CAREER GUIDE: HOW TO BECOME A QA TESTER
What is the purpose of quality assurance?
Any time you, as a buyer or user, download or purchase a product or app and you get exactly what you were hoping for as far as a seamless user experience and ease of use, that game, app or website has likely been through a rigorous quality assurance test before its release. If you get less than expected, or a product breaks, freezes, gets hacked, falls apart or responds antithetically to your expectations, chances are its pre-release quality assurance testing has been lax or non-existent.
Quality assurance—or QA—is defined by the American Society for Quality as "any systematic process of determining whether a product or service meets specified requirements." The goal of meeting specified requirements is to provide confidence "externally to customers, government agencies, regulators, certifiers and third parties."
What is a QA Tester?
QA testers are the people assigned to find the bugs, flaws and imperfections in an app, website, product or game, whether for mobile, tablet or desktop. These professionals have one mission: to break everything they can prior to a product's release so developers can fix the issues before the software or website finds its way into a user's hands.
As such, QA testers are critical to the success of a product and have a key role to play in a product's evolution and life cycle, preventing quality failures and potential disaster for it and its reputation.
Says a QA Automation Engineer at Testlio who asked us not to use her name, there are some misperceptions about the job which future QA testers should be aware of, mainly that, "QA is perceived as non-technical work." She explains, "QA should be technical to understand the process and behavior of the application. This will help the QA people to understand the technical discussion and grooming sessions and raise questions about the process/workflows."
What do QA testers do?
Quality assurance testers are primarily responsible for testing new software products and updated versions and clearing them for defects or issues. The main duty of quality assurance testers is to run manual and automated software tests to ensure a product meets standards and guidelines before it is added to the App Store or put on the market. They identify issues and run debugging programs when needed, and they generate reports and work with the software development team to correct problems and fix bugs in order of priority or as needed.
Manual testing: Testers must be able to reproduce user behavior and build test plans to cover all the different scenarios. Manual testing has a lower accuracy due to the higher possibility of human error.
Automation testing: Testers must be skilled at programming and scripting to build test cases and automate as many scenarios as possible. Automation testing has a higher accuracy rate due to utilizing computer-based testing and eliminating the likelihood of human error.
One critical facet of the job is QA testers must record all defects and details about it, such as platform, version, recreation of steps, and the steps taken to resolve the issues. They maintain this documentation using changelogs to track bugs, defects, functionality problems and the performed fixes. They assist software developers with the design process and assess risk and help resolve issues before the new software or product is released.
Typical QA tester job description
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, QA testers perform the following duties:
- Create test plans, test scenarios and procedures for new software and new versions of software or products
- Identify project risks and recommend steps to minimize those risks
- Implement software testing, using manual or automation programs and evaluate results
- Document and report bugs, defects and problems using QA software such as Jira
- Provide feedback to developers and stakeholders regarding usability and functionality
- Collaborate with cross-functional teams
- Escalate critical issues and risks to the project managers and development managers
- May serve as liaison to program, engineering, development and management teams
How to become a QA Tester in 5 steps
Gain technical education—preferably a bachelor's.
A bachelor's degree in cyber security or a related field such as computer science, engineering, IT or information sciences is the go-to degree for QA testers. However, you may also be able to gain experience by attending bootcamps if you have related education or an associate degree.
Some employers may consider bootcamp certification in lieu of a degree but that is entirely up to the employer and is probably not the norm. If you choose the degree route, you'll want to make sure your program or school has the proper accreditation so if you decide to continue your education later all of your credits transfer.
Testlio's QA Automation Manager recommends this basic mantra for "fresher" students starting their education: "Start from scratch, understand the development process, QA life cycles and CI/CD workflows. Pick a test automation tool and start with simple programs and try to understand the architecture of the test tools. This will help you to become technically strong and will make it easy for you to understand the new frameworks."
Consider getting an internship.
There's no better way to learn whether this job is for you than through an internship where you'll perform the tests and tasks the job requires. You may even be able to find a paid internship that can last anywhere from several months to a year and can give you the opportunity to network and build a portfolio of pertinent test projects.
