SDET Memes

Starting to see a lot of good discussion about what it means to be a test developer and the practices, ideas and challenges that go into being a successful test developer. In this post I want to talk about some insights about what I find challenging about this role and a question as old as the chicken and the egg conundrum:

Are test developers, just wannabe developers?

This is a thought that crosses the mind of most people who have worked as or with test developers (also known as Software Design Engineers in Test or SDETs) within Microsoft.

Being someone who originally came from that traditional school of thought that testers are just developers who couldn't make it as devs (similar to dentists being labeled as doctors who couldn't make it), it has taken me some time to wrap my head around the SDET job description and grow an appreciation for it. You also have to pacify your ego and let go of the prejudices. Well I did and now I am hooked onto it and think it offers a lot of great incentives not available to a traditional SDE, such as flexibility in coding, high-level view of the system and a more egalitarian workload across the product cycle. All these and more are tackled by Steve Rowe in his blog postings about why a test developer role is better than a traditional developer role and why test developers are just as "real". I liked the posts and ran into them through the Careers@Microsoft posting.

Other than these, one additional challenge that I have just begun to realize, is that as a tester, you are always trying to cope with a lot of theoretically hard problems (testing space in most cases is unbounded) and I find dealing with this computational complexity especially rewarding. It's like trying to tame a wild horse...:)

You can also read up over here, about differences between the STE / SDET positions and how vague and thin the line really is at times.

Comments (27)
  1. pk says:

    hi nihit, i came across your blog while looking for some answers on "how are sde’s sde/t’s different ?". fact of the matter is i just had my 1st round of telephonic interview with a person at MS, india, and was told about these roles. now, in spite of what the truth about SDE/T’s exactly is or is not , i, as a person, who lives in the big bad world, need to be careful as to what "title" i have when i apply for my next position. so, whether i like it or not, my next recruiter may not like to look at me as a "promising developer" if i were to tell him that i was an "sde/t"… one of the main reasons being.. ***"Are test developers, just wannabe developers? "*** — exactly as u said in your blog. may ask your opinion on.. how good/bad would sde/t be for my career if i dream about "creating products" in the future..

    thanks in advance,


  2. Hi pk,

    Sorry for the late response – the comment didn’t reach me as expected.

    I can totally understand your dilemma but not sure if I can help. As I have stated – because of the "real world" it is possible that you would get a little bit cornered due to the title of your job, but I like to believe, especially for a company like Microsoft, that it does not matter all that much. If you are doing what you find more interesting you will do more of it, be better at it, make a better name for yourself in that area. It’s not all that big a deal to move between dev/test since these are such closely related disciplines.

    Hope that helps! Happy Holidays!:)


  3. Dear Sir,

    I am in a similar situation as the pk.

    I am an engineering fresher and have just landed a SDET role at India Development Center.

    I have gone through your reply above but I’d like to know if that applies to a college fresher like me too with no industry experience?

    What is the scope of moving to a development role within and outside Microsoft after being an SDET incase I do not find myself enjoying the test developer role itself?

    Will I do better to start my career in a development profile elsewhere?

  4. Hi Tushar,

    The short answer: Yes – it applies to college freshers as well, though you have to go in knowing what the risks involved are – inside of Microsoft it matters less, but outside of Microsoft you will tend to get clumped into test or QA roles. That is something that I have no qualms about now, but it is something that you should be aware of. But I will reiterate, if you are going into an SDET role because you are actually excited by the test position – the ability to break software, to find nasty bugs, to iron out and figure out to get coverage on a vast, broad feature using tools and automation etc. then you will thrive as an SDET. If you feel more passionate about simply creating/writing software that goes out into the real world and used by lots of people, then an SDE role might be a better fit for you.

    Hope this helps and best of luck for the future.



  5. Hi Sir,

    Thanks for the response.

    Just one more query – Within MS, what is the scope of moving to SDE from an SDET position.

    Why I’m asking this is bcoz frankly speaking, at this point, perhaps due to lack of exposure or due to my own weakness, I can not clearly make out what I want to do in the long term. I like both – developing new software and feature sets as well as breaking code, so I am not sure. Hope you understand my position.

    I have another offer from Flextronics Software Systems and that is a development profile.

    Your advice would help me in making a sound career decision.

    Thanks for your time,

    Tushar Malhotra

  6. Don’t know what you meant by "scope of moving" but if you are referring to how hard or easy it is, I don’t think it is very hard. I wish I could help you more, but it seems like you’ll have to make the hard decision…:)

    I can just tell you one thing – I love working for Microsft (but have not worked anywhere else) and think it is an awesome place to be! 😉

  7. Thanks a lot for your advice and time.

    I’d let you know whatever decision I finally make


  8. Hi Sir!

    After quite a bit of research, I’v finally decided to go for MS. Guess u are rite, if I like the work I’m doing, other things really dont matter.

  9. Hi Tushar,

    Great to know that you are joining MS! Welcome aboard!

