My first job out of college was a Software Engineer in Test, at a company that was attempting to emulate Microsoft's SDET program. The program was actually headed up by a former Microsoft employee that has worked in that department for quite some time. I took the job not really understanding that there was any distinction between it and any other programming job. I found myself writing a ton of C#, ASP.NET, SQL, and even a bit of SharePoint. In fact, I've never written that much code before or since, and I think it was an excellent experience for someone first starting out. But when attempting to find a job at the end of my tenure there, I was startled to find that the distinction in title was a very sore point and hindered me for sometime.
Here are my observations, I am assuming that this has been your first (or close to your first job). Also, keep in mind that I work on the east coast of the US, you my find it different where you are:
- I think that it is important to know that even though Microsoft is very structured and differentiates between these roles (QA vs Programmer vs SDET), most of the industry does not. It is not even on their radar. Most places if they needed a role like this would just go out and hire another programmer.
- Most, effectively all people, will look at the test part in the title and think QA and initial impressions are everything. Trying to explain this to a hiring manager, they never get their initial impression out of their heads. They think 'okay the QA guy that wasn't really QA'. This is poisonous when people are looking at a resume, and have 100 in front of them that they have to weed out, or explaining to recruiters who have zero time for anything that doesn't fit into their spreadsheets as a check off requirement.
- I'd put your job title down as Software Developer, or Software Engineer, in the description put down very clearly that you worked in the SDET department, then explain that you focused on internal tools and frameworks (automated testing, reporting and the like) that increased the quality of the products.
- It will be tough to have as many bullet points of skills on your resume leaving your job as you might have had otherwise. For instance, it might be hard to claim you were working with ASP.NET, if you were only testing an ASP.NET application and did little actually ASP.NET coding (despite the fact that you might need to know ASP.NET very well in order to write tools and such to test it).
- Hopefully your knowledge will speak for itself during the interview. If your job was anything like mine, I can almost guarantee you'll be a better coder out of the gate than most people with your same level experience. Also, you'll have way better answers during an interview as well (you know first hand common mistakes that cascade into bigger problems, you know edge cases to be concerned with during initial coding, less likely to produce bugs).
- If your experience was anything like mine, you will be surprised how applicable a lot of experience is. You will have had a larger role during the whole life cycle of a project. You might have had to interact with more Project Managers, Business Users, stake holders, etc, then you would have in the similar junior level position.
Overall, I am glad that I took that job. I learned a whole lot. I wish they had not had a different title though since I was doing a considerable amount of coding at that time and it hindered my job search later on. Today, I just put Software Engineer down my resume and have bullet points underneath with exactly what I did and was responsible for, and I do not believe this is a misstatement in anyway.
Having worked in maybe a dozen environments since then (as a full time employee or a consultant/contractor) I've observed that unless you end up a top notch shop later on, you will be appalled at level of quality most places put into their product. Having a build server, much less a continuous integration environment is a luxury. And I've never seen a shop that run test a suite of unit test against the latest builds as part of their CI set up since then.