Quality Assurance Career Path: From Novice to Expert in QA
The author of this article is tech expert Pieter Murphy.
In this article
In the world of software product development, quality assurance (QA) is a critical function. For those who want to start a career in QA testing, knowing the quality assurance career pathway that lies ahead is beneficial. Understanding the road that lies before them allows them to make strategic choices, ensuring they can move from novice to expert as quickly as possible.
Here’s a look at the software quality assurance career path, including the skills you need, required education and training, and more.
Essential Skills for QA Specialists
Quality assurance in software development requires a significant amount of technical expertise. By possessing the necessary hard skills, professionals can handle the technical aspects of their roles effectively.
Here is an overview of some of the essential technical skills for QA specialists:
- Automation testing
- Automation testing tools (Appium, Cypress, TestComplete, Selenium, etc.)
- Cross-browser / cross-platform testing
- Databases / SQL
- Defect lifecycle
- Defect tracking
- Documenting and reporting
- Functional testing
- Methodologies (Agile, DevOps, Kanban, Scrum, Waterfall, etc.)
- Operating systems (Linux, Mac, Windows, Android, iOS)
- Project management
- Regression testing
- Software development lifecycle (SDLC)
- Software testing and evaluation tools (ALM, Gatling, Jira, JMeter, Katalon, LoadRunner, Mabl, QAComplete, QA Wolf, TestRail, TestFLO for Jira, testRigor, Testsigma, etc.)
- UI testing
- Version control systems (Assembla, Bazaar, CVS, Git, Mercurial, SVN, etc.)
While technical skills play a crucial role when professionals are trying to advance down the software quality assurance engineer career path, soft skills are also critical. They ensure professionals have the right mindset to perform in the role. Additionally, they make managing interpersonal relationships easier.
Here are the soft skills QA professionals need to excel:
- Analytical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinking
- Time management
Educational and Training Requirements
Necessary Educational Background
Usually, the first step professionals must take to begin on the quality assurance engineer career path is to earn a college degree. For most, that means majoring in computer science or another relevant IT discipline and completing a Bachelor’s program at a minimum.
However, there are other paths that may provide a similar academic foundation. Highly focused technical school programs are potentially suitable alternatives. In some cases, an Associate’s degree is enough to land an entry-level position. Finally, boot camps are an increasingly popular substitute for college degree programs, and they may serve as an appropriate basis for a QA career.
Along with the education outlined above, attending a bootcamp to prepare you for your career journey is wise. The Career Bootcamp from Anywhere Club gives you access to support from experts, allowing you to perfect your CV, interview skills, and more, making it easier to land your dream job.
Certifications and Courses
As you advance down the software QA career path, specific certifications and courses relating to the field are typically valuable. They help prove a professional’s expertise in the niche or help them enhance their knowledge in a relevant area.
Some of the most beneficial certifications include:
- Certified Associate in Software Testing (CAST)
- Certified Manager of Software Quality (CMSQ)
- Certified Software Quality Analyst (CSQA)
- Certified Software Testing Engineer (CSTE)
- International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) Tester
When it comes to individual courses, any class that hones relevant skills is worth considering. However, those who provide a certificate of completion may prove especially valuable, as it gives professionals a credential to add to their resumes.
Another option for beginning on the software QA engineer career path is an internship. As an intern, professionals gain real-world experience working on projects while supporting a company’s objectives. Often, they offer ample on-the-job training opportunities, as the roles are geared toward individuals without much (if any) experience.
Internships are also beneficial since they qualify as work experience, regardless of whether it’s a paid or unpaid position. By participating in one, professionals get a job they can list on their resumes, which can separate them from other entry-level candidates.
For professionals who want to become a QA engineer, pursuing a specialization is common. By specializing, QA professionals can focus on areas of interest to a greater degree, which can make the work more engaging. Additionally, this approach allows them to refine highly relevant skills in a specific niche, which potentially makes them more valuable to employers.
There are several QA specializations a professional may pursue. Here’s an overview of some of the most common ones.
Specializing in automation primarily means acquiring expertise relating to automation testing tools and processes. Professionals in this arena have skills and knowledge that ensure they can create, validate, and enhance tests using automation frameworks. The use of automation accelerates software development, as leveraging the technology speeds up time-consuming tasks and ensures processes are repeatable and precise.
