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Moving up the testing leadership ladder: 3 lessons learned

Jason Arbon CEO,

Moving up the ladder in testing often means more money, more fun, and having more impact. Some folks sit around and just hope it will happen. Some ask for promotions before they are ready. Some wait a decade for promotion through simple attrition.

I've learned many lessons while trying to move up the leadership ladder. Here are three tips that will help you advance. 

1. Shadow your boss

The first tip is to simply shadow your boss's job, politely, in the background. What would you do in your boss's shoes? Would you have hired that person? Would you have paid that much to the new vendor? What does your boss's boss want? What leadership skills do you think the team needs more of? Less of?

Role-play as if you were making the decisions your current boss is making on a daily basis. This will build up your critical-thinking skills. If your boss rolls out a new strategy document, take the time to write your own private version of it. If your boss sends an email or a status update, discreetly write your own copy.

Don't wait for that promotion opportunity to start thinking about how you would execute in the new role. If the moment is right, share your thoughts, but most often just keep the thoughts to yourself and keep exercising your brain.

Before you know it, people will realize you are thinking at a higher level, and opportunities will open up for you to move up the ladder.

[ Special Coverage: STAREAST Conference 2019 ]

2. Move toward the opportunity

Perhaps the most difficult, but most effective, way to move up the test leadership ladder is to simply work on teams that are growing quickly. Rather than wait for someone to retire, move to a team that is creating new positions.

If you work in a large corporation like Microsoft or Google, look for the new initiatives—the next-generation teams. Yes, it can be a bit risky, but your promotion velocity will speed up.

In technology companies, promotion happens slowly for those that do the hard work on version 8 of the product that makes most of the money, but rapid promotion happens for those seen at the leading edge of the company.

The most extreme form of this is two steps forward and one back: Join a startup where you can, pretty easily, get an inflated title that is two levels above your current title.

Then, when you return to working at MegaCorp a few years later, you take a slight "downgrade" in title—to one that was higher than when you left that company. Look at the résumés of some of the most senior test folks on LinkedIn or Twitter, and you'll see that they often pulled a maneuver like this.

3. Make others wish you were in the leadership role

Don't just keep your head down and excel at your current duties; look for ways to help mentor your teammates, collaborate across teams, and build a relationship with the people that are one level above your boss.

Make those people wish you were promoted because their life and career would benefit if you were in that role. Selflessly look out for your peers' needs. Understand and ask about their work. Help them out when they are stuck. Let them trust you.

Be proactive about sharing with other teams in your organization, even if it's not your role or they haven't asked. Share relevant information that helps them keep in the know and seem relevant. Grab coffee with your boss's boss, show that you care about their concerns, ask what their vision is, and look for opportunities to help them out and further their vision on the side.

[ Related: The 7 soft skills every QA tester needs ]

Stay focused on the goal

The goal here is to connect with the people around you and make them wish you were further up the ladder. You want to impress on them that not only would it be better for the company if you were on that next rung of the ladder, but their career would be better for it also.

[ Related: 6 career ideas for software QA professionals ]

Join me at STAREAST in Orlando, Florida, for a deeper dive on other, super-practical ways to move up the testing leadership ladder, and get interactive feedback on how to apply them to your specific situation. Learn how to move up the ladder, earn more money, have more fun, and make more of an impact on the world of software testing. And don't miss my keynote on "The AI Testing Singularity." The conference runs from April 28 to May 3, and Tech Beacon readers can save $200 on registration fees by using promo code SECM.

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