Build a portfolio of projects.
Once you're ready to look for a job, it may be helpful to have a portfolio of tests and products you tested to show to potential employers.
Network and seek opportunities.
Consider joining professional associations to boost your profile and professional presence. These associations may provide the opportunity to network with other quality assurance testers and even learn about jobs that are available. Try associations such as Association for Software Testing (AST) and the American Society for Quality, which also offers professional certifications such as the Certified Software Quality Engineer (CSQE) credential.
Apply for QA tester positions.
After meeting all educational requirements and gaining some experience, you can apply for quality assurance testing positions. Use job boards from groups you've joined, the professional contacts you've acquired from school, your internship and social and professional sites.
QA Tester career path
When you first enter the field, chances are your job title will simply be QA Analyst or QA Tester, and you'll take direction from a QA Manager. Once you've gotten a couple of years' experience under your belt you could be promoted to a Senior QA Tester or Analyst role.
Following that, a likely next step up is QA Team Coordinator, where you'll need five to six years of experience working in the field, and you'll help coordinate your team to test software products. After a few more years in the field, you may be ready to become a QA Manager, Test Manager or Test Project Manager and plan the workflow and manage team activity and responsibilities.
Once you've reached 14 or 15 years of experience you may find yourself promoted to Senior QA Manager and may possibly head a department or oversee QA activity for an entire company.
What traits and skills make for a great QA Tester?
As with any job, certain skills and traits may help you perform your job duties better, and certain personality types may fit the rigors of the job better than others. The BLS suggests the following soft skills and traits for software QA testers:
Technical skills to be a good QA
While you probably won't be writing code, you should have familiarity with programming languages and software development methodologies
Knowledge of testing tools and automation frameworks such as Selenium, Appium, LoadRunner and TestRail, among others for all platforms, especially mobile
Experience with test management software and bug-tracking systems
Understanding of manual and automation software testing types and techniques
Familiarity with Agile Frameworks, including Scrum, Kanban and Lean, etc.
Error documentation and debugging skills, including test planning, specification and reporting
Soft skills and traits to be a good QA
- Communication and collaboration:
- You'll need to be able to communicate your findings clearly so bug fixes and problems can be understood and comprehended by all levels of developers, testers and stakeholders.
- Time management and organizational skills:
- More often than not you'll be on a tight release schedule, and you'll need to meet critical deadlines.
- Attention to detail and accuracy:
- You may need to concentrate on different areas of a software application or product, so you'll need to be able to multi-task and be sure of your findings.
- Analytical and critical thinking:
- You'll need to look at a product from others' points of view, not just your own, so you'll have to anticipate their needs analytically.
- People skills:
- You'll work with teams of developers, cyber analysts as well as other QA testers with different personalities and abilities, so you'll need to adapt and work as a unit to get a product ready on time.
- Problem-solving skills:
- Your entire job is based on finding and solving problems that arise, so you'll need to be able to anticipate and solve issues from the very beginning to the end of the product's life cycle and understand what changes to monitor and test as the software evolves.
QA Tester certifications
If you've already earned your degree in cyber security or a related field but are looking to upgrade your job title or education, a Software Quality Assurance certification may just be your best bet. QA certifications could help you learn practical skills, above what you already know, to apply in the workplace. Completing a certification program may also help you show your employer that you're qualified to lead a team or work in a supervisory capacity.
What certifications are there?
The primary industry certification for QA testers is the ISTQB certification, which stands for International Software Testing Qualification Board certification and is available from the American Software Testing Qualifications Board in the U.S. It's the industry-wide globally recognized certification that provides standard software testing qualifications for those who pass the exam. It also has a prerequisite of at least six months of experience on the job before applying, taking the course, passing the exam and being awarded the credential.
Other certifications to consider include:
- Certified Associate in Software Testing (CAST):
- Requires a 4-year degree, or a 2-year degree and two years job experience, along with three years of work experience in the field before you can apply and earn the credential.
- Certified Test Engineer (CSTE):
- Sets the standard for professionals to maintain in the testing field. Prerequisites are a 4-year degree plus two years of work experience, or a 3-year degree and three years job experience, or a 2-year degree and four years of work experience. No matter where you fall on the education spectrum, you'll also need six years of work experience to apply for this credential.
