Hiring any role for the first time can be tricky, but hiring a highly technical role for the first time, such as a QA engineer, can be particularly challenging.
Translating previous experience and qualifications into skills and expertise isn’t a straightforward process. And when your company's quality assurance (QA) process depends on this role, getting it right becomes crucial.
Hiring the right QA engineer can make the difference between launching a globally trusted, robust software and releasing a substandard product that eats up time and resources in fixes and iterations, not to mention one that creates much bigger issues and losses for your company.
Weak security issues have cost technology giants $1.45 billion in fines and settlements. All from mistakes that could have been prevented with better quality assurance processes. The continuing global growth in demand for QA engineers confirms the increasing importance of releasing quality software that ensures a smooth and secure interaction for customers.
The good news is that you don't have to approach hiring your first QA engineer in the dark. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about QA engineers and how to hire them so you can confidently source and hire the QA engineer that’s right for your team.
What does a QA engineer do?
A QA engineer oversees the quality of the software a company puts out. They’re responsible for ensuring that any products that reach the consumer meet company objectives and comply with governmental guidelines.
A QA engineer's role is multifaceted and involves working across all stages of the software development process, from technical specifications to development design and from testing to bug fixes. It’s vital, however, to recognize that you’re not hiring someone to play the role of an external auditor. The QA engineer works as part of your development team.
The relationship your QA engineer has with your developers, and particularly with your release manager, will be a fundamental construct of the success of your business' software projects.
Here are some of the ways a QA engineer may interact with the rest of your development team:
- QA engineers participate in planning meetings to discuss proposals and software improvements. They provide input around the challenges of delivering projects, help set testing standards, and develop evaluation methods for the work.
- QA engineers prescribe testing needs and requirements to be included in overall development time. They include any contingencies and allow time for improvements.
- While the software is in development, QA engineers continuously deploy the testing. They can make or request code edits and ensure that integrations with other software work smoothly.
- Before the software release, QA engineers conduct final tests and measurements against the exit criteria. They work with the release manager to ensure the software is ready to go live to the final user without any bugs.
The exact roles and responsibilities of your QA engineer will depend on how your development team is set up. Before we dig into what to look for in different QA engineering roles, let’s first clarify the differences between different QA positions
What’s the difference between a QA engineer, QA analyst, and QA tester?
A QA engineer bears the responsibility of ensuring the quality of the final products. This role needs to have a strong knowledge of coding and developing frameworks and automation to execute tests at various stages and parts of product development.
A QA analyst focuses on the business logic of an application at the early stages of development before any code is written. This role analyzes the business needs, plans high-level development, and builds use cases to test manually to ensure that an idea is viable.
A QA tester is a more junior role that focuses on the execution of tests without being involved in the planning phases or in creating frameworks and automation. Businesses with large teams often have several QA testers, each of whom has specific responsibility for a particular stage of software development.
With that distinction in mind, let’s now take a look at the different roles a QA engineer can have within your team and what you should look for in each hire.
What to look for in different QA engineer roles
The roles and responsibilities of your QA engineer job ad will depend on the specific position you want to fill in your development team.
You can cut and paste the below lists directly into your job description for either of the three potential QA roles. Although there will be some similarities between these, the differences are what will help you to laser focus on the candidates you want to hire. Remember, tweak anything you need to, so the relevant role or responsibility speaks to what you're looking for in your candidates.
Software QA engineer
A software QA engineer is a generalist role responsible for monitoring every phase of your software development process. This role will provide your business with a strong foundation for deploying QA throughout the development process and help your team focus its resources on the most critical aspects of a project.
A Software QA engineer is responsible for:
- Software planning and design
- Writing and reviewing code
- Estimating, prioritizing, planning, and coordinating all QA activity
- Designing and deploying testing processes
- Developing, tracking, and improve QA metrics
- Ensuring the timely completion and deployment of software
- Overseeing software integrations
- Creating a plan and processes for release management
- Ensuring compliance with in-house QA guidelines and relevant legislation related to data use and protection
- Monitoring feedback and QA outcomes
QA automation engineer
QA automation engineers are specialists who deploy automated testing processes to your software development projects. QA testing can design advanced testing that may be too technical to conduct manually and increases the complexity of software your business is able to produce.
A QA automation engineer is responsible for:
- Designing and deploying automated testing solutions
- Conducting scenario tests to determine the stability of automation under stress
- Identifying automation processes that could lead to performance issues with other apps and software.
- Prioritizing execution plans for automation testing based on the software type and intended use
- Identifying and analyzing bugs and proposing solutions
- Installing and securing databases and necessary backup applications
- Collaborating with others in the development or DevOps team to deliver comprehensive solutions
- Ensuring compliance with QA guidelines and relevant legislation related to data use and protection
- Monitoring feedback and QA outcomes.
- Developing, tracking, and improving QA metrics.
QA engineer manager or QA engineer lead
A QA engineer manager or lead forms part of larger software teams and is responsible for supervising a team of QA engineers that can include both generalists and specialists.
A QA engineer manager or lead is responsible for:
- Leading and developing the QA team
- Planning and deploying resources for QA activities
- Working with the QA team to design an optimal QA environment for each software build
- Analyzing and enhancing the QA methodology to deliver more efficient QA processes
- Tracking and managing the deployment of solutions for customer-facing software
- Ensuring timely completion and deployment of software projects
- Researching and presenting new methodologies and software testing practices for implementation by the QA team
- Testing, demoing, and inspecting software readiness pre-deployment
- Ensuring compliance with in-house QA guidelines and relevant legislation related to data use and protection
- Monitoring feedback and QA outcomes
- Developing, tracking, and improving QA metrics
Our QA engineer screening test evaluates candidates across all the basic skills a QA engineer needs and can help you identify the candidates with the strongest skill to invite to an interview. Combine it with a test on the coding language your company uses and consider adding a problem-solving test and a culture fit test to your assessment for a complete candidate profile that will help you find the best fit for your team.
