What is a QA Enginer?

You may have noticed on your neighborhood software development team a few people where coding the product isn’t their main role. They aren’t artists, so you know they aren’t web designers on the User Experience team designing the user interface. They don’t usually gather the initial business requirements, so they aren’t business analysts. And every other word they talk about contains the word “test”: Test Matrix, browser testing, test strategies, test cases, test scripts, regression testing.

They are the Software Quality Assurance Engineers.

Yes, quality is everybody’s job, but the QA Engineers are responsible for keeping the software testing effort and the SQA process running smoothly. Quality exists in the minds of all the major stakeholders vested in the software product everyone is attempting to build.

  • They try to keep the wants and needs of the end-user in mind, the person who is going to use the product. Is the product usable? Is it intuitive? Would it work with all the different browsers, platforms and mobile devices required?
  • They try to keep the wants and needs of the software company in mind: Hitting all the major milestones, attempting to estimate testing time correctly, and attempting to fit testing new functionality before the two week cycle (if using the Agile method), and attempting to finish regression testing on time — testing again that adding the new stuff didn’t break the old stuff just before the product gets shipped.
  • They work directly with the software developers to see if there are any technological pitfalls, and with the designers of the user interface to make sure that the elements on the screen translate well across web browsers and mobile devices.

The QA Engineer does more than just software testing. They are also involved in software quality assurance. Software testing is actually testing the product while software quality assurance is the process of coming up with and executing software testing.

What are the types of software testing?

Let me come up with an example of how an individual can test a program:

Let’s say you have your typical Login Screen on a web page. It has a textbox labelled: “Username”, another one labelled “Password”, and a button labelled “Login”.

How would you go about testing it?

Functional Testing

You could test the functionality of the page:

  • What happens if you enter a valid username and password, and select the Login button? Does it log you into the system with the correct user type (admin, superuser, user), showing you the correct landing page?
  • What happens if you enter an invalid username and password? Does the error message show up in red underneath the Login button (if that is how it had been designed) or is the error message a clunky popup?
  • Is the username supposed to be an email address? If so, what happens if you leave out the @, or .com / .net / .edu / .uk /.io / etc, does it clue the user into what is the correct format?
  • Does the username and password text boxes allow enough characters to be entered?
  • What happens if you log in and the server is down: Do you inform the user, handling the error gracefully, or is there a white page with “Error 404”?

User Interface Testing

You could perform UI testing:

  • Does the page layout match exactly what the User Experience team / Web Designer has designed? Are you sure? This includes whitespace between textboxes, logos, designs. Font sizes, and font colors, checking the text on the labels and the text on the buttons.

Browser Testing

You could perform browser testing on various web browsers and platforms:

  • Does the Login page look the same in Chrome, Firefox, IE 9, Safari on the Mac, or when using an iPad, iPhone, or Android mobile device?

Database Testing

You could do database testing for their SQL Server, Oracle, mySQL, or Mongo NoSQL database:

  • Does the database capture “Last Login Time” for a user? If so, is that field populated with the new data? And is it stored in the requested format (YYYY-MM-DD) or in the requested time zone if the time of login is also captured? Query the database field in SQL.

Security Testing:

You could perform security testing, emulating a hacker attempting to hack into the system:

  • When an attempt to log in fails, you probably don’t want to tell someone that the username is valid, but it is the password failed.
  • What happens if someone attempts to enter SQL code into the username textbox such as “@DROP TABLES MEMBER”, does the code get executed?
  • What happens if someone enters <script>alert(“Cross-Site Scripting Test”)</script> does a pop up window display?
  • Are successful logins and login failures shown in the website error logs?
  • After five or so unsuccessful login attempts, do you lock them out of the system and force them to get a new password, if that is the security protocol?

Acceptance Criteria Testing

You could test it according to what features and functionality the business analyst wanted to put on the login screen:

  • If according to the spec there is supposed to be a “Forgot Password” link, and it is not there, it is also a bug.

Performance Testing:

You could do Performance Testing, seeing what happens if the website gets the amount of traffic people expect it to get:

  • How long does it take for the Login screen to display or to be logged in?
  • What happens if many people are attempting to log in at the same time?

… All of these tests could be performed as manual testing, meaning that you as a software tester could perform all of these actions just as an end user would, interacting with the Login screen with a browser, a mouse, and a keyboard. No programming necessary. You may need to know SQL to do database testing, but you don’t get to practice coding in your day-to-day activity.

Now, what is Software Quality Assurance?

Software Quality Assurance is the part of the process that happens both before and after the software testing. Quality isn’t just trying to figure out whether something works or not. It should meet or exceed the expectations of all the major stakeholders. It involves:

  • Examining the business requirements of a new piece of functionality that the business analyst drafted. Make sure it is clear, concise, with each of the requirements being testable.
  • Working with the software developers to see if there are any technological pitfalls behind-the-scenes where QA Engineer should proceed with caution.
  • Drafting a test plan giving a bird’s eye view of what is about to be tested: Hardware, software, etc, if needed, and get the major stakeholders to sign off on it.
  • Drafting a test script in MS Word or MS Excel the testing scenarios you are going to cover and what actions the tester needs to do, step-by-step. Have a QA peer-review and a team review of the script. Integrate the parts of the new functionality into the master test script for that component, giving you a regression test script.
  • Performing a smoke test or an acceptance test on any web app deployed to the QA Test environment.
  • Manually executing the script on the required browsers, platforms or mobile devices.
  • Checking to see if operating the web app seems intuitive enough to the end user.
  • Writing bug reports if a bug is found: Description of what is found, steps how to duplicate the bug, screenshots of any UI issues, or error logs uploaded and attached to the bug report.
  • Performing regression testing just before the release of the web app: When the new functionality was created, did it damage any of the old functionality? Execute all the tests that you have for the web app, running all the regression test scripts.
  • Making sure that you hit all milestones and deadlines. If you only have two weeks to design, code, and test the new functionality of a web app and isn’t deployed to QA a day before the deadline, you have a problem.

And that’s what a QA Engineer is!

Thomas F. Maher, Jr (“T.J.”) has been a Software Quality Assurance Engineer since 1996, and has been blogging about automation development with Adventures in Automation for the past two years.

T.J. is a co-organizer of the new Ministry of Testing — Boston Meetup. Say hello to him on Twitter ( @tjmaher1 ) if your company wishes to sponsor a Boston area Meetup event.

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