5 Key Elements to Get Started as a Quality Assurance Specialist
Discover the recommended paths, essential requirements, and must-have certifications to launch yourself into the world of software testing and quality control.
May 30, 2023 | 10 min read
Quality assurance specialists (QA) are integral to software development, ensuring that the end product meets the quality standards and that the app is usable in the real world. If your goal is to begin your career in software testing, or if you're considering a job move, you’ll first have to decide which path to take.
By and large, quality assurance specialist jobs take three broad paths and a few more niche specializations. Web application, desktop, and mobile QA testing are broad fields while gaming, security and automation testing are more narrowly focused. Each path has unique requirements, though many of the skills overlap and can cross over if you decide to pivot. Quality assurance specialist jobs tend to offer a lucrative average salary and secure job growth.
Generally, to begin as a quality assurance specialist, you should be familiar with SQL, SDLC, and GIT, as well as analytical skills such as recognizing quality data and testing data transfer architecture. Soft skills are also vital to a successful quality assurance career. Additionally, certifications like the ISTQB Foundation Level and the ISQTB Agile Tester Foundation can help you learn the basics, boost your skills and add them to your resume.
This article will outline some hints to getting started as a quality assurance specialist and tips for success in the business.
As you start out on your journey to become a QA specialist, you’ll have to decide on an industry area to focus on. In quality assurance, some of the most popular paths involve working with web, mobile and desktop applications. These are in-demand Quality Assurance specialist skills many companies hire for readily and ones you can apply to a range of quality assurance specialist jobs.
By contrast, there are also more specific quality assurance activities you can take as well as you develop your career. Game testing, security testing and automation testing are a few of the further specializations as you advance.
Each of these paths has slightly different requirements that sometimes overlap, but certainly having their own distinct methods and challenges.
Regardless of which position you choose, however, SQL query language basics are requirements for all of them. Being able to pull data out of a structured database is vital to checking if a snippet of code is secure and stable. Even if you rely on tools to run automated tests, you should still have a grasp on how to run SQL queries manually.
As an aspiring tester either starting your career or changing from another job, you should be familiar with the software development life cycle, or SLDC. Knowing the difference between Waterfall and Agile as well as some of the Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban can set you apart in interviews. Anticipating some of the quality assurance activities and interview questions you’ll likely face will set you up for a successful interview.
For example, you may be asked to compare and contrast the two or describe why one is better. Waterfall, after all, is mainly for very large IT systems, where short-term growth is not as important as the execution of a long-term plan. Agile teams, on the other hand, place flexibility and frequent contact with the stakeholders as the most important aspect.
GIT is a version control system that you can use to share code with your team. GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket are the programs the majority of the industry uses. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the basic commands and get a feel for the software. The Git Command Explorer is a great resource to get started.
Understanding SOAP API and REST API is also vital to aspiring QA testers. Of course, SOAP is the older of the two systems, but sectors like banking still use it and so you may run into it in your career. On the other hand, REST API is the most common form currently. GraphQL is up and coming and so a broad understanding may also set you apart. In terms of knowledge, Postman's documentation is by far the best resource for writing quality tests out there to learn more.
Apart from technical quality control and assurance activities, many companies also screen for soft skills — good communication skills and collaboration. A junior can go through on-the-job training for many technical things, such as dev tools. But demonstrating effective soft skills can often mean the difference between breaking into the industry or not when you’re on the short list of candidates.
Highly skilled candidates who can’t work on a team are not as valuable to an organization as less experienced candidates who can. Quality assurance specialist work relies on teamwork.
Among the most sought-after soft skills are:
Willingness to learn (always the 1:3 rule — if I can’t find the answer in one part of the time, I save the other three and go ask someone more experienced)
Ability to prioritize and manage time. The Pomodoro technique is one we recommend
Of course, it’s worth remembering that the job description of a QA specialist is a person whose main task is to make sure the quality standards of the software is the best it can be as it launches to the world. It’s not just about running quality tests and finding bugs. Sometimes up to half of quality assurance specialist responsibilities are creating documentation for tests, audit reports, reporting bugs and proposing process improvements.