Previously, manual QA was the go-to strategy. Now, it’s either more common for professionals to move from manual to automation testing or learn the basics of manual QA prior to securing a position and moving directly onto the automation testing career path. As a result, for professionals who want to become a QA automation tester, the automation tester roadmap usually begins with an understanding of manual methods.
For professionals looking to become a QA tester, specializing in performance testing is worth considering. QA pros in this area focus on ensuring application responsiveness and stability. For example, they’ll test the time to load, processing speed, workload efficiency, and maximum load levels.
The goal of performance testing is identifying bottlenecks harming an application's ability to run effectively and efficiently. Then, organizations can address discovered issues to ensure overall performance aligns with outlined standards or expectations.
Another option for a career in quality assurance is to specialize in security testing. Professionals focusing on this area aim to identify system or application vulnerabilities and weaknesses that compromise cybersecurity.
Performing risk assessments and determining how security threats may impact applications or systems are also potentially part of the role. Similarly, documenting test results, providing recommendations to improve security postures, and collaborating with others to address identified weaknesses and vulnerabilities are common duties.
How to Find a First QA Job
As an aspiring QA specialist, the first step you need to take to support career growth in quality assurance is to land a suitable first position. Usually, this process begins by securing the right academic background, ensuring you have a strong foundation.
Next, you want to prepare your resume or CV. If your primary qualification is a college degree or similar academic credential, put your education section above your work history. Additionally, create a resume summary that showcases your degree, as well as a few key skills.
Then, you need to start seeking out job opportunities. You can use a variety of approaches to find suitable openings. Job boards – including niche ones – are a straightforward starting point. You can also turn to your network or partner with a recruiter.
When you find a role that’s a solid fit, refresh your resume to target the content to the job. Focus on including keywords found in the must-have skills section, as including as many as possible demonstrates that you’re a match to the position’s requirements.
Additionally, start preparing for the interview by practicing common QA job interview questions. That allows you to increase your comfort level with the material, ensuring you can deliver your responses with ease.
QA Levels Overview
The career path for QA professionals includes a variety of steps. By understanding a typical promotion path, professionals can plan for the journey that lies ahead.
Additionally, reviewing each QA career growth path available helps professionals steer their development. In turn, they can make sure that they have what’s necessary to secure the jobs they’d enjoy most, ensuring their professional life is enjoyable.
Here is a quick overview of the various QA levels.
QA analysts are entry-level professionals who serve as a starting point for a career, and it can work for those interested in the career path for QA engineer roles. As a quality assurance analyst, the focus is on testing plan development, requirements gathering, test execution, and results reporting.
Typically, the goal is to identify software bugs, evaluate user interfaces, and document findings. Then, information is passed to developers or programmers to ensure any necessary corrections are handled. However, the position is potentially less technical and more analytical in nature than some alternatives, though whether that’s true can vary from one employer or position to the next.
As the starting point of the broader QA tester career path, a junior software tester concentrates on application testing. They’ll use a variety of tests – including performance, integration, regression, and platform – to ensure the software is stable. If they identify a bug, that information is shared with developers or programmers through reports.
Typically, junior testers use both manual and automated testing methods to evaluate software, following set procedures put in place by their employer, lead, or manager. Documentation is typically a significant part of the role, ensuring other professionals on the team or who focus on development have the information they need to correct identified issues.
QA engineers are highly technically proficient, often having testing framework and automation expertise. Along with handling the duties of QA analysts, these professionals often assist with technical risk evaluations prior to development beginning as well as after development is underway.
This position on the QA engineer career path may verify integrations and APIs, as well as determine the best tools for tests and interpret test results. As they hone their skills, they may move into a senior QA engineer position or similar upper-level role.
For professionals seeking a career path for quality assurance that involves specialization, becoming an automation engineer is a solid choice. These specialists create automation test environments and write scripts to create repeatable tests using a variety of automation tools.
Typically, their primary goal is to convert time-consuming manual testing tasks into efficient automated ones, allowing them to complete assessments in far less time. They may also assist with the implementation of new relevant technologies to support an organization’s automation goals. Process development is frequently part of the equation as well, ensuring reliable procedures are in place to identify bugs, errors, or issues.
