How I Discovered My Passion for Software Testing at the Age of 39

Passion for your work can make the difference between a workday that flies by and one that crawls. And passion can keep you working hard and honing your craft. But how do you discover this kind of devotion and interest? I didn’t discover my passion until I was 39 years old, and in the process I learned a bit about how to find it. Here’s what happened:

The year was 1978. I was 8 years old and the proud owner of a nifty digital calculator that also played games called Dataman. Dataman had all kinds of arithmetic quizzes and logic games.

I played with it frequently, but after a while I had mastered all of the games. Since I didn’t want to stop playing with Dataman (after all, Game Boys didn’t exist yet), I kept trying the games and seeing how fast I could solve the quizzes.

At some point I noticed that if I pressed two keys at the same time, a symbol would appear that wasn’t a number. I was an imaginative child, and I was happy to think this was some sort of secret code. I tried out all possible key combinations and kept track of my results in a notebook.

Little did I know that there was a name for what I was doing: exploratory testing. More than 30 years later, I’d discover that it was my passion!

Your First Career May Not Be the Right Career

Many of us find ourselves in first careers that are not our passion. We are often asked to decide on a career track at 17 or 18 years old, when we don’t have a lot of life experience. We may not even know that a career that fulfils our passion even exists! This was the case for me.

Time passed and I became a preteen and then a teenager, and I was more interested in things like music, friends, and boys than in the Macintosh computer my dad brought home. I took the one computer class available at my high school—Pascal—and I did really well in it, but in 1987 computers just weren’t that interesting to me.

College was looming, and I had to find something to major in. I had taken years of piano and voice lessons, and since I wasn’t really interested in any other academic disciplines, I decided to study music and become a teacher.

Over many years, I taught music in elementary schools and piano lessons, and I directed a church choir. At 36, I was ready for something different. This feeling coincided with a divorce, and suddenly, I was a single parent with a need for more income.

But what could I do? I thought about the things that I enjoyed doing so much that time slipped away when I was doing them.

Organizing things came to mind. So I started my own business as a professional organizer. I did this for about a year until I discovered that organizing other people’s stuff wasn’t quite as rewarding as organizing my own. But my experience as an organizer helped me to land a job at a small mobile startup, where I organized all the mobile phones for the sales team.

Doing that got me thinking that maybe I’d enjoy being a software developer, so I took online coding classes at my state university. When the startup ran out of money and I was laid off, I searched for ideas of what job I could do next.

I didn’t have enough knowledge yet to be even a junior developer, so I looked for something else. I was able to use my experience with mobile devices to get job at another mobile startup, this time as a quality assurance (QA) intern.

The pay was low and the job offered no benefits, but I hoped that it would give me enough experience to move forward with my career. What I didn’t expect was that this internship would lead me to discover my passion!

When It’s Right, You Know It

On my first day as a QA intern, I was handed a BlackBerry device with an application loaded on it and a test plan to run through. I started going through the steps of the test plan.

Soon I discovered something odd when I accidentally clicked a button twice. I found that interesting and decided to see if I could reproduce the results. Then I wondered what would happen if I clicked the button sooner or later than expected, and tried that.

Then I said to myself, “I should stop having fun with this phone and get back to work.” And suddenly I realized, this was my work. Eureka! I had discovered work that I loved doing so much that it felt like play to me. And in the nine years since that day, I have continued to love what I do.

Your passion may not be software testing. It might be front-end development, or project management, or information security. But I am sharing this story to make two key points.

First, you can discover your passion. Second, it is never too late to do so.

Finding Your Passion

But how do you find your passion? Here is my advice:

  1. Begin thinking about what you love. What are the things you do where you lose all sense of time, where you feel a great satisfaction with a job well done? What are the skills that come easily to you? Those are often the skills you love doing. Don’t worry about how to get someone to pay you for this yet; just make a list of the activities you are passionate about. My list included things like organizing my closet, filing things, setting up systems to keep the house clean, and planning choir rehearsals.
  2. Make a list of the qualities that are required for someone to be good at the things you love. You still aren’t thinking about jobs at this point; you are just making a list of skills. My list included organizing and filing, setting up systems, planning, and making complicated things simple.
  3. Now make a list of what kinds of jobs need those skills. In my case, the first job I thought of was office secretary. But at that particular point in time, I needed a flexible schedule, so my next thought was to be a professional organizer.
  4. Look for one of the jobs you thought of in step 3. Because you are just entering this new field, you may need to work for low pay or even no pay. Believe in yourself and know that this situation is temporary. I was able to use my experience as a QA intern to land a salaried job as a QA engineer after only four months.
  5. After working at your job for a few months, assess your results. What do you like about it? What do you not enjoy? Can you think of a position that would include more of the things you like? I thought that I would enjoy organizing people’s homes, but it turned out that I didn’t enjoy the highly personal interactions the job required. But I had also been hired to organize a local office, and I enjoyed that more. This made me realize that perhaps an office job was the next step for me.
  6. As you progress in finding your dream career, think about what skills you will need next. When I first considered a career as a software developer, I realized that I would need to take some classes to learn how to code. We are blessed to have a huge variety of ways to learn new skills: YouTube videos, free online courses, paid online courses, local college courses, and boot camps are just some of the options. Think about what learning style works best for you and what works best with your schedule and budget.
  7. Ask for help and advice. As I was starting out in my QA career, I was so grateful for the more experienced QA engineers who helped me understand what to test and how to test it. I was also grateful for the developers I worked with who helped me with my college course homework during my lunch hour.
  8. Make good connections, and network. If you are a helpful and cheerful co-worker and go out of your way to help others, you will make friends who will want to help you find the next job you need. When I was laid off from my office job, four of my co-workers offered to write me recommendations for my next job.

It’s Never Too Late

Don’t worry about any false starts you may experience—it took me a few to discover my passion. All life experience is valuable when you are learning new skills. I use the skills I developed as a music educator to mentor others who are learning about software testing.

One last piece of advice: Never sell yourself short! It’s easy to make excuses, such as “I’m too old to learn new things” or “No one will take me seriously.” The only thing that is truly holding you back is you!

As long as you are patient, work diligently and consistently, and periodically review and adjust your goals, you can find your passion and a job that you love.