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Are you on the right quality assurance career path?

When you're a QA tester, there are several career paths open to you. Expert and tester Amy Reichert offers her advice on making the smartest choices.

The quality assurance career path is varied. As with most careers, it's essential to continue to build skills....

Of course, skills tend to build over time. During the first five years as a QA tester, you'll learn manual testing, some sort of automation or the steps leading up to it, exploratory testing and how to squeeze testing into iterations and associated deadlines. You'll learn to work with development, support and implementations or services. 

Is there an opportunity for growth along the quality assurance career path? Yes, but it can be limited. There are typically only about 4-5 levels depending on whether you choose to take the management or the technical path:

  • Jr. QA Test Analyst (or QA Analyst 1)
  • QA Test Analyst (or QA Analyst 2)
  • QA Test Analyst 3 (Close to senior level, but missing leadership experience)
  • Sr. QA Test Analyst (QA Analyst 4)
  • QA Lead
  • QA Technical Expert (QA Analyst 5)
  • QA Manager

The management level is QA Lead and QA Manager. The Technical Expert is generally someone at the senior level or a QA Technical Expert that's at the same level as the QA Lead, but does not hold a people management position. Rather, the QA Technical Expert may create test environments, troubleshoot release or configuration problems with development or create automated test frameworks.

The first decision to make is if you want to pursue a technical or management quality assurance career path. You'll want to focus on one or the other because people management skills differ from technical skills; most people do not do well at both. Remember, you can always change your mind and re-focus your education efforts.

The best way I've found to increase QA skills is by being as effective in my position as I can. Bring up QA process suggestions even when they seem to go nowhere. Talk to developers and get their input and insight. I don't demand they show me everything; I ask. Some will show me, some won't, but most will if it keeps me out of their workspace. Some developers like teaching while others do not. You have to learn how to work with each developer on your team.

Additionally, learning and teaching other QA team members is critical regardless of their professional level. Whether someone is a mid-level or a Senior QA is immaterial as far as education goes. Some QAs simply don't get promoted when they should; don't restrict from whom you can learn. QAs have learned different skills at each employer -- make use of that knowledge. Books, articles, videos and seminars are all helpful and may expand your QA toolbox. Certification programs are useful when job hunting and provide a solid understanding of QA practices.

QA testers have the skills, after five years generally, to move into development, product management, DevOps or customer implementation roles if a change of group is desired. Everything you learn along the quality assurance career path adds value to your skills; QAs can move across the software development team job board, if desired.

Next Steps

How to get more respect as a QA professional

Is your next step development?

Surviving in a QA management role

This was last published in July 2016

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What was the most successful thing you did to leverage your QA career?
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Well, it's not exactly something that I did, but I had the luck to work under a manager who was smart and a natural teacher. I took advantage of that good fortune, and I learned a lot about QA, software development practices, and leadership.
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I find it hard. There is a difference from wanting to be a manager, vs a leader, vs a specialist expert who just is great at doing that job. You can never totally isolate a tester from the social skills necessary to collaborate as those skills often sink or float a project.
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Very practical, realistic advice. Advancement is difficult in my organization because there is neither a QA manager or a QA tech expert role. I love QA but am considering looking into other opportunities related to software development.
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