In the fast-paced reality of the software development world, a superior quality product is what users are looking for. To make this happen, companies rely on QA engineers – quality guardians who ensure final software meets the highest functional and non-functional standards. Their work may seem unnoticed by end users, but they are pivotal in keeping projects aligned with customers’ goals, software specifications, and users’ needs.
This quick overview provides the main highlights of a QA role, main responsibilities, needed skills, and the value these specialists bring to a project.
What is QA in software development?
Although quality assurance (QA) is often used to refer to testing, they are not the same. QA is a systematic process of ensuring that products meet specified requirements and adhere to high-quality standards. QA ensures the final product meets customer expectations and has no defects. Testing aims to identify and fix errors or faults. While testing is a crucial part of QA, quality assurance encompasses a comprehensive set of practices to enhance overall quality.
In turn, a quality assurance (QA) engineer is a specialist responsible for testing software to ensure it meets established quality criteria and functions properly. A QA engineer is responsible for the following:
- Testing: QAs carry out various tests on software to identify any problems;
- Quality control: QA engineers monitor software quality to ensure it meets product standards;
- Analysis: conduct an in-depth examination of software requirements and prepare a query list based on them;
- Improvement suggestions: provide feedback and suggest improvements to enhance the overall software quality;
- Documentation: create different types of test documentation (e.g., test cases, test reports, etc);
- Collaboration: coordinate with developers, BAs, and PMs to resolve ongoing issues.
Overall, QA engineers play a vital role in a project to ensure software reliability, functionality, and usability. They can use the two main types of testing: manual and automated. Each method brings unique advantages to the testing process, contributing to its effectiveness.
Manual vs. automated testing
In a nutshell, a manual tester conducts tests manually to identify bugs and ensure that the software meets its functional requirements. The main advantage of manual testing is that it is based on a human-centered approach. It provides a more in-depth understanding of user experience and helps uncover scenarios that automated tests may overlook.
An automated tester uses specialized tools to run pre-defined test cases, enabling rapid and repetitive testing. While automation is good for specific tasks (complex scenarios, to cover regression test suite), it can lack the intuition and adaptability that are inherent in manual testing. To achieve comprehensive testing coverage, it is often best to combine both approaches because each has its own pros and cons. You can learn more about manual vs automated testing in our article.
Quality assurance roles and responsibilities
As part of quality assurance, various roles play essential roles towards achieving high-quality software delivery. Some of their roles include:
- Software test engineer: focuses on executing and analyzing tests to ensure software quality;
- Test analyst: examines requirements and designs test cases;
- Test automation engineer: builds scripts to run automated tests;
- Test architect: designs and implements the overall testing architecture;
- Test manager: oversees and coordinates the team to achieve project goals;
- QA team lead: participates in QA processes, checks status, and manages the team. Often, he deals with management tasks rather than tech ones.
Each of these roles performs specific functions in the quality assurance process based on the organization, project, and QA maturity. Now, let’s switch to QA engineers o understand their specific role better.
Benefits of QA engineers for a software project
Undoubtedly, QA engineers do much more than identify, address, and prevent defects. Here are the main benefits that QAs bring to a project:
- Save costs: by detecting errors in advance in the development process, QA engineers can prevent post-deployment problems and thus reduce the additional costs;
- Accelerate time-to-market: QA testers tend to quickly identify software problems, errors, or inconsistencies and provide prompt solutions, thereby speeding up the overall time to market;
- Ensure compliance: QA testers help ensure software compliance with industry standards and regulatory requirements;
- Mitigate risks and prevent issues: QA can uncover potential security vulnerabilities, compatibility issues, and performance bottlenecks before they affect the software’s functionality;
- Build trust with customers: QAs ensure the delivery of high-quality software that meets security and functional standards and aligns with customers’ goals, thus increasing trust and loyalty.
In general, collaboration with the QA team improves software quality, reduces security risks, and increases product reliability. And as quality engineers carry a great deal of responsibility, it is natural that they face numerous challenges daily.
Challenges faced by QA specialists
Preventing problems before they occur is an indispensable quality of a professional QA specialist. So, it is imperative to consider the possible challenges that may arise. Depending on the project, these problems may differ. Let’s look at the most common ones:
- Communication gaps: miscommunication between the QA team and other team members can result in misunderstandings about requirements, which can negatively impact the final product;
- Limited deadlines: QA testers have to run tests within limited time frames to meet deadlines, so balancing speed with quality can sometimes be challenging;
- Wrong testing estimation: inaccurate estimation may lead to insufficient time for comprehensive QA, which will affect the overall software quality;
- Missing documentation: when documentation is lacking, testers have difficulty understanding a system, requirements, and expected outcomes;
- Inappropriate tools: companies might already own subscriptions or licenses for outdated tools, causing QA testers to be inefficient and introduce potential gaps;
- Tests failing under real user conditions: tests may be successful in a controlled environment (emulators, simulators) but fail in a real user environment. It can negatively affect the user’s experience and their trust.