    And I hope you enjoy the work you get to do as an SDET – Let’s go break some code! 🙂

    – Nihit

  10. Sure Sir and thanks a lot for your guidance! Just waiting to get started now!

    I guess you are at Redmond rite? I’ll be joining the India Development Center at Hyderabad on 24th July.

  11. Jain says:

    Well, I do not think that moving from an SDET to SDE role would that "easy". Though a lot has been done about SDET being a best developer + best tester, it seems that it is just a rhetoric to pacify buddying SDETs at MS.

  12. Nihit Kaul says:

    Hi Jain,

    I disagree with your opinion, based on just a plain and simple list of people I have seen moving from an SDET to a SDE position, but it is possible that there is a lot of variation among groups in the skill sets etc. of SDETs which can confuse things a bit. I personally think that the biggest step is for an SDET to decide if they want to actually move to an SDE position or not. After that it is mainly a matter of preparing for the interview, talking to SDEs in various groups, maybe even doing some informal interviews and then making the jump. "Easy" and "Hard" are very subjective so hard to use one of those – better to just state that there are plenty of examples of people moving from SDET to SDE positions so that option is always open to you.

    – Nihit

  13. Sesh says:

    Good post. Thanks.

    Would you agree that a SDET will have a better grasp of the domain and also the customer expectations?

    For this reason SDETs might make good program managers too.

    In MS, is it possible for a SDET to become a program manager?

  14. Hi Sesh,

    Sorry for the delayed response, I was OOF on vacation.

    You make an interesting point. I do agree that SDETs would have a good sense of customer expectations and good domain knowledge but that might not be all that is needed for a PM position. I think the mind-set required for a PM position would be much more different that what a typical SDET has, so you would need to be more careful when hiring an SDET into a PM position. But it is definitely an option open to all SDETs – if you think you would enjoy the PM postion, definitely consider it strongly and do informationals with PMs in different teams to get a idea about what the pros and cons would be.



  15. TestDev says:


    I’m fairly new White box testing professinal& aspiring to become a good SDET. Is the work profile of SDET is same as White box Test Engineer. I read the Steve Rowe’s blog which said " testing for failure is the duty of SDET". Normally in whitebox testing I use JUnit to check for product behavior and to test an API for its successful behavior. If the SDET is different from White Box Testing ,how do I test the API for its failure in the role of SDET. Please kindly clear my ignorance.

  16. Seems to me that "Testing for failure" is referring to testing for exceptional cases and this would  definitely fall under the charter of an SDET as well. You can think about the role of an SDET as ensuring that the quality of the product is at an acceptable level. Testing how an app or an API behaves in the case when things go wrong (and an exception or error occurs) is part of ensuring what the whole user experience with a product is.

    Hope that helps.


  17. TestDev says:

    Hi Nihit,

         Thanks for the info, I’ll start working in writing a code which will test all my API’s for the invalid & unexpected inputs ,to check for it’s behavior. Hoping this to be a good start to sense SDET.


  18. TestDev says:

    Hi Nihit,

        I’m aspiring to become a SDET professional. I’ve been doing whitebox testing in Junit ,also have done the API testing.I would like to know if the performance testing and load testing are also a part of SDET profile. I’m curently involved more in performance & load testing rather that whitebox testing. Please advise me if I this exposure to Performance & load testing will benefit for the role of SDET.Expecting your reply.



  19. TestDev says:

    To add a brief overview of my current profile, I’m working as a Senior QA Engineer in a stealth mode startup company. Do let me know the answer for my above query.


  20. Hi TestDev!

    The answer is a resounding "YES". The SDET role has various types of specializations and perf and load/stress testing skill set is something that is much sought after at Microsoft. As you probably know better than me, it is a whole world in itself and there is a lot of cool work being done at MS just around perf/stress. Hope this helps – enjoy your "stress" work…:)


  21. TestDev says:

    Thanks a lot!!! Thats good to hear, I will "stress" on it more and Master these skills. soon there will be a day when I will be a part of MS family as an SDET 🙂 and thank you in person for replying to my queries so soon.


  22. Rohin Koul says:

    Hi Nikhit,

    I have an offer from MS for a SDET position.

    My existing employer is a telecom software company and I’m considered on of the "top" developers at workplace.

    HR at MS told me that SDET is a developer position but some research on internet revealed that its really a typical white-box testers position.

    I wanted to know whats your take on it ?

    During the interview I was told that "bar" for selecting an SDE and SDET is same.. so how do people at MS decide who goes in which position ?

    Also you in your posts here said that a large number of SDETs move into SDE roles. Can you tell me how many SDEs move into SDET roles. Is the flow same in both directions ??



  23. Abhijit says:


     I am agree with you .. but in Microsoft India (R&D) they dont allow to write your titel as SDE/T … can you please tell me why in Redmond you had SDE/T and in india only STE..

  24. Hi Abhijit,

    I know for a fact that we have mostly SDETs in IDC as well, so not sure why you feel that IDC only had STEs.

    A quick search of test jobs in Microsoft India should confirm this for you as well.


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