I recently finished teaching a session of an internal course I designed for senior testers (by "senior", I'm generally talking about the top 5-10% of all non-management testers at MS). The senior tester role can have a lot of variation, so the course focuses on breadth of knowledge and covers a lot of topics. A few are covered in depth, but most are probably covered "just enough so you know where to find more." I may cover the details of the curriculum in a future post.
After the final session, one of the students asked me if the course material changes often. The material never changes, but I realized as he asked me that the way I teach it, and the huge amount of "bonus"material I typically add (stories and experiences to explain the key points) does change quite often - mostly because I'm always learning something new, and I like to share what I know. In the split second before I answered I also realized that I my entire job is about senior testers. It hasn't always been this way - it just kind of happened. In addition to designing and teaching a course, I'm on committees to define career paths for senior testers, I coordinate large group discussions on the role and career paths for senior testers, I talk to intact test teams about the subject and I meet regularly with most of the top 1% or so of testers at MS. I think I have one project not directly related to senior test roles, and I think it will end up spinning that way at some point (incidentally, this is both my largest, and lowest priority project...hmm).
I'm often asked how the senior tester role at MS compares to other companies. Since I haven't worked anywhere except MS for the past 12.5 years, I have a hard time answering without speculation. Today I was doing some research and searched computer jobs at monster.com using the keywords senior and test. The first test looking job I saw was for a "Senior Quality Assurance Engineer". Of course, the description started with "Execute test cases, discover defects..." First of all, that's not a QA job - that's testing. The terminology gets munged in the industry, so I'll ignore that part, but the problem is that the senior test role at MS contains some QA elements, so this posting looked promising for a moment. I found a few other "senior" listings, but they were all about writing automation and didn't really compare with the MS senior roles. I know some of the MS competitors have similar senior roles, but I think that either they don't post those jobs, or (and more probable), that they just don't have need for that many people in those positions. That makes sense - the only reason MS needs so many is because the company is so big.
Oh, and before you ask "so what does a senior tester do?", I'll tell you that I'm working on developing several personas describing the role and I'll make those public at some point, either here or on another more relevant site that I can link to.
A lot of rambling today. I'll post something more structured soon.