ll always have access to a global network of those who are far more experienced than you are. Never hesitate to ask for assistance if you ever get stuck.

Do you have other tips for launching a successful career in software testing? Please share your thoughts and insights down below.