Who are QA engineers and what do they do? What is the role of a Quality Assurance engineer? In this article, you will get insights about this job from software testing specialists.
To reveal the insights of QA work, the author asked 46 QA and Test Engineers about the role of the testing specialists within projects, the pros and cons of their work, the ways of becoming QAs, and the career prospects. All the quotes in the article are based on the stories of the respondents.
Who is a Quality Assurance engineer and what does QA do? QA is a specialist whose activities are aimed to improve the software development process by detecting errors in a product and preventing defects from occurring again.
Let’s look at this job position in detail and explore the Quality Assurance engineers’ responsibilities.
QA roles and Responsibilities
The main role of QA is quality assurance. A QA engineer focuses on improving software development processes and preventing defects in production. In other words, they make sure the software development team is doing the right things the right way. The QA engineer job scope embraces a number of duties. We’ll talk about them in the following paragraphs.
Checking if the product complies with the requirements
Planning ideas to improve product quality
Analyzing the test results
The QA specialization comprises many functions so there are certain sub-specializations such as quality control, software testing, and others. Let's describe the particularities of these sub directions of QA.
The main goal of QA engineers is to prevent defects. Quality Control specialists, in their turn, analyze the test results and find mistakes. They are responsible for identifying and eliminating defects in a product (or, in other words, these engineers make sure that developers get the results they expect).
One more subspecialized direction in QA is software testing. A Software Tester is the one who checks the finished product for errors (bugs) and if it complies with the requirements. Also, the tester documents defects and the ways of fixing them.
QA specialists can also execute different roles within certain projects. There are four main QA roles: Test Analyst, Test Designer, Test Executor, and Test Manager.
Test Analyst is engaged in static testing of requirements and checks them for completeness and consistency.
Test Designer creates a set of tests based on requirements and plans configurations that are necessary for testing.
Test Executor performs pre-planned tests, describes and documents the found errors, and steps for reproducing (or fixing) them.
Test Manager plans and monitors work related to testing such as keeping to deadlines, following a schedule, controlling requirements to tests, setting tasks for team members, and communicating with stakeholders.
Here’s what QAs tell about their work.
“QA has to know exactly when they need to get involved and have a test plan, test documentation, and test environment prepared by this time.”
“Testers know how the system works, where it doesn't work, and where it doesn’t work the way it's supposed to. They can determine what caused an error or at least know where to find it. The more experienced the testers are, the more difficult and interesting their work seems to them.”
In many cases, the differences between QA and tester positions are blurred. In practice, software QA meaning is almost the same as testing. While a tester checks products for bugs, a QA specialist works to ensure the quality of the software development process.
“If we talked about medicine, QA would be engaged in prevention, and testers would be involved in diagnosing. But at some point these different roles became synonymous. For example, testers are called QA engineers in the test plans.”
You may ask what does a software QA engineer do in detail? Let’s talk about Quality Assurance engineer duties. You can check the list of responsibilities below:
Analyze and clarification of requirements with a customer or a business analyst
Plan the process of testing
Write test cases (test scripts)
Conduct functional testing
Identify problem areas, add them to a tracking system
Discuss fixes with developers
Track the life cycle of errors
Re-test fixed defects
Optimize the testing process
Analyze the teamwork processes
Maintain the test documentation
After we clarified the hard skills important for the QA engineers, it’s time to point out the soft skills. So what traits should a good QA possess?
“A good Quality Engineer understands the logic of the product and knows it inside and out: they thoroughly learn project requirements and are always up-to-date on the current state of matters. Most likely, a QA engineer will get many questions from software developers who know only a small part of the project.”
A typical workday of a QA specialist consists of a number of repetitive tasks. Here are some of them:
Writing test cases, testing, documenting errors (depending on the phase of the project)
Checking the bug tracking system for the fixed errors
Learning the requirements and their clarification with the customer
Communicating with developers
Writing test documentation
“In the morning, I revise tasks collected overnight. During the day I prepare and launch compilations, analyze automated test results, create tickets, etc. In the evening, I restart compilations and update task statuses in the bug tracker.”
