poor promotion prospects for testers? (dirty MS laundry)

As a result of my last post, I got this email from a Microsoft tester whom I work with fairly regularly and admire deeply:

"Yet how many Partner or Distinguished Engineer ICs in test do you see? How many testers get onto bench programs vs dev/pm?

Throughout my career at microsoft I've seen the cream of the crop of dev and PM rapidly rise through the ranks, but the cream of the crop in test gets shafted every time - even on teams that do covet innovation and provide leeway to discover and learn."

My last post was aimed more at keeping junior testers in the discipline and I still think innovation and mentoring is the answer to that. This comment is aimed at the higher levels where promotion concerns come to the forefront. Is there a glass ceiling for testers that doesn't exist for managers and developers? If Microsoft, who has a reputation for celebrating the test role, has such a ceiling must the prospects industry-wide be that much worse?

I'm not the most qualified to discuss this since I earned my level outside of Microsoft and did not rise through the ranks. Plus, talking publicly about our promotion policies is sending alarms bells through my head, I can hear HR rumbling now. So let me say this: we testers have a second class legacy to overcome. We are hampered by a history of not being appreciated. This is going to be one of the most important trends that we have to reverse as a group. All any of us can do is look down the ranks and make sure we are pulling people up behind us.

Before you stop to complain about your own promotion path, ask yourself how many people below you have you helped get promoted? Are you doing everything you can to ensure that the ICs two and three levels below you are getting noticed and getting promoted?

I think we're doing this pretty well at the lower ranks of Microsoft because promotions occur pretty briskly for the talented. But to get past that glass ceiling, we're going to need people at the higher levels to take mentoring more seriously. I wonder if those people are reading this blog ... if so, the guy who wrote the quote above is waiting to hear from you!

I posted some additional comments about this at the uTest blog in case you'd like to read more. Mentoring an promotion are important topics. I'd like to get others in the community to share their ideas around this.

Comments (8)

  1. calkelpdiver says:

    "Microsoft, who has a reputation for celebrating the test role, has such a ceiling must the prospects industry-wide be that much worse?"

    Yes it can be and is in a lot of instances.  I have worked for multiple companies (more than I should admit) in the Testing/QA function over the last 20+ years, and I can honestly say only about

    1/3 of them really supported/promoted Test/QA staff properly (and two of my former companies were specifically Test consulting).  But again we had a ceiling that we could hit (couldn’t go any higher than Director level).  Only in one company have I seen a QA/Test senior level person promote up to a higher position in corporate management (the position was V.P. of Product Services, which included QA/Test and Tech Support and Consulting Services groups).

    "we testers have a second class legacy to overcome."  Yes we do, and what I have done to try to overcome this is work "with" the different groups to educate them on what this job function really is about and how it does provide first class benefit to the company.  Sometimes it has worked and others it hasn’t.

    "ask yourself how many people below you have you helped get promoted?"  I’ve helped as many as I can that have worked for me.  Mainly to reward good hard work and to help retain them.  Again my efforts have been mixed at the companies I have worked for.  Mainly, in my opinion, because depending on how the company really values QA/Test (really buys into it and supports and doesn’t make a rubber stamp of it) does the reward/promotion possibilities improve.

    Finally, I’ve been lucky in parts of my career to have some great mentors in this line of work.  As part of that I do my best to give back and help to mentor others with less experience.  I chose this as a career a long time ago, because I saw a need and a niche that I felt I could succeed in (always been good at pulling stuff apart).  At times it has been a real fun ride.  But… as someone this far along in my career I have started to have doubts/questions about what is next.  I do feel I have hit a ceiling, and in many ways.

    I don’t want to get on the whiney train here, but I will watch this thread with interest as how some of the other "old timers" will respond.


  2. Josh Poley says:

    Unfortunately, the managers that ultimately control promotions at the higher levels often come from Dev, PM, and other non-test disciplines. I often see them either not care about test or are ignorant of what testers do and how they should grow (or would rather spend their efforts/budget on developers). Mentoring the testers definitely isn’t the only key to success here, someone needs to mentor these non-test-oriented managers.

