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Testing tumbleweed: the search for software testers

Is there anybody out there?!

*tumbleweed*

This is how it feels looking for software testers. Client demand for this skill is significantly increasing. Unfortunately this isn't a case of them simply being in hiding. The reality is there are so few available.

The increasing importance of software testing in the UK's tech industry is becoming hard to ignore. 2014 will be a big year for software testing. Demand in this country is predicted to grow by 9.5% year on year till 2018.

However this wasn't always the case.

The end of 1990s - 2000 saw a huge shift towards off shoring business functions to cheaper cost centres in India and Eastern Europe. Software testing was one of these. These countries became home to highly experienced and skilled software testers. The Tier 2 Visa allowed a gateway for these skilled workers to temporarily come to the UK and fulfil any demand that there was at the time.

During the recession, companies simply didn't replace testers that did move on. There were fewer development projects, businesses were downsizing and so there was little need for dedicated, separate testing teams.

Fast forward to 2014 where the demand for testing has risen dramatically. UK tech companies are growing again, and at a rapid pace. Having experienced high growth rates in the final quarter of 2013, the sector is performing better than it has in decades.

As businesses continue to grow, the software testing function becomes more and more essential but companies looking for their ideal software testers are now finding they are nowhere to be found. There is the notion that software testing is a prelude to software development roles, that many computer science graduates start their career as testers and work their way up to developer roles. For that reason developers can carry out testers roles but many move higher up the ranks in pursuit of challenges. Graduates aren't an option as clients are demanding three to four years commercial experience. As we know this simply doesn't exist, very little companies were in a position to be hiring anybody three to four years ago, never mind graduates. The result is this burdening gap that we are facing for software testers.

Last year's changes to the Tier 2 immigration laws for skilled foreign workers means there are stricter controls now in place, making it harder for companies to source this skill from outside the UK. Previously, UK businesses were able to source migrant workers when needed from Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan etc. Non EU students were encouraged to attend UK universities to study an additional degree, masters and PhD's, their study and post study work visas allowing them to find employment upon graduating.

These routes, amongst others, have been closed off, cutting the UK off from talent from outside the EU. This, in addition to the lack of experienced UK graduates, begs the question – where do we find these testers from?!

With the vast underinvestment in this skill, there is a severe shortage of software testers in this country; many of those that do exist simply do not come from the right background for smaller software design companies as their experience is geared towards the financial industry. Very little have the skilled technical or commercial experience the tech industry requires to facilitate the growth the industry has the potential to achieve.

So how do we change the game?

Talent can be sourced by tapping into the next cheapest market with skilled, experienced workers such as Romania and other EU countries. There is of course the problem of competition. Germany and other stronger economies will also be tapping into the same market, meaning the war for talent will simply to continue to rage on.

Nothing is more important than nurturing the talent already in the country. What we really need to do is to invest further in training and recruiting the talent coming forth from our universities. This means companies must be more open to hiring graduates and training them up in the field. Although there is increasing evidence of this, with business now more confident in their growth to hire graduates, more must be done to bridge the gaps.

In the meantime however, The Software Testing World Cup is an official global competition which allows testers to show off their skills and compete with other testing professionals.

Winning teams from each continent are invited to the finals where up to eight teams, watched by an international crowd of testers, will fight for the global crown of software testing. This is an exciting event, allowing testers from all over the world to get involved.

Events like these and others should be widely encouraged in the industry in order to raise the profile of software testing, showcasing it for the exciting and challenging role that it is. Maybe then we can begin to bridge the gap in the UK market.

Anndeep Sandhu is a marketing executive with Enigma People Solutions.

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Anndeep Sandhu

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