One of the highest positions on the QA engineer path, a quality assurance manager usually oversees a large QA team or an entire QA department. In most cases, they’re responsible for higher-level tasks like process development, risk management, and employee management, including hiring and performance assessment. Additionally, they’ll oversee projects assigned to the team, as well as report to stakeholders regarding decisions made and overall progress.
Depending on the company’s size, a QA manager may also function as a project manager. They’ll delegate tasks, ensure proper communication, and otherwise keep projects on target through effective leadership, time management, collaboration, and organization.
For professionals experiencing QA engineer career growth, becoming a test architect is one of the career options worth exploring. In the simplest sense, test architects are the professionals who design the QA process for an organization or project. Consultation and optimization are both large parts of the equation, as well as creating systems that are stable, scalable, and reliable.
This highly technical position focuses not only on testing and test creation but also on finding suitable solutions. They often have in-depth knowledge of automation tools and strategies, allowing them to determine the best approach for each use case. They’ll also create test environments, monitor activities, improve processes, and train automation team members.
On the QA career path, a QA lead position is typically an entry point into the world of management. These professionals oversee a team of QA professionals, often serving as a liaison between contributors and upper management. In most cases, they report to a QA manager or similar department head, but their positions sit above individual contributors on the team, giving them supervisory responsibilities.
Their technical knowledge allows them to delegate effectively and properly assess team performance, all while ensuring assigned projects stay on target. However, they also need various soft skills and leadership capabilities, allowing them to support efficient collaboration, negotiate with stakeholders, coach employees, and more.
Strategies for Career Growth in QA
Generally, for professionals looking to climb the QA career ladder, using a strategic approach is best. Progressing along the career path for software QA engineer professionals relies heavily on experience. As a result, remaining focused on quality assurance in each job held makes a difference.
However, ongoing skill development is similarly crucial. Initially, professionals must focus on technical capabilities relating to the field. In many cases, reviewing job descriptions for the next role on the ladder is an excellent way to discover the necessary technical capabilities, giving professionals specific areas to pursue knowledge or practical training.
Transitioning from individual contributor to manager is a bit different. In management, leadership skills are crucial for success. As a result, honing leadership capabilities like project management skills, coaching abilities, delegation, and similar skills is vital, as it makes the transition smoother.
Challenges and Opportunities
On the quality assurance career path, there are several challenges professionals may experience. In a day-to-day sense, QA specialists encounter a significant amount of change, and remaining agile isn’t always easy. Additionally, not all companies value QA to the same degree, and many assume that it’s the same as quality control (QC), which isn’t ideal. While it’s becoming more critical in the eyes of most employers, some organizations continue relying on old methodologies and practices, and that can prove frustrating.
While having a college degree is potentially necessary to land an entry-level position, many degree programs offer few opportunities for practical experience. As a result, many new QA professionals lack confidence or experience a higher-than-expected learning curve when in their first job. Typically, those issues resolve in time, but it’s critical to understand that an academic experience doesn’t always align with how the real world works, as that ensures professionals are prepared for this part of the journey.
However, there are also opportunities. For example, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly common. For professionals who want to remain ahead of the curve, acquiring AI-related capabilities is a solid option, as it is likely part of the future of the field.
Real-life Case Studies
Now that you understand the QA career steps, learning about different approaches, strategies, and tools, as well as seeing how QA makes a difference, is beneficial. Here are some links to various real-life case studies that showcase the power of QA:
- TestRigor IDT Case Study
- QA Wolf Napster Case Study
- Quality Assurance Through Rigorous Software Specification and Testing: A Case Study
- Improving Software Testing via ODC: Three Case Studies
- The Relation of Test-Related Factors to Software Quality: A Case Study on Apache Systems
- Case Study: Implementing Tools for Software Quality Assurance
- A Case Study of Testing a Web-Based Application Using an Open-Source Testing Tool
Ultimately, QA is a critical aspect of software development, ensuring bugs, vulnerabilities, and more are discovered as early as possible to accelerate development. For professionals interested in the field, quality assurance career growth is relatively straightforward. Often, having a professional development plan for your career progression can ensure you have the necessary skills to advance while honing soft skills supports an effective team dynamic and makes handling various responsibilities simpler.
In the end, quality assurance is a growing area. Companies are increasingly prioritizing QA, and new tools and technologies emerge regularly that boost the effectiveness of professionals in the niche. As a result, a career in QA is a secure and lucrative option, making it a strong choice.