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."

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