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SDE’s vs SDET’s – not essentially a battle but there’s a lot of myth surrounding the idea of SDET’s, switching roles, etc. I am pleased to invite Philip who has managed both SDETs, SDEs, and PMs at Microsoft, (probably about 150 over the years) and has quite a few valid points to share.
Switching roles:
The best time to make the switch is early in your career SDE-1 or when you become a Principal engineer. Early in careers, SDEs and SDETs share many of the same expectations: learn quickly, code well, etc. But in SDE-II’s, the expectations diverge a bit. This makes it pretty hard to switch from, say, an SDET-II to an SDE-II.
If you decide to switch professions, switch within the same team / project. You know the current team well, the business logic, the codebase, etc.., it’s hard to switch a lot of variables at the same time: new team, new codebase, new manager. So the ideal switch that’s recommended, is an SDET-I into an SDE-I on the same team working with the same features.
Here I’ll say something unpopular: SDETs have weaker reputations at companies because, as a generalization, they are weaker. This statement isn’t possibly be true of all people. I’ve never personally managed or mentored any SDEs who wanted to become SDETs, but I’ve talked to many, many SDETs who have wanted to switch into other professions.
Regardless of causality (i.e. whether you believe they want to switch because they are less respected, or because they are less respected because the ones that can switch have switched), there’s a selection bias that happens whenever one field primarily has people leaving it without the same number of people joining it. This is an unpopular thing to say, and I’ll no doubt get flamed by SDETs who feel that I’ve personally judged them, but I’ll say once again: generalizations do not apply to specific individuals the way they apply to groups in aggregate. I’ve known many excellent SDETs. I’ve managed SDET teams. I am not an SDET hater. Just want to explain, though, that the weak reputation of SDET comes partly from a selection bias that happens when people in that profession keep leaving it
Pic src: Creative Commons on Flickr

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