Micro Focus is now part of OpenText. Learn more >

You are here

You are here

Climb the automation engineer career ladder: 6 roles, requirements

Angie Jones Senior Director of Developer Relations, Applitools

A frequently asked question I hear often: "What is the career ladder for a test automation engineer?" That's a great question, as this role is often perceived as a flat one that makes it difficult for managers and practitioners alike to determine how a team member can grow within it. 

Here is a guide to understanding the levels for automation engineers and software developer engineers in test (SDET)—plus concrete criteria to aim for when pursuing the next level.

Level 1: Junior automation engineer

Junior automation engineers are new to automating tests. They may have testing skills but are relatively new to coding, or they may have limited coding skills but lack testing skills.

Junior automation engineers are able to add tests to the suite, given that the test project and framework for automating has already been created. They are essentially using existing building blocks to assemble tests.

A junior test automation engineer should not be tasked with independently building a test project from scratch, since that is a software development project requiring coding, architecture, and testing skills. They should be assisted by more senior automation engineers or feature developers.

Level 2: Midlevel automation engineer

Midlevel automation engineers have solid coding and testing skills, can automate tests, and can expand an existing test project and framework to add new support for tests.

For example, given an existing framework, a midlevel automation engineer is able to add supporting classes and functions for new pages, components, or services as needed without relying on other team members to build these out. However, a midlevel automation engineer is not quite ready to build the entire test project from scratch.

Level 3: Senior automation engineer

Senior automation engineers are well versed in coding as well as testing. In addition to authoring automated tests, they can build a test automation project from scratch

Senior automation engineers understand various test-specific design patterns and know when to use each.

Engineers at this level are often reviewers on test-related pull requests and help establish best practices for the team. These automation engineers are able to coach developers on how to write tests and build testable code. They also are able to identify which tests should be automated and which are not worth the trouble.

Senior automation engineers don't spend as much time writing tests as they used to, since they have delegated much of this activity to developers and junior automation engineers. Instead, they spend more time on building the test framework to enable others who are writing tests. These engineers are also more involved in monitoring and triaging builds in an effort to actively listen to what the tests are saying about the status of the product.

Level 4: Automation architect

Automation architects have deep technical knowledge in software delivery as a whole. They are not only able to build testing projects from scratch, but they do so in a way that promotes maintainability and reusability. They have a great understanding of both coding and software design principles as well as when and where to properly use abstractions.

Automation architects are well versed in multiple automation tools and are able to properly evaluate new tools for their team's needs.

An automation architect is usually capable of writing automated tests at any level, including unit, integration, and end-to-end. Skilled architects are even comfortable with blending multiple approaches and tools together to optimize their test suites.

While automation architects are capable of writing some of the most optimal tests you've ever seen, this is usually not the best use of their time. Instead, they often can be found architecting test frameworks and internal tools to help other engineers be more effective. These tools are not always for tests themselves; some are productivity solutions expanding beyond tests.

Because of their broad scope of skills, automation architects are typically assigned to entire departments versus a single sprint team.

Level 5: Automation team lead

Automation leads are responsible for guiding a team of automation engineers. They provide strategy and mentorship to those junior to them.

Much like automation architects, automation team leads understand how automated tests fit into the bigger picture of software delivery and often use their skills for building CI/CD pipelines, optimizing the execution of tests, and ensuring that the tests are regularly providing fast and reliable feedback to the team.

Automation team leads are often tasked with growing their army of SDETs and therefore have interviewing/hiring responsibilities.

Automation leads regularly collaborate with other stakeholders such as the managers, business owners, Scrum masters, developers, and testers. They help these key players understand the role of automation and where they can contribute to make it a success.

Level 6: Consulting automation engineer

Consulting automation engineers are mostly hired for their ability to implement a winning test automation strategy. Many times, they will also build an initial test project as well as a few tests to demonstrate a proof of concept that can be used and further expanded by the team.

Many automation consultants are brought in short term to get the team on the right track, but some companies employ consulting automation engineers full time. When working as a full-time permanent employee, consulting automation engineers typically strategize for multiple teams and departments, thereby formulating a global test automation strategy within the company.

Automation engineers at this level have a wealth of varying experience and have analyzed these experiences to identify common problems, techniques, and strategies that can be seen in most automation projects. Because of this, they are able to foresee problems before they arise and advise on the best course of action to mitigate or avoid issues altogether.

The best consulting automation engineers not only provide technical expertise, but also help companies create a culture that supports test automation initiatives.

Reach for the right rung

There is certainly depth to the test automation career path, with plenty of room for growth. With this classification guide, you now know what it takes to reach the next level. 

Keep learning

Read more articles about: App Dev & TestingTesting