I worked as an SDET at Microsoft for 6 years in DevDiv.
Is career development in any way hurt by this position?
No, however, like career development anywhere: you are in charge of your own success. The problem many people in the SDET role face is that it's too easy to just do manual testing. This slowly atrophies your technical skills and poisons your career growth, both at Microsoft and elsewhere.
Is it harder to get hired as a developer at another company?
Absolutely not, but only if you actually worked as an SDET. Consider the following resume:
- Did whatever dev asked me to.
- Filed lots of bug reports.
- Manually tested every release.
- Sometimes raised issues during spec and design reviews.
- Wrote automated testcases in C#.
Now contrast that with this one:
- Rewrote our automation infrastructure to use virtual machines; resulting in 20% less time for a full test pass.
- Employed machine learning algorithm (ID3) to identify failures from test results.
- Became an expert on static analysis tools and found defects in our legacy code base.
Being an expert tester doesn't mean you can't be an expert developer. In fact, I think that it helps. However, if you want to get hired as a devleoper you do need to have deep, technical skills. If you are actually working as a 'Software Design Engineer in Test' this shouldn't be a problem.
How is the SDET position viewed with respected?
Getting back to my previous point, it's easy to get respect if you are able to make a big impact on the team. Across Microsoft good SDETs are celebrated.
However, there are many SDETs that are treated like second class citizens. Usually this is by PMs and Devs who have encountered to many 'plain manual testers' and feel that SDETs aren't worth their time. You can always change this perception by being awesome, but do know that it is there.
If you worked as an SDET, did you like it?
When I was working with a team that respected me, it was a very rewarding experience. The SDET role can be very random at times - with requirements always shifting and changing - but I really enjoyed the variety. Also, there isn't a clear path for a tester. Any way you can find to improve quality is fair game, so there is a big creative aspect too. (Opposed to just banging out feature code.)
But when I was working for teams that didn't respect their testers and/or with fellow SDETs who had atrophied to the point of being dead weight, it was an excercise in pure frustration.
if you are considering applying at Microsoft for an SDET role, you should feel very confident that it's not a career dead-end and that Microsoft is at a great place to work. However, if you want to be successful and really enjoy the SDET role then you will have to work hard not to fall into the trap of just manually testing. A successful career in any job and any role requires constant growth.