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What Is a QA Tester?

A picture of a QA tester performing their role

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Quality assurance is a process that helps ensure a software program functions flawlessly (or close to it). Though their work often occurs during the early stages, a QA tester has a significant impact on the end product. But what is QA testing, and what does a QA tester do? This guide breaks it all down.

QA Tester Definition

The quality assurance (QA) process consists of many phases, but QA testers are often the first people to interact with the software. It’s their job to identify and document all the bugs in the program.

Though a QA tester performs much of their work early in the software development process, their job often has a large impact on the product. Because a QA tester acts as the end user, they are, in a sense, customer advocates. Thanks to all the work they do QA testing the product, QA testers help ensure the company ships a product that works as expected and satisfies customers.

How Much Does a QA Tester Make? 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) treats QA analysts and testers as one group. As of May 2021, the average pay for this grouping was $97,710 per year, but this figure also includes software developers. 

Self-reported QA tester salary information from Glassdoor indicates that the average yearly pay for a QA tester with zero to one year of experience is approximately $59,000 per year. QA testers with seven to nine years of experience make approximately $76,000 per year. Salary.com states that the average salary for a QA tester is roughly $75,000 per year but can fall between about $66,000 and $83,000 per year.

What Is QA Testing?

QA testing is the process of testing and retesting a software program to ensure it works. The tester finds the bugs, documents them, then sends the software back to the developers for improvement. This process can repeat through several iterations until the program functions as intended.

There are two types of QA testing: manual and automated. 

In most cases, QA testers perform manual testing. They push the buttons, scroll through the pages, and perform all the acts the end user eventually will. This ensures the final product works as intended and doesn’t frustrate anyone interacting with it.

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However, the manual process can be tedious. Therefore, some testers incorporate automated testing to free up their time for other important tasks (like documenting their findings). Though there are some automated tools, some testers write code to perform automated tests.

Though a QA tester’s role is mainly bug hunting, they play a much larger role in the company’s reputation management. By ensuring the products work properly before they are released to the public, QA testers protect the company’s brand reputation.

A Typical QA Tester Day

If being a QA tester sounds boring or routine, think again. “It’s hard to know what a day looks like for a tester,” says Angela McMaster, junior quality analyst at Forage.

Though you’ll know what tasks you have to accomplish each day and likely have a process you need to follow, as the first person encountering bugs and other unexpected issues, every day is probably a little different.

That said, you’ll likely attend a fair number of meetings. A large part of a tester’s job is collaborating and communicating with the programmers and other teams throughout the company. You’ll also spend time documenting your findings and sharing that information with the rest of the team.

What Industries Do QA Testers Work In?

According to the BLS, the employment prospects for QA analysts and QA testers is projected to grow 25% between 2021 and 2031 across all industries. This is likely because many industries use a variety of tools and software in their daily work. Some use the QA process to vet and test products outside of software, and others develop their own software that needs QA testing.

    What Kinds of Jobs Can a QA Tester Have?

    In general, a QA tester tests software programs for bugs. And though many roles are entry-level, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in an entry-level position throughout your career if you love what you do.

    Rebecca Arrenius, QA manager at Forage, notes that there are various levels of quality assurance. “Entry-level, junior, QA, senior, QA lead, and QA manager are common ones,” she says. So, in terms of QA tester jobs, you could start as an entry-level tester, move into a junior or senior role, and eventually become a manager overseeing other testers.

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    It’s also important to note that at some companies, “QA” is one big department, team, or even function. In these cases, you may be a QA tester, QA analyst, and even a QA engineer. It just depends on how the employer views the function and divides the work.

    How to Get QA Testing Jobs

    You may think you need a lot of testing experience or technical abilities — or both! — to get a job in QA testing. But that’s not always the case. Arrenius was worried she’d need more technical knowledge before she started her QA career. But many QA teams seek out QA testers at all skill and experience levels because people using the product often have different skill and experience levels as well. Hiring people with minimal experience can result in a tester finding bugs a more experienced person may have overlooked.

    That said, to become a QA tester, learning more about the specific industry you want to work in can give you an advantage in the hiring process. For example, if you want to work on project management software, learning more about the project management industry can help you develop a deeper understanding of the kinds of features and tools that will and won’t be useful to users. 

    But depending on the type of testing you want to do, you may need certain skills or education. “For automation, you would need some sort of degree or have developed necessary coding skills,” Arrenius explains. 

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    She also says certifications can be beneficial for helping demonstrate you understand what it takes to be a QA tester. “I have International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) and Certified Software Testing Engineer (CSTE) certifications.”

    But not possessing certifications, degrees, or even experience isn’t necessarily a barrier to becoming a tester. 

    “Our current junior QA did not have any experience at all,” says Arrenius. “She had the right personality and attention to detail and we hired her as an intern. She’s doing her certification on the side and is receiving on the job training. A lot of expertise is gained through product knowledge.”

    What Skills Does a QA Tester Need?

    While attention to detail is a necessary skill, Arrenius says that a love of problem-solving and processes are also crucial to on-the-job success. 

    Processes, in particular, matter in a QA role. There are likely rules, steps, and procedures you must do each and every time you test something, even if it’s the millionth time you’ve tested this exact feature. If you don’t follow the process exactly, you may miss something critical.

    Interestingly, a QA tester also needs excellent written skills. Why? A large portion of the job involves extensively documenting the bugs you identify. It’s not up to the tester to offer a fix, but stating clearly and concisely what is wrong is a critical part of the job. Without that information, the product may never be released or work properly!

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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.