Automation Testing

What Is an SDET Meaning, Role, and Pay (2024 Guide)

By Test Guild
  • Share:
Join the Guild for FREE
SDET vs Tester

What is an SDET?

An SDET, or Software Development Engineer in Test, is a crucial role in software engineering that combines software development with testing to ensure software quality. Originating from innovative tech practices, SDETs design automated testing frameworks, develop test cases, and write code to enhance software testability. This role facilitates seamless integration of quality assurance into the software development lifecycle, supporting rapid and reliable software delivery.

I’ve been asked many times to define the difference between a software tester, a QA engineer, a manual tester, and a software developer in test, so I decided to finally write a post on it.+

In this in-depth guide, you'll learn all about the role of a software development engineer in test.

Read on to find out what are the roles and responsibilities, career path, salary, and skill set needed for this position.


Demand for SDETs is Growing

I first heard of the role of SDET from Microsoft, where I believe it originated.

But I think now it’s the norm within most hightech companies—especially the ones in and around Silicon Valley.

Although I think Microsoft has dropped this title, it lives in companies like Amazon and Google and in job postings.

You can also see the trend for the number of times the term “SDET” is searched on Google:

SDET Google Trend

With the growth of Agile, DevOps, and Continuous Testing, the role of an SDET Developer in Test is on the rise.

With more and more companies shifting left in their software development lifecycle, the need to run tests and get quick feedback from the developers is critical.

Learn SDET Skills at Automation Guild


Differences between SDET Meaning, QA, and Tester

Because of these developer-like activities, a software development engineer requires a unique set of skills; someone who has testing skills, understands testing, and can also program.

Enter the role of a software development engineer in test.

Very often, SDET is involved in both white-box and black-box testing—all the way from helping create low-level unit tests to high-level activities like test planning, creating test cases, and manual software testing.

SDETs also have skills that make them perfect resources for creating test automation frameworks and tools.  Many times they are part of a development team. They are also the ones that help select what might be the best test automation tools for their teams.

According to Rick Martin, a principal engineer and quality engineering practice manager, test automation is not just about automating tests. SDETs need to look at the entire software development lifecycle and work closely with developers and DevOps to build continuous integration pipelines. The collaboration and conversations around requirements, environments, data, and reporting are crucial.

I've also found that many excellent testers on a test team don't have the technical skills or desire to code.

That's fine.

But I think there's an opportunity for more software development engineer in test professionals at most companies to fill in the gap between developers and traditional testers.

Having a software development engineer in test as part of your developer's code reviews to make sure this is happening is crucial if you plan on having your developers focus on test-driven development.

Software developer engineers in test really are a hybrid-type of a role.

I’ve also found that many excellent testers on a test team don’t have the technical skills or desire to code.

That’s fine.

But I think there’s an opportunity for more SDET professionals at most companies to fill in the gap between developers and traditional testers.

Having a software development engineer in test as part of your developer's code reviews to make sure this is happening is crucial if you plan on having your developers focus on test-driven development.

Can SDET Developers Even Test? 

Automation Coding Whiteboard INterview

Some folks will say that developers can’t test because test automation tool development and testing are two different skills that require two different systems of testing.

Alan Page, one of the most respected testers I know, doesn’t feel this is an issue.

In my interview with Alan on the testing lessons he learned at Microsoft he told me that almost every developer he knows can write very good functional tests—after being taught how to do so.

This is where someone in an SDET role can join in to help lead the team with their developer-centric testing efforts.

Listen to Podcasts

Alan went on to say, “I probably spent three months straight reviewing code—about two to three hours a day of all the check-ins for our team, just reviewing the test code and giving feedback. I don't need to do that anymore because I have developers who, for the most part, write pretty good tests, and they kind of get it now.

Of course, I think you need someone like an SDET to make sure when the developers are under pressure to deliver quickly that, they don't skimp on the testing quality.

What is the difference between SDET and Tester QA?

So how do you get hired as an SDET for one of the big tech companies? Or get promoted from a QA tester to a software development engineer?

One way to find out is to check job descriptions on hiring sites like, Dice, or Simply Hired to find out what is the difference between a post for a QA tester vs a software development engineer in test.

