Switching to a Career in IT: The 40-Year-Old (QA) Virgins
These 40-something authors are aware that they are going to be the butt of all kinds of jokes for choosing this particular title, but they are sticking to it. So what is the purpose of this blog post with a funny-ish title? Well, it’s threefold.
First, it aims to encourage potential QA engineers in their forties to make that final step and embark on a new career path in the vibrant IT industry. Our goal is to say that, yes, it is indeed possible to make a career switch at this point in your life and to be a successful QA engineer.
Second, we hope that by sharing our personal stories we may help others to choose one option over another, which may make their life easier. We know that what has worked for us may not necessarily work for others, but we also believe that some of the best practices and hard learnt lessons may actually come in handy.
Finally, we want to emphasize why TestDevLab along with TDL School is the ideal professional and educational environment for a career switch and further development in the world of bugs and bytes and why you should join this great international tribe and be our future teammates.
Igor’s story: The former journalist who writes off bugs
Only two and a half years ago, I was a 40-year journalist with around 15 years of experience in the media industry, a husband and a father of two beautiful children. I have studied abroad, visited countries, interviewed professionals, and written numerous articles. Yet, I wanted something more and I was sure I was going to find it in the IT industry. I have several friends in this sector and I have asked their opinion on the matter, but eventually, I realized that I alone had to make that final choice and say goodbye to journalism. Around the time when I was pondering how to switch careers, I was given the holy book of QAs, or the ISTQB Foundation Level syllabus. I remember a friend, who is now also working in the QA field, telling me: “It’ll first seem very out-of-touch, but don’t worry, after a couple of reads and a few YouTube/Udemy courses, you’ll get the gist of it”. And so I did, but it didn’t happen overnight.
Apart from performing my day-to-day journalistic duties and spending quality time with my family, I’ve tried finding enough extra hours to read the ISTQB syllabus and watch tutorials. It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. Bear in mind that this is an industry with one of the highest rates of innovation, where yesterday’s technologies are already outdated tomorrow. So continuous learning is of utmost importance. But it is not impossible. You just have to find the right balance between personal and professional goals. Make a plan, set milestones and try to stick to them. Do not procrastinate, but also avoid job burnout. And most importantly, do not forget to spend time with your family, friends and pets.
In the career-switching process, try not to stretch your attention and time by setting huge and impossible goals. For example, if your goal is to pass the ISTQB Foundation Level exam, focus on that, and leave learning Java for the next period. I am the first to admit to making the same mistake. I have read bits and pieces of the ISTQB syllabus and watched online courses in the last two-plus years, but passed the actual exam only a couple of months ago. The ISTQB exam is like any university exam—you have to make a strategy, devote time and energy and eventually take the test and be done with it. You can surely come back to it later on, but when it comes to sitting the foundation level exam, that is it. Study, sit, finish.
But how can you connect this “out-of-touch” ISTQB syllabus theory to practice? What made the first connection with “reality” for me was a three-month internship at a software company in Macedonia. While performing day-to-day QA tasks, like reading requirements or writing and executing test cases, I started connecting the dots and having these “a-ha” moments when consulting the QA theory. I continued to do so when I switched to another company, this time while performing a dual role of tester and customer support representative. But it wasn’t only testing that made the whole experience, it was the actual daily participation in teams, communication with colleagues (other QAs, developers, project managers), communication with clients, or just learning the lifecycle of software development and testing. So first-hand experience in an IT environment is paramount and no theory can substitute it.
Beware of the impostor syndrome and avoid agesplaining
As a newcomer to the IT industry, the first thing you are probably going to struggle with is the so-called “impostor syndrome”. But don’t worry, we have all been there. We have all doubted ourselves. It’s OK if you don’t know everything, nobody does. On the other hand, it is very important to ask questions, especially when you are in the onboarding phase, but also after. The IT sector puts enormous focus on knowledge transfer exactly because one person cannot know everything and teammates should share the knowledge and skills they acquire. This will make the whole team more efficient and the client happier in the end.
As a new QA engineer, remember to keep an open mind and be kind to your teammates. Keep in mind that age discrimination is a two-way street. Just as you don’t want to be labeled as the “old guy”, younger colleagues do not want to be referred to as the “inexperienced youngbloods”. There are many smart and capable young people in the IT world, with enough experience and knowledge to lead whole teams and projects with no effort. Never shy away from taking suggestions and receiving help from younger colleagues. Listen to your teammates, regardless of their age, give feedback and share your ideas, but avoid positioning yourself as the all-knowing sage. Especially avoid agesplaining (yes, it’s a word) to your younger colleagues, as this is a sure recipe for killing the team's energy and spirit.
But how can you make that first jump and start working in an IT company? From my experience, age bias is present when some companies are hiring “older” candidates, no matter how they sugarcoat it. However, you should ask yourself if you really want to be part of such a company? In my opinion, what you need to show any company is that no matter how old you are, you are willing to continuously learn and develop professionally. Eventually, your attitude has to fit the culture of the company you are applying to, regardless of your age.
TestDevLab is a company that views the candidate's extensive experience in a different sector as an asset and not a burden. For example, a prior experience in the banking industry might come in handy if the QA engineer is going to test apps for clients from the banking sector. TestDevLab has a huge pool of interesting projects and is providing services to many clients from various sectors, so the possibility of matching the QA engineer’s current technical skills and prior experience with the needs of ongoing projects and clients is much higher.