Solving the challenges described above will streamline the software quality assurance process, making it more result-oriented and less time-consuming.
The role of a quality assurance engineer: responsibilities
After considering the benefits of the role of QA engineers and challenges, let’s look at the primary quality assurance responsibilities in detail:
Analysis of requirements
First and foremost, QA specialists collaborate with stakeholders to understand and analyze software requirements (functional and non-functional). It ensures a clear understanding of what they need to test. In addition, it ensures that testing will be consistent, complete, and executable and that a product can be tested. Once this stage is over, planning begins.
Planning of tests
After testers have understood the requirements, they create a detailed test plan. A test plan should include a software strategy, scope, a project budget, and an established deadline. Apart from that, it requires identifying the testing levels (e.g., integration), test types (functional, etc.), main testing techniques (black-box, white-box, experience-based), and needed resources.
Test monitoring and control
During test monitoring, QA engineers continually compare actual progress to planned progress using metrics defined in the test plan. Test control involves taking measures necessary to satisfy test plan objectives (which may be updated over time). QA engineers monitor and control tests based on exit criteria evaluation that includes:
- Checking test results against specified coverage criteria;
- Assessing the level of component or system quality based on test results;
- Determining if more tests are needed, etc.
QA testers report the testing progress as planned to stakeholders in test progress reports.
Design of test cases
The main question for QA engineer testers in this stage is, “How do you test? With a testing plan, QA specialists design high\low level test cases. A test case refers to a set of actions performed on a system to determine if it meets software requirements and functions, as expected. Their activities include:
- Designing and prioritizing test cases;
- Identifying necessary test data to support test conditions and test cases;
- Designing the test environment and identifying required infrastructure and tools, etc.
The test design may also reveal defects similar to test analysis. At this stage, QA testers set the groundwork for a robust quality assurance process.
Test implementation and setup of testing environment
During the test implementation phase, QAs address the question, “Do we now have everything we need to run the tests?”. QA engineers focus on the following:
- Developing and prioritizing test procedures (creating automated test scripts);
- Creating test suites from the test procedures and (if any) automated test scripts;
- Organizing test suites within a test execution schedule;
- Building the test environment;
- Preparing test data and ensuring it is properly loaded in the test environment.
In many cases, the design and implementation of tests are combined.
Execution of tests
QA engineers execute the test cases created during the test design phase under the test execution schedule. Their activities include:
- Recording the IDs and versions of test items, objects, tools, and testware;
- Performing tests manually or using test execution tools;
- Analyzing actual results compared to expectations;
- Establishing the probable causes of anomalies;
- Reporting defects based on the failures;
- Performing repeated test activities, etc.
QA engineers use the above procedures to validate software functionality and identify anomalies before they become problems in order to address them immediately.
Bug reporting is connected to various stages of software development. QA testers must document test failures and the results they find during the QA process. Reports must describe how the bug can be reproduced and describe the expected behavior. Bug reports need to be detailed and clear so that PMs can properly prioritize them – and, more importantly, developers can figure out exactly how to fix them.
Re-running of tests
QA testers will retest a product to ensure it functions as expected. To achieve this, QA testers use regression testing. It ensures that changes made to correct problems have not led to new ones. It is a good practice to follow the exit criteria approved in the test plan and appropriate to the specific stage. Exit criteria may include:
- A defined level of coverage (e.g., of requirements) has been achieved;
- The number of unresolved defects is within an agreed limit;
- The number of estimated remaining defects is sufficiently low;
- The evaluated levels of reliability, performance, and other quality characteristics are sufficient.
Once problems have been resolved, QAs move to the next stage – test completion.
During the test completion stage, QA testers gather data from completed test activities to consolidate experience, testware, and relevant information. It occurs when a software system is released or a test project is completed. QA testers perform the following activities:
- Check whether all defect reports are closed;
- Create a concise test summary report for stakeholders;
- Finalize and archive the test environment, data, infrastructure;
- Analyze lessons learned to make changes for future releases and iterations;
- Using the data gathered to improve the test process maturity.
QA testers must not only close the loop on specific QA activities but also provide stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of the quality assurance process.
The needed skills of a QA in software development
QA specialists must possess both hard and soft skills to perform their tasks effectively. Here are some of the main ones:
Solid technical knowledge is essential for any QA tester who wants to conduct effective software testing. QA testers need a variety of technical skills and expertise, including:
- Database skills: understanding of database concepts and the ability to write SQL queries to validate data integrity during QA;
- API testing: a solid understanding of RESTful and SOAP applications programming interfaces (APIs);
- Performance testing: using tools to simulate various user loads and conditions to assess the performance of apps;
- Tools: proficiency with different tools to execute various types of tests efficiently;
- Web technologies: understanding web technologies, HTML, and CSS for effectively testing web apps.