Like any profession, QA specialization has its strong and weak points. Let’s find out the main pros and cons of working as a QA specialist.
What attracts QA engineers is the opportunity to improve the quality of a product mastering various technologies and diving into details of the product at the same time.
“I like the opportunity to fulfill my perfectionism with no harm to my social life.”
Some respondents noted that their interest in work increased over time. In the beginning, things seem dim and unclear to them. Later, as they understand the project better, they want to deal with yet more complex tasks.
“This profession requires the permanent use of analytical skills. It doesn’t allow you to relax and degrade, it makes you constantly learn new technologies and fields of knowledge.”
The opportunity to join the world of high tech and get a good salary is also important in choosing the profession of QA. Some Quality Engineers started their careers because they wanted to get into IT and the threshold for QA specialists is lower than for developers. Some consider a QA's work more interesting and diverse than the developer’s work.
Here’s how QA specialists commented on their career choice:
“I chose QA because I was interested in IT, but I didn’t want to be a programmer. I like to dig into something, look for errors especially those that BA and developers could have missed.”
“A tester should be smarter than a programmer or at least more meticulous!”
“Software engineers and testers think differently. A programmer is looking for a quick solution, reaches the goal, and switches to a new task. A tester thoroughly verifies issues that haven’t been taken into account and checks different combinations.”
The main disadvantage of the profession is monotonous work, especially at the beginning of the career. In particular, a QA position often means executing manual test cases and working with documentation.
“The main disadvantage is the routine work that must be done.”
Quality engineers are not trained at universities. Future QAs acquire knowledge at specialized courses or study on their own.
“ Programmers are typically interested in a certain technology and start working in this direction. They usually start by writing bots or developing websites. It’s not a typical story for a testing specialist. It's unlikely to hear a tester say something like “I’ve been testing applications since high school and I enjoy it.” To become a QA specialist you need to have analytical skills, be attentive and purposeful. And, of course, it's important to understand computer technology and read books on testing."
To become a QA, you need to understand the software development cycle, study theory, know testing tools, and have a good level of English.
“The vast majority of jobs require a high level of English. Large companies often take juniors who know the language and reject candidates with extensive experience and poor English.”
Basic awareness of the testing theory means the ability to answer the following questions:
What is testing and what is it for?
What types of testing exist?
What is a bug and what is its life cycle?
What documentation is used during testing?
“Read books, articles, and forums on software testing. It's advisable to learn some programming languages such as HTML, SQL, CSS, etc. This will allow you to do your job better and move faster along the career ladder.”
QAs are responsible for improving the quality of the development process and therefore they should have some skills borrowed from other team members.
From a Developer – understanding of the technical limitations for the implementation of certain functions and at least a superficial understanding of code
From a Business Analyst – understanding of the market and the target audience
From a PM – understanding of the integrity of all parts of the project
You also need the ability to look at the product from the perspective of the end-user.
“The QA profession is to understand all the technical aspects and business goals, as well as communicate properly with customers, managers, and developers. Don't be afraid to ask questions starting with “What if?” Very often, this simple question saves hours and even days of development for the entire team.”
Speaking about soft skills and personal qualities, QAs should:
Have a broad IT outlook and be eager to learn new things
Be able to communicate (the quality of communication in the development team directly affects the quality of the software)
Be attentive to details, be diligent, responsible, and persistent
Possess analytical skills, be able to model and work with abstractions
Have a critical mindset aimed to find errors
Be able to tell a mountain from a molehill
Most people think of future prospects when choosing a career path. There are three areas for professional development in the QA career:
Explore new areas and grow as a QA: junior QA -> middle QA -> senior QA -> QA team lead -> QA-manager -> Head of QA department.
If you are interested in automation and want to know what a QA automation engineer does, there’s an option to master automated testing and move along this direction. It requires deeper technical knowledge.
Upgrade your qualification to a Business Analyst or a developer.
Having gained enough experience, you can grow into a Project Manager, then into a Senior Project Manager, and even a CTO. Also, today QA training courses are on-demand so you can combine your main work with teaching or counseling.