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What's a better area of specialization, automation or test data management assumes that developing a specialty is better than being a testing generalist. Although developing a test specialty may provide a quick and more lucrative entry point into the testing profession, a solid background in the basics of testing, planning and execution is a critically important to building a career in testing.
I think it is important for all testers to have a good understanding of the automation process, including reasons for and against automation in various situations, what tools are available and how they are used. Furthermore, automation experience is highly valued in Agile and continuous development shops. However, the learning curve to becoming a true automation expert, the array of tools in which to develop expertise very wide and the level of competition for quality assurance engineering positions is intense. Although automation knowledge should be part of every tester's toolkit, if a tester truly wants to become a specialist, selecting a niche might be a better option.
So, what "niche" might a tester want to pursue? It's important to choose a niche that is needed in lots of different industries in order to maximize job opportunities. However, it's also important to assess your skills and interests and chose an area of specialization that works for both.
The World Quality Report 2014-15 cited big data, business analytics and business intelligence in several of the sectors surveyed in the sector analysis. This suggests some great job opportunities, but a tester in this area will need to be a SQL expert and must enjoy white box testing. Another option might be mobile device testing. The proliferation of mobile devices makes this testing critical in virtually all industries, and there are options to become a specialist in testing applications on mobile devices or on testing the devices themselves. If you enjoy being a creative tester, these options may be particularly appealing.
In summary, whether you choose to become a specialist and what type of specialization you choose should be decided based on your personal interests and what skill sets you are interested in developing, as well as the range of job opportunities within the specialization.
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