How to Prepare a Career Talk About Testing for 200 High School Sophomores

Recently, a teacher from a local school contacted Atomic asking if anyone would be interested in giving a career talk to 200 sophomores. Always eager to help out the next generation and having a story of how a Brit ended up in Michigan, I jumped at the chance. I’m busy working on my presentation. Thinking through how I got here and what skills I had and what advice I would give to these youngsters has been really useful.

Career Talk Point One: Self-analysis

When I was considering a change of career from being a developer, I had to reflect on what my personality type was. This included things like how I get on with projects. I was a finisher rather than a starter. Getting a project over the finishing line was more enjoyable than receiving a blank piece of paper and being told to design and write a system. Making sure the program was as good as it could be was a pointer that QA/testing could be a good fit for me.

It also made me look back at which hobbies I enjoyed as a kid. Collecting and painting model soldiers was one of them. I made sure I researched them fully to know what colors they wore and how to paint models so they looked realistic. Looking at all details and making sure things were correct was another pointer that being a tester could be a good fit.

I also looked at what sports I enjoyed, and this was being a defender in a soccer team. Being part of a team was better to me than being solo, and being a solid part of the team and not being in the spotlight as, say, a striker would be was my preferred role. This was yet another good matchup for being a tester.

Career Talk Point Two: Learning About the Role

From my previous analysis, I knew my learning style was reading. So, I got a book on testing, read it, and was hooked. I got the idea that this really could be the career for me. I picked up a couple more books so I could confirm this and was still enjoying reading them, so that was another good sign.

Next, I turned to the online test community, reading blogs and lurking on the forums, reading all the questions and answers. I then graduated to asking my first questions, and soon I became someone who could answer questions. Finally, I ended up as a moderator on one of the main sites for a couple of years. The test community seemed welcoming, super helpful, and interesting, and I felt like I’d found a good place to be.

Career Talk Point Three: Getting the Job

I was an active part of the test community and knew a lot of people in it from blogs, conferences, Twitter, and forums. So when I was looking for an opportunity, people looking to fill a position or those who knew companies that were looking offered me chances. When these companies interviewed me, I was able to demonstrate that I had a good understanding of testing, was passionate about it, and was a self-starter, since I’d basically taught myself testing.

Advice for the New Generation

Eleven years ago, I couldn’t have pointed to Michigan on a map of the U.S., and here I am about to give a talk to a bunch of Michigan sophomores. My basic advice to them will be:

  • Be open to change.
  • Know yourself and what your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes are.
  • Connect with a community.

What would your career advice be to the next generation? Let me know in the comments.