Since QA engineers’ responsibilities vary from company to company, skill sets also vary. QA testers’ technical skills need to constantly evolve to handle modern software development’s complexities.
Attention to detail
For effective QA process, the ability to spot all inconsistencies, errors, and deviations is vital. To achieve this, detail-oriented skill is necessary for QAs at different stages of quality assurance. For example, in thorough requirements analysis, this skill ensures robust test cases. During execution, attention to detail catches even subtle defects.
Being a detail-oriented QA specialist is not just about finding bugs, but also about providing accurate documentation. Quality assurance testers with keen attention to detail contribute significantly by uncovering nuanced issues that may go unnoticed. In turn, this increases software reliability.
Analytical thinking is an indispensable skill for proficient testers, involving assessing software and identifying potential problems. As part of defect analysis, testers must identify the root causes of issues to formulate smart QA solutions through client and developer feedback. Thus, analytical thinking enables QA testers to make informed decisions and enhance testing outcomes.
Being flexible is one of the core skills of QA testers. It includes the ability to react quickly to changing requirements and unexpected problems. An adaptable QA tester can seamlessly move from one QA phase to another, adjusting the strategy according to the project’s needs. This skill is essential in an Agile environment where flexibility and responsiveness are paramount.
Excellent communication skill
If you work within a team, being a good team player is one of the responsibilities – QA testers are not an exception. One of the goals of QA testers is to bridge the gap between technical intricacies and collaborative teamwork. So, they need to convey complex tech information to various stakeholders in a way that facilitates collaboration and ensures alignment between them.
Communication helps QA testers accurately inform team members about the quality assurance process, found bugs, gaps in requirements, etc. As a result, accurate information accelerates the debugging process and facilitates smooth problem resolution.
As the software industry constantly evolves, QA engineers must stay abreast of new technologies to succeed. Staying informed about emerging technologies, industry standards, and innovative testing approaches supports continuous learning. This approach helps QA testers tackle the latest challenges, stay relevant, and effectively contribute to project success. Constant learning is not just a skill for QA testers; it is a mindset that fuels professional growth.
Tools that QA testers use
Testers use various tools to ensure that software is reliable, fast, and high-quality. These tools can be divided into three main groups:
Test management tools offer centralized management of test cases, requirements, and defects, enhancing collaboration among team members. Examples include Testmo, testrail, Jira, Bugzilla, and Redmine.
Performance testing tools evaluate a software application’s responsiveness, scalability, and speed. Examples include JMeter, LoadRunner, and Apache Benchmark.
Functional testing tools check individual functions, features, and components for compliance to ensure an app function as intended, such as JMetet, etc. It consists of a wide range of other tools:
- API tools: focus on validating the functionality and performance of application programming interfaces (APIs), such as SoapUI, Postman, and Charles;
- Mobile tools: ensure reliability, compatibility, and overall quality of a mobile app across different devices and operating systems, such as Xcode, and Android Studio;
- Multi-browser tools: assess performance and functionality of an app on different browsers, such as BrowserStack, and Sauce Labs;
- Multi-device tools: testing apps on diverse devices to ensure compatibility across various platforms, such as Perfecto, and Kobiton;
- Databases tools: ensuring the integrity and proper functioning of databases in software, such as MongoDB, and SQL server;
- Automated tools: automate the execution of test cases and assess the performance, functionality, and security of software, such as Selenium, and JUnit.
The tools mentioned above help QA testers greatly enhance their ability to ensure software quality, security, performance, etc. Choosing between them depends on many factors, including a project’s requirements, budget constraints, QA team skills, etc.
What makes software unique? What makes users come back to your product? The answer is quality! Roles and responsibilities of quality assurance include many crucial activities to guarantee software quality and help maintain it over time. To accomplish this, they possess a strong knowledge of QA tools, processes, and technical expertise, combined with analytical skills, attention to detail, and excellent communication. A QA role goes beyond identifying defects; it includes finding solutions, improvement, and ensuring high product quality. Hence, QAs not only save time, improve customer service, and reduce development risks but also drive the long-term success of software.
The role of a QA engineer on a project is critically important for providing the high quality of a software product. QAs play a key role in identifying defects and errors in the software, contributing to the prevention of issues after the product is deployed. They also verify whether the developed product aligns with the specified requirements, which is crucial for expectations of both the customer and users.
The work of QAs is aimed at enhancing the overall quality of the product. They not only identify issues but actively participate in the process of searching for and implementing improvements, thereby contributing to the creation of a more stable and reliable product. Early integration of testing, especially in continuous integration conditions, allows to identify and resolve issues at the early stages of development. It reduces development time and avoids additional costs for fixing issues after product release. Thus, testing conserves the company’s resources and enhances the economic efficiency of the project.
In conclusion, QAs are an essential part of any project, and their role is crucial for ensuring quality and successful development of the software products.