Friday, January 25, 2008

New Job

As I mentioned in my last post, I am leaving my current job. Since giving my two week notice, I've been very busy a) training people in tasks I normally do, b) showing them the details of current and past work and c) wrapping up loose ends in general. I haven't had time to post on the blog in over a week. Furthermore, I start my new job next week & expect that to tie me up for a couple of weeks during the "settling in" period.

Nevertheless, I expect to at least post a couple times in the next month or so. As usual, I often have ideas for posts that I've written down weeks or months ago - I'll polish up a couple and fit them into my schedule.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Changing jobs in the field

At the end of my last post, I noted that 67% of test engineers surveyed would recommend test engineering as a career to to kids or friends. The recent turbulence in my own test group made me wonder: what about the other 33%?

Three people, including myself, have left or are leaving to go to new companies. I'm going to be doing test engineering for a startup. So it's still in test engineering but with a different emphasis. The second person is a manufacturing test engineer at a big firm - basically the same work he did previously. The third person will be an electrical engineer for a test instrumentation company.

So that's three people. Two of them will still be in test engineering, and the third is (happily) going back to EE work (for test equipment). In an odd way that mirrors the 67% number.

On a related note, when I was testing equipment software for HP I went to several software conferences - most of them around San Jose, CA or Seattle, WA. Once I sat at a lunch table with about 4 software testers from Microsoft. During a conversation about programming, they said that a common path for programmers up in Redmond was to spend a couple of years just testing software before being allowed to write it.

Over the past dozen years I've met plenty of people who have moved in and out of test engineering. Some of them did something similar to the guys from Microsoft: get their EE degree, spend a couple of years testing circuits, and then "graduate" to designing circuits. But a more common path I've seen (and one I followed for two years) is from testing to sales. If you spend several years testing the product you get to know it very well. That knowledge serves you very well as an applications engineer when you help the customer use the product.

But more often than not, once you are in test engineering you stay there. You're good at it, you like it, it pays well, or some other reason. As Michael Corleone said, "Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Test Engineer Salaries

Happy New Year.

Back in August of last year I created a list of topics to cover. I have now written about each one except salaries. I hate to leave anything hanging, so now I'll post about that. This topic is only tangentially related to test engineering, since a major point I'll make applies to other careers as well.

Test and Measurement World publishes a yearly salary survey for the field. It's a good piece of information for comparing compensations - at least for those of you who live in the US - but it completely leaves out a crucial component: location. For example, when I worked at HP/Agilent out in California there were three different scale grades for engineers. Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, San Jose, etc) was at the top of the list, followed by Sonoma County (CA) and Boston (MA) on the second level, and then everywhere else. There was a 5-10% salary difference between each level - some places just costs more to live there.

If you want to look at pay levels and include geography, use's calculator. Also, there are several cost of living calculators out there you can use. For example, according to's calculator, it costs about 7% more to live north of Boston than it does in Austin, TX.

I should also point out that the T&MW salary survey includes some interesting tidbits in the Job responsibilities and career satisfaction section. In particular, 67% of those polled would recommend test engineering to their kids or a friend. That makes me feel pretty good about my profession.