Default [Q] Best practices for testing ROM builds

I am a developer and am looking to start getting my feet wet in Android ROM development. I've already configured my build environment and run a few builds and flashed the packages to my device, but have yet to really get into the source code.

My concern is with being new at this is potentially doing something that would brick my phone. Some of the things I'd like to do eventually would require some kernel development which has me a bit nervous.

Is there any way to test out a build before flashing it to my device? I know the SDK has some emulation capabilities, but I'm not sure if that will work for this device.

Are my concerns even warranted? Maybe I'm just being overly cautious, but I don't want to incapacitate my device.

Can any developers out there shed some light on this? How do you test your ROMs?

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