What Is Software Quality Assurance? A Beginner's Guide
Tech careers are fascinating and seem to change by the day. In an industry that moves this fast, you could gain expertise in a rising trend one year that becomes irrelevant in the next. But even in this quick world of innovation and surprise, it stands to reason there’ll be a steady need for professionals who ensure software programs and systems work as intended.
The lifecycle of a software project is large, involving many stages and many different roles and professionals. In all of those pieces, no matter how meticulous and dedicated each team might be, little errors will start to occur. From these little errors, unforeseen issues and complications arise and often the lines of communication get tangled. Something that was initially a tiny error can snowball into a huge problem once software reaches production. Those problems can cost a company money, trust and customers.
Enter: quality assurance (QA).
These professionals exist to catch software problems before they become expensive, reputation-tanking headaches. “In a nutshell, quality assurance at any level is to improve the quality of the software,” says Solat Zaidi, director of software quality assurance at Inteliquet®.
Quality assurance is both technical and collaborative, Zaidi explains, offering lots of satisfaction to professionals who love working with technology but also want involvement with other aspects of an organization. If you’d like to know more about software quality assurance, read on! We asked quality assurance experts to share about what they do.
What is software quality assurance?
You’ve maybe heard the term “quality assurance” in relation to vehicle manufacturing, engineering or other production jobs. While those are all distinct roles, the fundamental purpose remains the same—to identify and address potential problems with a product.
Software quality assurance professionals test software, preventatively recommending risk mitigation strategies, seeking and reporting defects and collaborating with software developers and stakeholders, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
For example, imagine you’re a QA analyst working for a company that wants to create a simple software application. Maybe you join the first meetings about this software product, look over the plan to develop it and make suggestions to minimize errors in the process. When the software application is complete, you will conduct thorough tests from both a technical and user-oriented perspective and report any errors back to the development team. They will fix those errors and give you the software to test again. You go back and forth until the product is ready.
If you consider how many different kinds of software are out there, you’ll have a better idea of the scope of this role and how different it might look from company to company. But since quality assurance can involve foresight right from the beginning of a software project plan, quality assurance is a huge part of the DevOps process, interacting with the whole lifecycle of the product.
“It's a very satisfying experience to explore test systems, applications and documentation and identify as many defects as possible,” says Jane Kelly, system and integration tester at nFocus Testing. “This is rewarding because you are saving the customer experience and saving your company money by rooting out defects early on!”
Who works in software quality assurance?
While the purpose of quality assurance is consistently to fix bugs and improve software, the methods QA professionals use and the roles and titles they take cover a lot of ground. Here are some common quality assurance job titles:
- QA Developer
- QA Analyst
- Software Tester
- Automation Engineer
- Test Analyst
This is also an area of technology with entry-level positions, ranging into specialization, management opportunities and director-level positions. “I started off as a junior manual tester, then worked as a lead, then manager, and now I am at a director level,” Zaidi says.
Since this role mixes highly technical elements of software with user-awareness and cross-collaboration with stakeholders, it’s important for people in quality assurance to have strong analytical skills partnered with communication and creativity, according to the BLS.1 Additionally, software quality assurance professionals have a strong background in Computer Science or related information technology fields.
Testing is a big field with plenty of opportunities to get involved, according to Kelly. Whether you look at how data is being collected, transformed and moved between systems, use ethical hacking techniques to test security measures, or conduct performance testing, there are many avenues into a quality assurance role.
What is working in software QA like?
“My role is different every day, and there are lots of opportunities to grow as a person and gain technical and interpersonal skills,” Kelly says. In systems and integration, Kelly explains that the work can be frustrating and awesome at the same time, since you are among the first to interact with the product.
“The first week or so of testing is always hampered by bugs and unstable environments,” Kelly says. “You will get up to speed with different business and technical jargon, software applications and methodologies so it never gets boring!”
Have you found your fit?
Does the idea of working in software quality assurance sound like it could be a great fit for your future career plans? Take a deeper dive into the specifics of working as a QA analyst with our article, “What Does a QA Analyst Do? Testing Out This Tech Career.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed September, 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
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