Additionally, TDL School provides the opportunity for candidates to learn various technical and non-technical skills, which are beneficial both to the company and the employees. There is no better way to learn the best practices in the business than from more experienced colleagues, who are overcoming these challenges daily. Also, there is no better way to retain and further develop the acquired skills and knowledge on these courses, than applying them to real-life projects and sharing them with your teammates. When companies are offering their employees courses just for the sake of it and do not link them with project-related activities, acquired skills and knowledge quickly disappear. So, when the company is giving you the opportunities, means, and resources to complete a smooth career transition, take it.
Ilija’s story: The ex-banker who’s banking on bugs’ demise
Working for almost 12 years at a bank that is a part of one of the biggest banking groups in the region can teach a person many things, such as following a strict dress code, demonstrating professional behavior, respecting corporate hierarchy, and building relationships with colleagues and clients. You can even pick up other useful skills like using Excel or properly formatting emails, which will certainly come in handy in your career at one point or another.
I was 36 years young at the time when I started wondering what else I can do with my career. What is the next logical step for me, and which industry should I transition to? HR was “big” at that particular time so I decided to enroll in an academy where I could learn the art of HR. After a year of classes and practical assignments, I decided it was time to leave the bank and move on to the next chapter of my career. I started working for a company that did a small segment of HR, but my time there was brief. I decided I kind of liked it but didn’t love it, so after one full year, it was time to move on again. I thought that my next move should be towards something that really makes me happy and at the same time that I'm going to be good at. I was looking into enrolling in one of the academies that offered software testing in Macedonia. I started researching to find out which one would be the best option for me. Having friends that work in the IT industry gave me a pretty good idea of what I should be looking for.
Just when I was done deciding, a miracle happened when I randomly applied and got a job in an IT company that offered me a chance to prove myself. Since I had previous experience in working with data analysis they offered me a data analyst position. I gladly accepted and started on the project. As I kept proving to be a good choice for the position and had an eye for detail, they suggested I start learning about QA processes from other colleagues in the company. One project led to another, and that one led to a third. Meeting new people on the way, learning the craft of software testing, and upgrading myself has been more than satisfactory. I wake up every morning hoping to learn something new and maybe pass my knowledge to some more junior colleagues. And ultimately, my first employer in the IT industry led me to TestDevLab where I came thirsty for more knowledge.
There is no magic wand that you can use to switch careers overnight. You have to spend a significant amount of time in preparation, research, and gaining the necessary skill set. There are many articles and books on the topic of changing careers. I would recommend reading the book So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport which shares interesting insights about achieving job satisfaction.
Nevertheless, they all have several tips in common—start obtaining the necessary skill set as early as possible, don’t get into too much too fast, and treat your career move as a craft, not as a passion. Also, if possible, obtain a rare and valuable skill set, which would be hard for your future employer to overlook and will distinguish you from the rest of the crowd. This, however, is easier said than done.
I can say with certainty that it takes a lot of willpower and motivation to switch careers, otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am now, writing this article and working for a company that offers countless opportunities for people to thrive in their career. It takes a lot of courage to leave a job of 12 years and switch to a new position in a new industry in a field that is different to what you have been doing so far. I have done many QA courses, watched an endless amount of tutorials, spoken to a lot of people that already work in the industry, listened to tips and tricks, and gained the knowledge necessary.
Keep laughing at “You’re too old if…” memes but still hit “Apply”
Have an open mind and do not self-sabotage when it comes to looking for your next opportunity. Pick up the phone, send that email, click that “Apply” button and talk to people. Let your network know that you are looking for a new opportunity. You never know if it is just around the corner. Sometimes it takes longer, but if you’re persistent enough, you’ll get that “You’re hired” email one day.
You might be interested in: Kickstart Your IT Career With These CV Tips and Tricks
Also, never miss a chance to go to events where people are networking. Mingle, talk, impress, shine. Maybe the person standing right next to you will be a future colleague. Do not forget to create a LinkedIn profile, update the info and put relevant keywords for the opportunity you are looking for. That helps recruiters find you faster. Follow relevant companies and groups, and never be embarrassed to click on “Connect”.
Finally, if you want to find out more about how to become the best QA engineer by focusing on and developing your soft skills, read the blog post 7 Ways to Advance Your Career as a QA Engineer by our colleague, Annika Epnere. As she points out, making the switch and advancing your career doesn’t have to be a long and difficult journey. With strong motivation, hard work and support from your teammates, the QA journey can actually be a very rewarding experience. So, get out of your comfort zone, start learning something new and exciting, and join us at TestDevLab. Even if you still laugh and can relate to memes like: “You’re too old if you know what this is (photo of a Commodore 64 game cassette)”, that’s fine. As they say—age is just a number. It’s never too late for change.
Take your career to the next level
Igor and Ilija are great examples that show us that it’s never too late to switch to a career in IT and be successful in your new role. With determination, hard work and the right mindset, success is inevitable.
Are you ready to start or advance your career in IT? We have plenty of job opportunities available for professionals at all levels and in various fields. Check out our open positions for more information.