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What Does a QA Engineer Do? Job Overview & Skill Expectations

Written By Ryan Loftus | June 28, 2022

In 2020, low software quality cost companies in the United States $2.08 trillion. Given that the U.S. GDP makes up 24.7% of the global economy, that impact worldwide is likely around $8.41 trillion.

Quality assurance is a vital role in the software development industry. Software applications are only effective if they’re functional, reliable, and free of errors. 

QA engineers are responsible for the mission-critical testing of the performance of companies’ software. In this post, we break down the statistics, job requirements, and responsibilities of a career in QA engineering.

What Does a QA Engineer Do?

The concept of quality assurance isn’t a recent trend. As long as human beings have been building things, we’ve been concerned with the quality of our work. In that sense, the fundamentals of quality assurance are thousands of years old. 

Quality assurance as a business practice originated from trade guilds in the Middle Ages. It then matured into its modern form during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and during wartime production in the First and Second World Wars.

Today, software quality assurance is an advancing discipline concerned with ensuring the delivery of software products or services at a consistent standard of quality. QA (quality assurance) engineers are responsible for preventing, identifying, and eliminating defects in applications. 

Individual QA engineers are responsible for one of the four quality assurance functions:

  • Test analysis: interpreting and testing static requirements
  • Test design: creating tests based on software specifications
  • Test execution: performing tests and documenting their results
  • Test management: overseeing all testing activities

On a more technical level, the core job responsibilities of QA engineers include:

  • Working with stakeholders to delivery software that meets quality standards
  • Creating comprehensive software testing plans and cases 
  • Identifying and recording software bugs
  • Finding solutions to bugs
  • Developing automation scripts and tools
  • Overseeing the debugging process
  • Keeping up-to-date with advancements in technology

What Kinds of Companies Hire QA Engineers?

Any company that produces software will need to hire QA engineers to monitor the quality level of their work. With companies in every industry becoming increasingly driven by technology, the demand and opportunities for QA engineers continues to grow. The top sectors hiring for QA engineers include:

  • Fortune 500: 30%
  • Technology: 23%
  • Finance: 7%
  • Professional Services: 6%
  • Internet: 5%
  • Telecommunication: 5%
  • Manufacturing: 4%
  • Media: 3%

Types of QA Engineer Positions

The titles QA engineers hold vary drastically, depending on their experience, education, and company. The title of a graduate from a coding bootcamp might look different than a candidate with a four-year degree. And the role of a QA engineer in a small startup will be different than at a 5,000 person company.

At the beginning of their career, a QA engineer will start out with an entry-level role, like junior QA engineer or quality assurance analyst. A new QA engineer usually works in one of these roles for one to three years.

From there, they’ll have the opportunity to move into more senior-level and specialized roles with hands-on engineering experience. QA engineering job titles include: 

  • Software quality assurance (SQA) engineer
  • Quality systems engineer
  • Quality assurance specialist
  • Test engineer
  • QA engineering lead
  • Software test engineer (STE)

While they spend several years honing their skills, their responsibilities expand to include taking ownership of projects, working independently in a team environment, and mentoring project team members.

With some experience under their belt, a QA engineer often faces a crossroads in their career having to choose between a few paths. 

The first path is to pivot into people and team management functions. Hiring, mentoring, resource planning and allocation, strategy, and operations become a larger component of the responsibilities of QA engineers pursuing this career path. At the higher levels of an organization, these job functions might include:

  • QA Testing Manager
  • QA Engineering Manager
  • Director of Quality Assurance
  • Data Operations Manager
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The second possible career path is to continue as an individual contributor. Many QA engineers opt to continue their careers as individual contributors, enjoying equally fulfilling careers and developing deeper technical expertise in various languages and frameworks.

The third possible career path is to transition out of quality assurance into a related field, such as software development, business analysis, DevOps, customer experience, or product management. Because the responsibilities of quality assurance intersect with multiple technical disciplines, QA engineers are well-positioned to transition to a career in a different field that interests them.

Salary Comparisons & Job Outlook

On average, QA engineers receive highly competitive compensation packages. However, data sources on technical salaries often present vastly different, and at times conflicting, numbers at both a regional and global level. Estimates of total compensation for QA engineers in the U.S. range from $103,040 to $140,000.

Junior QA engineers can expect to occupy a lower salary band at the beginning of their career. In contrast, senior positions provide a higher average compensation, though data for this specific salary band is hard to find. Industry and company size also affect the salary band dramatically.

Current market conditions have made technical salaries especially volatile. Because of this, public salary data may be low or out of date. Total compensation packages, including equity and bonuses, are also changing rapidly. Hiring teams will need to conduct their own research to identify salary bands based on their company’s requirements and the technical needs of the role.

The job outlook for QA engineers is equally promising. As long as there are companies building software, there will be a demand for engineers with the skills to test that software. 

From 2020 to 2030, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of employed software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers in the U.S. to grow by 22 percent — and that includes QA engineers. Specifically, there will be 308,390 new QA engineer jobs filled by 2029.

Requirements to Becoming a QA engineer

Technical Skills

QA engineers use a range of programming languages to create, run, and automate quality test. These include, to name a few:

  • Python
  • Java
  • Ruby
  • C++
  • C#
  • Perl
  • PHP

QA engineers also use a number of tools and frameworks. The exact technologies they’ll work with depend on the role or specialization. These include: 

It’s worth noting that there’s a degree of fluidity to the technologies that QA engineers use. A framework that’s in demand today might be outdated a year from now.

Soft Skills

Technical competency alone isn’t enough to succeed in a QA engineering role. Mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills are a must in any technical role. And soft skills are even more critical in a digital-first or digital-only environment.

Employers may have a preference for QA engineers with strong soft skills, such as:

  • Time management
  • Communication
  • Project management
  • Problem solving

Experience & Education

After competency, the most important qualification for QA engineers is experience. On-the-job experience and training is a critical requirement for many employers.

Then, there’s the question of education. Statistically, 71% of QA engineers have a bachelor’s degree and 17% have a master’s degree. Many employers still require QA engineering candidates to have four-year degrees. 

But competition for skilled QA engineers is fierce, and it’s common for job openings requiring degrees to go unfilled. There are simply not enough engineers with degrees to fill thousands of open roles out there. Companies looking to hire QA engineers will have access to a much larger pool of talent and achieve their data initiatives if they recognize other forms of education and experience. 

Resources for Hiring QA Engineers

Developer Hiring Solutions

HackerRank Projects for QA Engineering

[Checklist] Key Skills of an Effective QA Engineer

How to Assess Selenium Skills on HackerRank

6 Things Developers Wish Technical Recruiters Knew