For example, here is a generic job description and salaries I found on **Payscale

Software Test Job Description Example

In any software development lifecycle, a software tester plays a key role in the process.

Although many teams have moved to Agile, I know many testers still report to the quality assurance or engineering quality control department.

As a tester receives a new software build or function at any stage in the software development life cycle, they put the program through a variety of tests, documenting the software's response.

One of the key components in testing is documenting the steps performed in software testing; documentation is especially important since it is often key to helping programmers and software engineers discover coding problems.

Another key aspect of the tester's work is finding repeatable crashes and bugs in a program.

Get Started

Common Software Tester QA Responsibilities

    • Evaluate software application solutions for errors and stability
    • Debug scripts and identify system flaws
    • Perform both manual and automated testing strategies
    • Create test plans
    • Develop testing strategies and analysis for software programs
    • Willingness to learn

Compare this to the software developer engineer test job description.

(resource **Payscale)

Difference between SDET, Test Engineer, and QA Tester

These three roles in the software testing domain are often used interchangeably, but they do have some key differences. Let's go through each of them.

  1. SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test): An SDET is a software professional with a hybrid skillset, combining expertise in software development and testing. SDETs are typically responsible for creating automated test frameworks, designing and implementing test cases, and writing code to improve the overall testability of the software. They are often involved in the entire software development process and collaborate closely with developers, applying their knowledge of programming languages, data structures, and algorithms to identify and fix issues in the code.
  2. Test Engineer: A test engineer is a role primarily focused on testing the functionality, performance, security, and other aspects of a software product. Test engineers design and execute test plans, test cases, and scripts manually or using automated testing tools. They are responsible for identifying and reporting software defects and working with developers to ensure that the product meets quality standards. Test engineers may specialize in different aspects of testing, such as functional testing, performance testing, or security testing.
  3. QA Tester (Quality Assurance Tester): A QA tester is responsible for ensuring that a software product meets the established quality standards, including functionality, usability, and performance. QA testers are involved in the testing process by executing test cases, reporting bugs, and verifying that issues are resolved before the product is released. While they may use automated testing tools, QA testers often perform manual testing to identify defects and ensure that the user experience is smooth and meets expectations. QA testers typically work closely with the development team, test engineers, and other stakeholders to identify and address issues throughout the software development lifecycle.
Role Primary Focus Key Responsibilities Automation/Manual
SDET Software Development & Testing – Develop automated test frameworks- Design & implement test cases- Improve the testability of software Automation
Test Engineer Testing various aspects of software product – Design &execute test plans, cases & scripts- Identify & report software defects- Specialize in testing areas Both
QA Tester Ensuring software product meets quality standards – Execute test cases- Report bugs- Verify issues are resolved- Collaborate with the development team Manual

According to Kuzzat Altay, the CEO of Cydeo, in today's agile world there is a growing need for cross-functional team members. Developers are expected to test and testers (SDETs) need development skills. He sees manual testing becoming more focused on exploratory testing, while automation handles regression and validation. SDETs need to work closely with developers, providing the requirements for automated tests based on the manual test cases. Having technical coding skills is becoming increasingly important for job security and income potential as a tester.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a SDET?

Software development engineers in test (usually abbreviated as SDETs), are software developers working within the testing team.

He or she has full access to code and carries a variety of responsibilities. One of the key things that set the SDET apart is his or her access to code; he or she actively participates in debugging and altering the code as necessary. In this capacity, at times, the SDET almost assumes something of a hybrid role between the developers and the testers. Much of their development time is creating or updating code for their test automation framework.

Free Selenium 4 Course

Besides functional automation, senior SDETs typically can also assist with unit testing, API testing, security testing, DevOps and performance testing, and stress test activities. They also are required to know what automation tool to use for each of these software testing activities.

Additionally, the SDET normally identifies areas within the program requiring further or varied testing, helps design and set these tests up, provides test data, and participates in administering them. An SDET also looks to identify ways end-users and consumers will work with the software and helps create the best experience possible for the intended user by identifying areas needing continued adjustment.

To work as an SDET, a person typically must possess an educational background in programming and computer science, typically with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or a related field. SDETs typically gain practical experience working both in test automation tool development and quality testing or assurance as well. They typically work in a computer lab and development environment during regular business.