For this reason, it’s crucial to understand quality standards and the classification of test documentation — at least to know the terms such as test case, test scenario, test run, test cycle, or test plan and how they differ from each other.
The basics of bug reporting are also important, but you can learn those in many of the certification courses we outline below. An additional plus is that you can learn about BrowserStack software, which testers use every day and which makes it easier to test the quality standards of same web and mobile applications on different devices without the need for actual devices.
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There are many certification courses to get you started, here are our picks for the best ones on the market. Opinions differ, of course, but these are the ones we find most useful.
The ISTQB foundation level is a must-have if you’re a total beginner. It gives two tangible gains. First, it teaches industry basics regarding the SDLC and quality, standards and safety regulations as well as introduces you to the vocabulary so that in future work you’ll have no problem understanding your colleagues. In addition, it shows recruiters and hiring managers that you’re doing something on your own, increasing your working knowledge in the field.
A novelty on the Polish market (less so around the world), which tells a lot about what production and QA work looks like in agile systems the basic course, however, mainly focuses on waterfall methodologies and treats agile as a minor novelty. Even if you decide not to get certified, it is 100% worth reading the preparatory syllabus, which is free to download on the ISTQB Agile Tester page.
When you have a job and you feel whether it is definitely something that attracts you and you feel good in it, then you can 100% think about something else, while for the very beginning, limit yourself to the two above.
Perhaps the most obvious, yet often overlooked resource is YouTube. A wealth of knowledge exists on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth browsing to learn about quality assurance specialist responsibilities, key skills and career path. The multitude of courses, reviews, and information on not only the basics of testing, but also the software for it is incredible. The only downside? The quality of the courses on YouTube can be hit or miss.
Udemy also has several tester courses to increase your working knowledge that are worth it in our view. There is a lot of valuable knowledge there that’s organized much better and goes into more detail than courses on YouTube. However, there’s a lot of repetition. Some of the paid courses can overlap and you could end up paying twice for modules you don’t really need.
It's definitely worth taking a look and never (seriously never) buying two courses on the same subject. Be sure to look for the longest courses available with the most exercises. After all, if you’re going to pay, you should get the most out of it.
This final product may surprise you, but Open AI’s ChatGPT will likely be the future in both the developer and QA worlds. Much of what QA testers do already relies on automation and has for several years. As AI evolves, its role will only get bigger. However, as in any AI, the devil is in the details and so good inputs from people who understand what they’re asking the program to do.
As it stands, ChatGPT is a powerful tool that allows you to gain a powerful amount of knowledge if you know how to ask for it. Creating test documentation? Worth asking. What is the difference between SOAP and REST API? The answer is in one place. The main pros and cons of waterfall and scrum? Nothing simpler.
Currently, the tool is still free and some of the only problems are getting in at peak hours. Of course, the AI spits out information that's only as good as what you put in, so also prompts with a lot of detail are really important.
Be aware that the program does spit out false information so be sure not to rely on the AI too heavily, but it’s a great way to organize your thoughts and can be a starting point to expand upon.
Quality assurance specialists lead gainful careers with a high average salary and so if you're trying to break into the field, consider which path to take. Whether you choose web application, desktop, mobile, gaming, security, or automation testing, there are fundamental skills and knowledge you need to acquire, including familiarity with SQL, SDLC, and GIT, and understanding testing APIs. However, soft skills are also crucial, such as effective communication, problem-solving, and attention to detail.
Certifications like the ISTQB Foundation Level or the ISQTB Agile Tester Foundation can enhance your quality assurance knowledge and add value to your resume. With the tips outlined in this article, you can be ready to set out on your job ensuring product quality. Polish up your quality assurance specialist resume and set yourself up for success in your first quality assurance specialist job.
Table of Content
- 1. Directions for QA
- 2. General Requirements for Quality Assurance Specialists
- SQL Basics
- Knowledge of SDLC
- GIT Basics
- Ability to Test the Application Programming Interface
- Soft Skills
- 3. Quality Assurance Specialist Responsibilities
- 4. Certifications to Start as a Quality Assurance Specialist
- ISTQB Foundation Level
- ISTQB Agile Tester
- Other Certifications
- 5. Resources to Learn More
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