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What Is a QA Engineer?

A picture of a QA engineer doing her job

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QA engineers play a vital role in the software development cycle. And while they understand how to code, run tests, and squash bugs, the QA engineer does so much more. They also communicate, collaborate, and use their business acumen to ensure the end product achieves multiple goals.

So, exactly what is a QA engineer? This guide answers that question and more:

Definition of QA Engineer

A QA engineer plays a critical role in the quality assurance process. Their primary function is to ensure the program works as intended and doesn’t have any bugs or other critical errors. How do they do that? By overseeing the entire software design, testing, and development process.

Though “entire” encompasses many things, some of the chief responsibilities of a QA engineer include designing the automated and manual tests, then analyzing the results to figure out what went right and what went wrong. From there, they can make suggestions to the programmers and developers on what to improve.

How Much Does a QA Engineer Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically track salary information for QA engineers. However, the BLS does report data for software developers, QA testers, and QA analysts as one group. In May 2021, the average annual pay for this job category was $97,710.

Self-reported salary information from Glassdoor is similar. The total pay for QA engineers is anywhere from $83,000 to $92,000 per year across all industries. Early career QA engineers with zero to one year of experience can expect a salary between $74,000 and $76,000 per year.

Salary.com reports that the median salary for QA engineers is approximately $71,00 per year across all industries and years of experience.

What Does a QA Engineer Do?

As noted above, the QA engineer oversees the entire software development process to help ensure the program is bug-free and functions as intended. To accomplish this end goal, they often perform the following tasks:

  • Plan tests and write the code for them
  • Identify and analyze problems
  • Work with developers and programmers to improve the code
  • Track errors and performance metrics
  • Communicate with other teams to understand the product’s intent and how it should function

Though the role is neither a UX nor UI role, QA engineers often make UX or UI suggestions as part of the quality assurance and improvement process.

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And though some QA teams have specific roles for each stage of the QA process (QA tester or QA analyst), not every company does. In some jobs, the QA engineer may also be responsible for running the tests, analyzing the quality assurance process, and even updating the code.

What Industries Do QA Engineers Work In?

The BLS predicts that the job prospects for software developers, QA testers, and QA analysts will increase 25% between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than average. The BLS analysis specifically notes that artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and robotics will fuel the demand.

As companies create more smart products that use sophisticated code, QA engineers will be in demand to ensure the products work as intended.

What Kinds of Jobs Can a QA Engineer Have?

In many respects, the QA engineer role is a mid-level one. Some QA engineers may have started in a tester or analyst role, while others may have begun their career as a software engineer. Either way, QA engineers have some technical experience before starting the job.

Once you’re a QA engineer, you can stay in the role, becoming a senior or lead QA engineer. If you want to continue up the quality assurance career ladder, you can move into more senior-level roles, such as the head of the QA department or a manager.

However, your skills and experiences in the role will also allow you to change careers. Some QA engineers move into a position that uses the skills they already possess, including DevOps, IT management, or security roles. Others take advantage of the transferable skills they’ve developed and move into product management, business analysis, or even customer experience roles.

How to Become a QA Engineer

Unlike other QA roles, QA engineering is generally not entry-level. Most companies want candidates to have some experience working on a quality assurance team or as a software developer because engineers need a deep knowledge of the different testing styles and tools QA teams use.

And while some QA roles don’t require a degree, QA engineers generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer engineering to secure the role. Fortunately, some bootcamps focus on QA engineering to help you fill in any educational gaps you may have.

>>MORE: Best Coding Bootcamps Online for 2023

What Skills Does a QA Engineer Need?

Though QA engineers need extensive hard skills, they also rely on their soft skills — sometimes just as much as their technical abilities.

In addition to understanding multiple programming languages, QA engineers need excellent debugging and troubleshooting skills. They also need analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as a keen attention to detail.

In terms of soft skills, excellent communication and collaboration skills top the list. QA engineers frequently work with other quality assurance team members and developers, and pointing out mistakes and errors requires the right kind of communication. 

But QA engineers also work with teams outside of the software development process. For example, the engineer may confer with the product design team and work with them to understand how the program should look and function. They may also coordinate with the revenue team about how this program fits into the larger product line and supports the company’s bottom line.

And because this role is often in the middle of everything, QA engineers often need stellar leadership skills. They may not be responsible for managing a team, but it’s their job to see the big picture and ensure everyone works toward the same result.

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Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.