SDETS are also expected to be experts with testing tools, developing automated test and testing frameworks as well as have the domain knowledge to be able to create acceptance tests.

They also have skills commonly found for developers like programming experience, development experience, know object-oriented programming, understand all areas of the developed phase. They can also modify existing code and understand the technical architecture, software design, and the software development process.

What does an SDET do? Common Tasks:

  • Automate test cases using the same coding languages (Java, Javascript, C#, etc.) as their developers
  • Collaborate with developers in reviewing unit test and integration results for coverage analysis
  • Create a branching strategy and policies for high-quality automation deliverables
  • Design & develop pipeline as a code for Continuous testing & continuous integrationpipeline to integrate automation scripts into CI/CD pipeline.
  • Selecting test frameworks for their teams
  • Drive automation efficiencies and coverage effectiveness using different automation framework tools and techniques
  • Review the development code to build an effective automation suite to cover technical and business integration automation coverage
  • Design a real-time automation dashboard to measure build quality and provide feedback to the agile delivery team
  • Mentor quality engineers on automation best practices and support automation backlog efforts
  • Perform manual, exploratory, and automation scripts development efforts
  • Ensure the test coverage and execution of Unit, Integration, Acceptance, System, Regression, UAT, Security, and Performance are met
  • Design, implement, execute and debug information technology test cases and scripts

Of course, this is a generic job description.

But if you look for and view an actual open position for an SDET on a job board, you can see what a more specific job description looks like. (I also find it helpful to look at job descriptions even if I’m not looking for new employment just to make sure I’m working on the right skills to keep me employed.)

Here is an Amazon SDET job listing

Amazon SDET Job Description

Here is another senior software developer in test position job requirement for a health care company:

SDET Skills Needed

As you can see, both jobs require someone who has both testing and programming skills and can apply them to real-world situations. (Also, notice the emphasis on test automation tools for functional, API, and performance testing.)

If you’re looking for the different levels of software engineers at companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, you can see them on the site Levels.

SDET Salary – Pay Difference between a Tester and an SDET

Besides skill differences between the two positions, you’ll also see a significant salary difference.

Once again, the site Payscale data shows that the national average for an SDET is $88,000/yr, and a Software Tester has an average yearly salary of $55,501. That’s a difference of over $32,000!

You can see the same pay difference looking at the UK job board ItJobsWatch:

Tester Salary Vs SDET | TestGuild

If you look at the top job descriptions of skills that can bump up a tester’s pay, many of them are SDET-related skills like:

  • Selenium Automation Test Tool
  • .NET
  • C# Programming Language
  • Test Automation
  • Java

Books for Wannabee SDET

Even though the book How We Test Software at Microsoft is slightly dated now, they have a nice SDET roadmap example of what Microsoft was using years ago to hire professional SDETs:

SDET Roadmap

The book How Google Tests Software also contains a bunch of info on The Software Engineer in Test role, including a SET Workflow example.

Change in the Hiring Process for Testers

I’m not sure whether any of you have been on a testing job interview in a while, but that process has also changed.

Such an interview will often be for the role of a development engineer in test, so you get bombarded with programming-related questions.

I’ve heard from a number of folks that have been completely caught off-guard by these types of SDET-like interview questions.

If you haven’t been on a job interview in a long time, you may want to brush up on how to pass an automation testing coding interview before you start applying for a software development engineer position.

I know from my experiences that finding and hiring people with all the required skills can be difficult. So if you like the challenge of testing and enjoy developing code, a career as an SDET might be the perfect choice for you.

How can you improve your testing skills?

automation guild 2024 hero logo

Of course, the key to keeping or obtaining a better job in a technology-based field is always working on your skills. If you are a tester or already an SDET, check out the yearly Automation Guild to make sure you stay up to speed with the latest tips, tools, techniques, and best practices you need to succeed with creating automation testing.

Let’s Talk

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Mastering AI in Test Automation: Expert Tips!

Posted on 05/14/2024

Over the last couple of years, many of my podcast guests who work ...

What is Synthetic Monitoring? (2024 Guide)

Posted on 04/18/2024

I've found over the years many testers are unsure about what is synthetic ...

SafeTest: Next Generation Testing Framework from Netflix

Posted on 03/26/2024

When you think of Netflix the last thing you probably think about is ...