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What is a QA engineer and what do they do?

If you’re learning about the world of software development, you may have read something about QA engineers. But what is a QA engineer exactly, and why are they so important?

In this article, we’ll look at software development through the eyes of a QA engineer and understand more about this key role.

What is quality assurance?

The first step to understanding what a QA engineer does is to understand what QA is. Software quality assurance (QA) involves working with developers to ensure that everyone working on a software project follows the same rules, processes, and testing requirements.

Typically, software QA focuses on ensuring compliance with:

  • Project-specific standards, including the scope of work
  • Company policies and standards
  • External standards, such as ISO standards

The primary goal of a QA engineer is to ensure that the end-product does what the client wants it to do and that the underlying software follows established policies and procedures.

QA engineers love breaking things

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But, as one of our community members, Pablo, puts it, QA engineers love asking, “What if I do this….” While software developers typically work with well-defined instructions and specifications, the role of the QA engineer is a bit more open. QA engineers want to find non-ideal situations and ensure that the software can handle these situations without crashing or resulting in a wrong output.

Suppose that a client wants you to develop a photo-sharing app. What happens if you try to send a PDF file instead of an image file? What happens if the file is too big? What happens if you suddenly lose the signal while uploading or downloading a photo? These are some of the situations that a QA engineer might explore.

Of course, it’s impossible to design software that can handle every foreseeable situation or input. However, QA engineers use their experience and judgment to identify the most likely situations and focus on those.

Why QA engineers are so valuable: 5 key roles

Though they’re not always as visible as the rest of the development team, QA engineers quietly keep projects running and clients happy. Below are five critical roles of a QA engineer:

1. Defining the testing environment

Imagine that you’re working on a small development project with one or two other people. Each of you is responsible for developing a piece of the software that interacts with the other parts. It’s relatively easy for two or three of you to work together and develop enough test cases to ensure each piece of the software works together with the other components, but what about when you need to bring together software created by dozens of developers? Large development teams look to QA engineers to create a test plan to ensures that all the pieces work together seamlessly in the end product.

From the client’s perspective, software should look and work as if a single developer created it, and QA engineers help make that happen.

2. Keeping an eye on the requirements and scope of work

When a development project involves multiple team members working on a small part of the software, it can be challenging to understand how changes in the project requirements or scope affect each team member and individual test cases. QA engineers understand how each software piece fits together within the whole project and adjust test plans to meet the client’s requirements.

Even after the end product is presented to the client, QA engineers still play a vital role in working with the client during acceptance testing. The QA engineer helps identify, analyze, and classify issues as they come up, and they update the test plan to address these issues.

4. Bringing an objective set of eyes to the software project

Have you ever worked so long and hard on a project that you consider it “your baby?” So have we. It’s okay to be proud of your work, but there’s also a downside to this. After putting in so many hours and so much effort into a complex project, software developers can become attached to the end product and be willing to overlook minor flaws and bugs when it comes to testing.

But what if the end product isn’t what the client is looking for? This is where QA engineers come in. Without any role in directly developing the software, QA engineers can provide a fresh, objective review of the software, its functions, and its flaws. What might seem like a minor bug to the developer could be unacceptable to the client, and QA engineers are there to keep everyone focused on the project requirements.

Even when the software has no bugs, QA engineers serve as peer reviewers to ensure that the software is efficient.

5. Keeping the development team in line with company policies

A lot of software companies have policies that guide development projects. For example, there might be company rules about interoperability, resource utilization, modifications, documentation, or user interface aesthetics. QA engineers ensure that development projects always comply with company policies. This is particularly important when the company is certified with an external standard such as ISO 25010 or SPICE. Losing these certifications could lead to canceled contracts or even legal trouble for the company. This is yet another reason why QA engineers are key players in any serious software company.

How do you become a QA engineer?

If you’re interested in a career in QA engineering, you’re probably wondering what it takes to get started. Codecademy Community member Pablo, who we heard from above, offers up some great advice in the Codecademy Forums.

As you continue your journey in advancing your career as a developer, we hope you’ll add “QA engineer” as another possible path. Even from behind the scenes, they play an essential role in software development.

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What is a QA engineer and what do they do?
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