Career as a Product Test Engineer

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prototype testing labNot everyone can excel at science and mathematics. However, if you’re the type of student who consistently sets the curve on advanced calculus tests and you barely have to study, your job prospects in an engineering field are wide open. Now that spring semester is almost over, there’s no time like the present to consider your career options.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether an engineering job might be the right fit for you:

  • Do you have an aptitude for the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subject areas?
  • Do you enjoy working with computers and other forms of technology?
  • Do you see yourself as a natural problem solver?
  • Do you enjoy statistical analysis?
  • Do you welcome a challenge on a regular basis?
  • Do you work well in a team environment?
  • Do you communicate effectively?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be well suited for a career in engineering – and your options are basically limitless. From mechanical and electrical engineering to biomedical and aerospace engineering, few career fields are as versatile as this one.

Do a search for available engineering positions and you’ll probably find a lot of openings for product test engineers. If you’ve never heard of a product test engineer, you’re not alone – but people who work as test engineers are critical members of product development teams. This primer provides an overview of this exciting and specific career prospect.

What Product Test Engineers Do

As a product test engineer, you’ll be using your technical and problem-solving skills to evaluate various types of equipment and devices according to a set of quality-assurance (QA) standards established by your company or a third party. Most often, you’ll also be responsible for developing the testing procedures themselves in collaboration with the project team.

The goal of product testing is to ensure both the quality and reliability of the device. For example, if you’re conducting tests on a particular software system, you’ll want to make sure you catch any potential bugs before marketing the technology. Most commonly, product test engineers will have expertise in a standardized form of testing such as board functional tests (BFT), burn-in tests or system-level tests.

No matter what type of product you’re working with, as a test engineer, one of your crucial roles will also be to develop an action plan for remedying the flaws you find in systems during the testing phase. For this reason, it’s important to be able to think creatively and critically in order to succeed in this field.

Salary Outlook and Earning Potential

If you’re seriously considering a career in product test engineering, you’re in luck – engineering and technology companies in general are paying relatively well. According to a survey sample of 306 anonymous salaries submitted to Glassdoor, the national average annual salary for product test engineers is $84,505, although with a little bit of tenure, you have the potential to earn six figures.

Don’t forget about other perks like bonuses and health care benefits. Many test engineers report annual bonuses of up to $8,000 per year, profit-sharing payouts of up to $10,000 per year, and both medical and dental plans. Of course, your salary and benefits will depend on the specific employer, location and your level of experience. Several organizations, such as the National Society of Professional Engineers, offer webinars, conferences and other live events that count toward continuing-education credits. Participating in these trainings can result in a bump in your pay as well.

Opportunities and Potential Pathways

You may be thinking that the perks of the test engineering field seem too good to be true. After all, doesn’t all that extra money come with a price – to your sanity?

Fortunately, you probably don’t have to worry too much. According to a survey by the popular job site CareerBliss, which compiled data from more than 100,400 employee reviews, software quality assurance engineer is considered the happiest job in America, with most engineers expressing a high level of satisfaction at work despite the occasional long hours. In general, you can expect to feel rewarded for your commitment to contributing to effective solutions on a regular basis.

Where Product Test Engineers Work

Don’t want to work in the typical information technology office environment, sitting in front of a computer all day? You don’t necessarily have to. Plenty of organizations involved in product development and sales have a demand for test engineers, whether in the automotive, power, aerospace or other industries. Some of the types of companies that might hire you as a test engineer include:

  • Consulting companies that provide software or hardware solutions
  • Energy companies such as oil and gas providers
  • Mining companies
  • Colleges and universities
  • Research institutions
  • Internet businesses
  • Manufacturing companies across a range of industries

Education Requirements and Certifications

Typically, a career as a test engineer requires, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field such as computer science or mathematics. Depending on the employer and the nature of the product testing, however, you may be required to pursue a master’s of science degree in a more specialized field such as agricultural and biosystems engineering, computer engineering or telecommunications engineering. These graduate programs usually take approximately two years to complete, and specific coursework depends on the concentration.

  • Master of Science in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. This path to a career in test engineering is for you if you have a particular interest in helping to fix the problems facing the agricultural industry. You’ll study topics such as agricultural power, hydrology and agricultural machinery. You may learn how to develop new devices related to farming and managing livestock waste.
  • Master of Science in Computer Engineering. This approach to the engineering field may suit you if you’re most interested in testing and implementing computer hardware and software. Prerequisites may include a number of computer-science courses at the undergraduate level. Specific coursework may include classes on artificial intelligence, robotics, performance evaluation and computer-assisted system verification.
  • Master of Science in Telecommunications Engineering. Consider this graduate program if your career goal is to focus on the security, quality and reliability of telecommunication networks. Projects might include building, testing and implementing antennas and other radio functions. You’ll take classes that cover subjects like computer systems performance, wireless communication, network security and design of computer algorithms.

Professional certifications are not a requirement to obtain a career in test engineering, but becoming certified in a topic like QA can certainly boost your resume. Plus, you’ll learn practical skills you can apply directly to your job and make sure you’re keeping apprised of advances in technology that are important to your line of work.

The two most commonly recognized certification agencies for test engineers are the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) and the Quality Assurance Institute (QAI).

Still Not Quite Convinced?

Selecting a full-time career is a major life decision and not one you should make rashly. Despite the perks and opportunities associated with test engineering, the field is not for everyone. If you’re still not 100 percent sure you want to commit to this industry, there are plenty of engineering internships available for both undergraduate and graduate students that can help you get your feet wet – and decide whether a career in test engineering is indeed your true calling.


About the Author

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer, blogger, and aspiring world traveler. Sarah is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site on which she shares advice for young professionals on navigating the work world, and finding happiness and success at work. For more on all things career follow her @SarahLandrum

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