- Certified Software Quality Analyst (CSQA):
- For those interested in quality assurance and control. This credential requires you to be working at a related job for at least 18 months before you can apply for the certification and meet the same educational prerequisites as the CSTE certification.
The ISTQB also offers two other certifications for those who currently want to advance in their careers. These advanced-level certifications are for those looking to progress to either a test analyst or test manager. The certification program focuses on the skills to help you monitor test activities and properly lead a team.
How about bootcamps?
It's not impossible to enter the field as a QA tester with just an associate degree or a non-degree, such as the completion of a bootcamp but, says Testlio's QA Automation Engineer, "Bootcamps will not always help you to enter the QA field. Bootcamps will help you to improve your skills." Employers may prefer you hold a bachelor's degree, but you may be able to take this alternate route, depending upon the bootcamp and your employer.
Most bootcamps can be taken online, which may be convenient for those who need to work while they attend school. You should look for a program that teaches the required skills to land an entry-level software tester job. This means you should look for a bootcamp that includes Python, Selenium, mobile and desktop app testing, test automation, debugging, documentation standards and either manual or automation QA.
While bootcamps cost around $5,000 on average, that's still less money than a 4-year college degree program, and you may be able to enter the field quicker. Look for bootcamps that fit your learning style and level of expertise. For example, if you already have experience as a QA tester, you might look for a QA testing bootcamp that focuses on automation QA rather than entry-level manual QA.
What does a QA Tester earn?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies QA testers under Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers and cites the median annual salary for the job as $99,620. Of course, QA testers may earn more or less depending upon their geographic location, company and size, years of experience and education level. That said, the BLS says the highest-paying states are New York, California, Maryland, New Hampshire and Washington.
ANNUAL MEDIAN SALARY OF
Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers
QA Tester salary by state
Here are median annual salaries by all U.S. states:
Median Salary: $99,620
Projected job growth: 20.8%
10th Percentile: $55,510
25th Percentile: $75,710
75th Percentile: $127,660
90th Percentile: $159,740
Projected job growth: 20.8%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$111,780||$76,050||$156,270|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Highest-paying metros for QA testers
The top ten highest-paying metropolitan areas and cities, according to the BLS, are:
Cities with the most QA testing jobs
And take a look at cities where the highest number of QA testers are employed. This may provide insight into where a higher number of tech companies and jobs are found:
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||15,920|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||9,270|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||8,550|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||8,270|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||6,590|
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Can I become a QA Tester without a technical degree?
Though most companies prefer a bachelor's degree, you may be able to get hired without one. You could consider earning a 2-year associate degree instead, and then build your portfolio of QA projects and earn hands-on experience in a bootcamp or certification course and develop the necessary skills. It will most likely depend upon your employer's requirements.
Is a data analyst the same as a QA tester?
No. Though they may both work in the IT department, a data analyst collects and analyzes data to help a company make better business decisions. They use their findings to create reports and present their recommendations to company executives. Data analysts often specialize in a particular area, such as finance, risk management or consumer research.
A QA tester tests software to ensure it meets the product requirements and is free of bugs and flaws. They create test plans and test cases based on customer specifications, then execute these tests to find bugs and breaking points. QA testers work closely with software developers to track and resolve defects right up to release.
Is it hard to be a QA tester?
The job can be stressful primarily because of internal pressure and looming deadlines. But, says Testlio's QA Automation Manager, "Stress is a largely individual thing." She adds, "Interestingly, QA is considered one of the least stressful jobs within the software industry. In my opinion, stress directly comes from the way [an individual and team] handles things. Since some of the tasks and work will come with deadlines, you should plan accordingly to complete it on time."
With a promising job growth outlook of 20.8% through 2031 and salaries to match, why not investigate QA tester degree programs? If you're interested in helping bring software and products to users and the marketplace that's bug-free and performance ready—and you have an aptitude for problem-solving, testing and the technical detail the job demands, there are accredited classroom and online programs waiting for you.