Five interview questions for a QA engineer
Once you narrow down your candidates to the ones with the best skills and fit for your team, you’ll want to invite them to an interview to explore the possibility of working together further.
The following interview questions will help you get to know your candidates better in specific dimensions. They are broad questions that would be suitable when interviewing for any QA engineer role, and you can tweak them to suit your specific needs.
For each question, we outline what to look for and how you might further explore your candidates' knowledge and experience based on their answers.
QA Engineer Interview Question 1: Efficient Testing
How do You Determine How Much Testing a Piece of Software Needs?
This question seeks to evaluate candidates’ understanding of the principles of testing.
Candidates should be able to outline a clear process they use and explain why they use it. The specific process may differ depending on what a QA engineer needs to test, but successful candidates will be able to explain how they make decisions around testing and what they prioritize in those decisions. They should be able to explain how they would subsequently develop and document a testing plan, and the information they will include in it, such as the history and background of the project, the scope of the project, and the QA testing program and objectives.
If appropriate for the role, candidates should discuss how they determine which elements of the testing should be conducted manually versus through automation and which method to use at each stage of the development process.
QA Engineer Interview Question 2: Signing Off QA Processes
How do You Set the Exit Criteria for Your QA Testing?
In a QA context, exit criteria determine when a piece of software can progress to the next stage of the development process.
When you ask this question, you primarily want candidates to explain that different exit criteria may apply at various stages of the development process. While the ultimate exit criteria for a piece of customer-facing software might be a 99.8% user success rate under stress and load testing, there will be numerous points throughout the development process where a QA sign-off occurs before progression to the next stage.
Good follow-up questions can focus on discussing the success rates candidates give. Whether candidates choose a high or low high success rate as a requirement, ask them to discuss the trade-offs with delays or bugs in a software release. Strong candidates will be able to make a case for their choice and have a plan for mitigating the risks involved.
QA Engineer Interview Question 3: Verification
What QA Verification Techniques do You Use?
Strong candidates will not only be able to talk about review, inspection, and walkthrough processes within the context of QA but also when they would deploy each one during a software development project, and most importantly why.
Candidates should be clear on the difference of verification as opposed to validation. Verification deals with ongoing quality control and you should look for candidates that can outline all the processes they undertake at various stages of a project.
The ideal candidate can also talk about verification in commercial business terms. They can convey their understanding that poor verification processes early in a process can cause significant resource issues. For example, if an entire software team has to rebuild something because the necessary quality control didn't happen when it should have done, costs can escalate.
QA Engineer Interview Question 4: Knowledge of QA Tools
Which QA Tools do You Use and Why?
If you listed specific QA tools in your job description because your software team uses them, you will need to check the candidate's knowledge of these. You can also challenge them on the strengths and weaknesses of the QA tools you use. Ask them to recommend an alternative suite of tools and outline why they may be better for your team.
If your job ad doesn't list specific tools, this becomes an open question for candidates to discuss their favored tools. Ask them to talk about what they like about each one and challenge them by asking them to discuss the drawbacks of their favorite tools.
The ideal candidate will not just talk about QA tools but also how they deploy them and outline why they would use a QA tool instead of conducting manual testing.
QA Engineer Interview Question 5: Working in Production Environments
Where do You See Your Role in Dealing with Issues in Production Environments?
The days of QA engineers working exclusively in development and staging environments are over.
Strong candidates will acknowledge they have a role to play when issues occur in production environments and demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions. They should view a new problem that they didn't identify during their earlier QA processes as a challenge, not a criticism.
Look for candidates that can talk about how they would take learnings from problems that occur in production environments and account for these when developing their testing plan for future software projects. The ability to learn from mistakes in invaluable in engineering.
How Much Should I Expect to Pay a QA Engineer?
The salary grade for your new QA engineer hire will depend on several factors, including the experience level you’re looking to recruit and your location.
The table below outlines the overall alary scales for different QA engineer roles in the US.
|Role||Entry Level||Average Salary||Senior Level|
|QA Engineer (source)||$87,500||$127,000||$165,000|
|DevOps QA Engineer (source)||$62,000||$97,500||$125,500|
|Software QA (source)||$18,525||$95,000||$161,471|
|Automation QA (source)||$55,098||$110,000||$187,000|
|QA Lead (source)||$46,800||$116,662||$173,100|
|QA Manager (source)||$38,805||$97,460||$165,682|
All data from Neuvoo.com, linked in the table. Figures in table correct on July 3, 2020.
Hiring a QA Engineer for your business
Hiring a good QA engineer is crucial for the success of your software, but it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking, even if it’s the first time you’re hiring for this role.
Armed with a strong understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of QA engineers you can write an accurate QA engineer job description to attract your ideal candidates. Using skills tests, you can easily identify the candidates with the strongest skills and fit for your team to invite to interviews.
Competition for QA engineers is on the rise as software development rises in both popularity and quality requirements. Likewise, QA engineers are looking for opportunities to join growing teams and expand their knowledge and skill set further. And finding that perfect match can lead to great results for both the company and the candidate.
Using this guide you can look for, screen, and confidently hire your first QA engineer.