Software Quality Engineers: Take the Initiative

A strong job market gives software quality engineers a wide range of career options across industries. An Actalent expert shares tips on how to get ahead.

There's never been a time when solving problems and ensuring quality wasn't important. But those abilities may be more essential now than at any time in recent memory.

Whether it's working on cutting-edge medical devices, improving our ability to connect remotely or testing the latest defense-related technology, software quality engineers are in the middle of technological innovation.

If you're starting out in the field or looking to take the next step in your career, how can you position yourself for success?

We spoke with Brooke Hessney, a recruiting manager who works with hardware and software professionals, for advice.

Getting development skills

As agile processes become the industry standard, the quality role has moved beyond testing code and fixing bugs. Experience in development is fast becoming a must-have.

"People need development knowledge because that's who they'll work most closely with," says Hessney. "Engineering programs provide some exposure, but you need to gain actual development experience. If you're going to test something, you've got to understand what the developer is trying to accomplish."

Development experience is also about efficiency and cost as companies integrate their software and development teams. Gone are the days when a developer writes code, hands it off to the test team and waits to see if there's a problem.

"They don't play that hot potato game anymore," says Hessney. "Companies save money when their quality engineers have a development background — the cost of one team, not two."

The more you can learn outside of the traditional quality assurance role, the more valuable and in-demand you'll be.

Getting In-Demand Soft Skills

The more integrated, agile environment means that hiring managers place a premium on soft skills.

In Hessney's experience, companies are looking for people with these qualities:

  • They take initiative.
  • They are team players.
  • They pay close attention to detail.
  • They are naturally curious — they enjoy troubleshooting and solving problems.

While these attributes are important, Hessney emphasizes that engineers with initiative are most in demand.

"Clients can't wait nine months for you to get up to speed. They need people with drive who can hit the ground running."

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Even in a seller's job market, it can be difficult to launch your career, especially if you want to work with the best companies and on projects that have an impact. Starting off, you may need to put in some time working on legacy systems.

Contract work with an established staffing agency can be a way to limit that legacy bug-fix phase.

"We have direct relationships with companies nationally and globally," says Hessney. "We take the time to get to know what our contractors' goals are. Then, we've got their backs through the entire process, from interviewing to placement to performance feedback."

A strong recruiting partner can help you break into an industry or career track that you may not be able to crack on your own.

"I'm constantly separating a company's wants from their needs," says Hessney. "From their laundry list of requirements, I find out what's essential. Maybe experience in another regulated industry makes someone a good fit for a medical device company — a hot field that everyone wants to get into."

Hessney is transparent with companies and candidates throughout the process.

"I let companies know if someone has four other interviews and what it will take to get them," says Hessney. "And if a job is a candidate's first choice, we'll do everything we can to make it happen."

Getting Ahead

If you're looking for career advancement — a new job title, more responsibilities or a leadership role — take advantage of skill-building courses online or at local colleges.

Hessney is also a big fan of networking through platforms like Meetup, where you can connect remotely with industry professionals. Again, it's about taking the initiative.

"You have people discussing the latest software trends and exchanging ideas outside of regular work hours," says Hessney. "Those are the engineers that everyone wants to hire. I always tell candidates to get themselves out there and demonstrate their initiative."