Project Manager at computer examining code and working on project

One of the most critical steps in the software design and development process is also one of the least discussed. QA testing is a process that helps ensure what designers ideated and developers built works as envisioned. But how can you break into QA testing, and what does a QA tester career path look like?

Before software is released to users, QA testers run the app or platform through its paces, working through any new features or changes to verify reliability and security. It’s often an exhaustive process.

QA testing is also a great way to earn experience in tech. Once considered a last step before a product release, QA testing is now applied throughout the development process to catch issues early. QA testers are often able to work with developers and engineers on planning and executing fixes for any problems that arise in testing.

We spoke to a few experts about the QA tester’s career path, and how to get started on your journey through tech.

What Skills Do QA Testers Need to Know?

For those just starting out in QA testing (or considering a career in it), keep in mind that companies expect you to know the principles of software development. You’ll also need to know at least some of the tools that allow QA testers to evaluate software, including (but not limited to):

While not every QA tester knows all tools, try to become as familiar with these as possible. There are also some online resources that will teach you the fundamentals of QA testing, including (but again, not limited to):

Learning how to code and test can also come in useful, since QA testers must often create tests and figure out how to efficiently automate processes. JavaScript and SQL can prove useful for scripting and database-related work, along with knowledge of backend processes and API testing.

Do QA Testers Need a Degree?

“A degree is not essential for a QA position,” says Dmitrii Bormotov, Head of QA at Ottofeller. “As someone with a Bachelor's degree in Applied Informatics, I can say that university degrees only provide basic knowledge, such as how to interact with databases and/or Linux command-line interface, and how to develop simple desktop/web applications.”

Rob Petrin, Lead Front End Developer at Astute Communications, agrees. “Across my experience as both a QA tester and someone who’s hired for similar positions, a degree in the field is not absolutely necessary,” he tells Dice. “In my experiences as a tester, it was before I completed undergrad—where I ended up graduating with a degree in a completely unrelated field. For entry-level testers, I don’t feel that a degree is necessary, and can often make you overqualified and hyper-specialized.”

It's not uncommon to see an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree mentioned in a job posting, even if it isn’t attached to a specific field. “For entry-level positions, the field of study is less pertinent to the rigors of the actual position, and more the opportunity for advancement by the person filling that role if interests, education, and skills overlap with the job they're performing in whichever industry,” Petrin adds.

Cindy Francês, QA Manager at arctouch, says that, while a degree isn’t mandatory, it could help you land a job:

‘A degree is not required or even necessary to get a job as a QA Tester, although it can certainly be advantageous, especially when you’re just starting. When I am hiring, and I see a potential candidate has a degree, it demonstrates to me that they have a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that are relevant. In addition, it shows your proactivity and interest in learning and developing yourself.’

If You Don’t Need a Degree, What About a QA Internship?

“Internships can be a great way to enter the quality testing division of a company and acquire valuable practical experience,” adds Francês. “Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects and gain hands-on experience with different types of software testing and methodologies [is valuable]. Not only that but building relationships with other professionals (networking) can lead to future job offers and recommendations.”

Internships sound great, but they’re not always available. “Finding internships as a QA tester can be challenging,” says Bormotov. “However, if you are at the beginning of your career as a QA tester, it can be beneficial to gain commercial experience through internships.”

Petrin says he advises those in “almost every field” to seek out internships, which can lead to more career opportunities down the line. “Internships and entry-level positions are a great foot in the door, regardless of whether or not you see yourself working in QA throughout your career. I’ve witnessed and experienced a number of talented developers and managers rise up in the ranks via the path of QA internships and entry-level roles.”

What's the Right Type of "First Job" for a QA Tester?

Bormotov tells Dice the QA manual job title may be best for those just entering the field:

‘Typically, a "QA Manual" position is a good starting point for newcomers in the field of QA testing. This position does not require writing code and provides an opportunity to learn the basics of quality assurance processes. Once you have a solid foundation in manual testing, you can easily move on to other roles.’

You can also look for QA jobs well beyond the tech industry. As companies everywhere scramble to build out and refine their tech stacks, someone who wants to become a QA tester can find positions in any number of industries and subindustries, including healthcare and manufacturing.

“For me, it was testing medical practice management software,” Petrin says about his first role in tech. “It was monotonous data entry, creating and validating patient data across a number of reports and scenarios. I work primarily for the web now, and there’s always a need for mildly tech-savvy people to serve as a set of eyeballs for the QA of websites, web apps, and traditional applications.”

Ultimately, your choice of first job along your QA tester career path will hinge on your personal aspirations and interests. “I believe the right type of ‘first job’ for a QA Tester will depend on their skills, interests, and career goals, says Francês. “At ArcTouch, QA testers start as junior professionals, an entry-level position that offers the opportunity to work with experienced QAs and developers to learn how to work well on a commercial software development team. This role will teach them the fundamentals of manual and automated testing.”

In an entry-level role, a QA tester will learn how to manually test software applications and evaluate that a piece of software meets the company’s requirements. This is also when testers learn the nuances of building and launching automated test scripts. If they haven’t picked up extensive programming knowledge yet, this is the time to do so—especially Python and JavaScript.

Do Certifications Matter for QA Testers?

“Definitely,” Francês exuberates. “Even though certifications are not always necessary to get a job as a QA tester, they can be incredibly valuable because they demonstrate your expertise and proficiency.” When hiring, Francês likes candidates who have certifications, “because it shows that they are willing to go above and beyond, have passion for the field, and continuously seek knowledge to improve their craft.”

Some top certifications for QA testers include:

“The most well-known certification for QA Testers is ISTQB,” notes Bormotov, but it’s one he’s not a fan of: “While it can be useful in some respects, it mostly covers redundant theory. While some theoretical knowledge, such as test design techniques and test types, is necessary for the job, most of the material covered in certifications may not be applicable in real-world projects.”

Petrin also doesn’t believe that QA certifications are critical to success: “These certifications are more applicable to people making a career out of QA, and in which case they should be mandated and funded by an employer. You can really shoot yourself in the foot by proactively seeking a certification, since having one often dictates a higher salary. If it doesn’t come with the commensurate experience, particularly if you’re seeking to join a new company where you haven’t worked before, that can be a detriment to your attractiveness as a candidate since they don't know your work ethic.”

How Can a QA Tester Keep Their Skillset Up-to-Date?

“Independent research, separate from any certifications, is the best way to stay on top of the field,” advises Petrin. “The two primary areas I would advise for research are testing automation (and how to make it work for you) and general ‘career ladder’ progression in the field of quality assurance. QA is an ever-changing field, and making a habit out of staying current is the only way to ensure you’re continuing to progress and gain new skills.”

Francês tells Dice that networking can make a difference: “Be an active participant in online communities such as forums, blogs, and social media groups; attend conferences and events, and connect with other professionals. This will keep your knowledge current and even give you support when you are stuck. Share what you learn internally at your company.”


Related QA Tester Jobs Resources:

How To Become a QA Tester

QA Tester Resume Template