How to become a beta tester

Do you like to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest gadgets and software? Would you like to have a hand in shaping the development of emerging consumer technologies? Beta testing allows you to test out the latest technology and software long before it gets released on the market. However, gaining a sought-after position as a beta tester can be more difficult than it sounds. Here's how to get started.

What is a beta test?
Beta tests are conducted by hardware and software developers to test an upcoming product before it is released on the mass market. They act as trial runs, to explore how the product operates in a real world environment. Like other forms of testing, a successful beta test will identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the product, so that it can be improved and refined before releasing the final product.

Criteria
While most beta tests are open to anyone, regardless of age or demographic, oftentimes, certain criteria still apply. You must be sure that you fit the bill before applying to participate. To test software, for example, users usually must be at least 18 years old, have their own PC or Mac and have access to a browser-based screen recorder to record screen and verbal comments as they perform the test, according to Chris Hicken of UserTesting.com -- a crowdsourcing service that provides usability testing. Depending on the product or service, other developers may have their own specific requirements.

Connect with the community
There are online communities dedicated to beta testing, so your first step should be to connect with them however you can. Many sites and communities send newsletters with information on upcoming events and beta tests that you may be able to take part in. If you're interested in a particular type of product, you could try consulting a relevant online forum for information.

Contact the manufacturer
The more popular and hotly anticipated a product is, the more difficult it is to secure a position as a beta tester. If you're particularly determined to test a particular product, however, it might be helpful to contact the manufacturer directly. The customer service department should be able to give you information on how best to get involved in future test cycles, and perhaps even include your name on future call or mailing lists.

Give good feedback
If you are lucky enough to be selected as a participant in a beta test, you must ensure that you prove yourself as a worthy participant. You will be expected to spend a significant amount of time testing the product thoroughly.

Companies hire beta testers to provide informative feedback on their upcoming products, so it's important to take note of which aspects of the game you like and dislike. Similarly, if you find a programming bug, be sure to report it immediately to the developers, to help them address the problem. Of course, it's critical to keep in mind that a beta test is, after all, a trial run, so don't expect a completely smooth and hassle free experience.