  3. wwconsult says:

    I heard a talk about this very issue. The speaker gave a list of things to do, but this one was a revelation. The success factor that is most often overlooked is the sponsor. A sponsor is someone at a significantly higher level in your own organization who takes an interest in helping you, and who has the power and influence to do it.

    This is not the same thing as a mentor. There is little or no coaching involved. It’s just a relationship, a friendship of sorts that you build with that person.  

    This is a corporate thing, not a Microsoft thing so HR has nothing to worry about. Networking upward is not an easy thing for most of us to do. It requires moving outside of our comfort zones, but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It’s really just about creating a bridge to the higher levels.

    Of course it is best done in conjunction with mentoring and a solid career plan.

    It struck me mostly because it’s so obvious once you hear it, but I had never heard it mentioned at all.

  4. MSDN Archive says:

    I think at MS the sponsor and the mentor play the same role. Much of the formal mentoring that goes on is related more to career progression than with technical training.

    Good responses on this. I’ll try to look around MS and talk to some people who have made it to the top and see if I get anything else worth sharing.

  5. Microserf says:

    Glass ceiling? I would say that testers at Microsoft are more stuck in a puddle of tar. For me starting as a tester at Microsoft was, careerwise, one of my worst decisions ever. Being a tester at Microsoft is not appreciated at all. It is not technically challenging. The tasks are really mundane and almost humiliating. The devs are afraid of difficult bugs which makes you more alone the more difficult and vague the problem is.

    This blog entry comes to some really strange conclusions. That it is the tester than can change this. That is wrong. It is not my fault that I am not appreciated for what I contribute! It is the people around me and mainly management who is to blame. They have to change.

    The thing is that they won’t. I have 10+ years experience of test and as a tester you are always a bit of an underdog but it was first when I came to Microsoft that I experienced managers that really work hard to keep you stuck in the puddle of tar. I have started to feel that I am a bit stuck and not having much of a career and this blog entry really confirm what I feel. I am not getting anywhere in this job and that will force me to leave.

  6. pberry says:


    Arrange a quick one-to-one with to your manager and make sure you have an idea of some of the things you’d like to do in your current role.

    If that fails (or worse, s/he says yes but fails to actually deliver) get your resume/cv up to date and get on the job market.

    Small companies are often in need of experienced testers at short notice and you can make more of a splash in a new place. Moreover, you’re not surrounded by the same people and walls which should provoke a positive change in your outlook!


  7. thayu says:

    Just to add to what joshpoley said, most people in senior management are indeed unaware of how a tester has to grow. To them, following something someone did in some team makes sense – sadly, just because a metric or a measure worked once doesn’t mean it will work everywhere and in every situation.

    Bug numbers and performance metrics around those have worked against everyone. As usual, when anything is taken beyond the limit, disaster strikes. Testers who are interested in quality do not always have high numbers – in fact, they work to make sure issues are caught even before they are coded. And there are testers who only want to grow and they do their best to beat the system. Both end up working against the organization. In the first case, the tester is frustrated; in the second, it is the rest of the team.

    I thought a company like Microsoft that placed so much emphasis on testers would have had things like this ironed down. Makes me wonder if we really do celebrate the test role, or if we’re just the best of the worst…

  8. davidvthokie says:

    Just know that your manager is not up late at night worrying if you are at the appropriate seniority level or if you are compensated fairly, etc.  Don’t hold it against them – just treat it as a fact of life and take the responsibility of putting some light on your particular situation.

    The only real solution is frequent 1:1 meetings to discuss "who you are" (what are you interests?) and "where you are headed" (career path).  You need to negotiate what role you have, and how you merit the next level.  There needs to be agreed upon criteria to  getting where you need to be.  

    You need to build a relationship with your manager, so that if you want an "distinguished" IC position, that the manager will go to bat for you to create that position if it does not exist.

    Good luck.

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