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Quality Assurance Journey: How To Become a Software Tester

12 minute read | September 5, 2023
Monica J. White

Written by:
Monica J. White & reviewed by Akita Emmanuel

Monica J. White

Reviewed by:
Akita Emmanuel

Ready to launch your career?

Software testing is a great career for dedicated problem solvers with a passion for tech. From desktop, web, and mobile apps to video games and enterprise applications, the sheer amount of software developed around the world is astounding. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for software testers is expected to grow by 25% by 2031. 

But what exactly are the skills you need to become a software tester, and how do they compare to that of a software developer? There aren’t a lot of courses or degrees specific to software testing, so it can be difficult to know how to tailor your study to this particular role. In this article, we’ll share an 8-step guide that covers all the technical skills and tools you should master and a bunch of study tips that will help you become a pro as quickly as possible. 

What Does a Software Tester Do?

Software testing is a rare example of a tech industry role where the job title says it all. Software testers test software. They evaluate software products to make sure they meet quality standards, function correctly, and are free from defects. Because software applications rely on complex systems that can break in unexpected ways, quality assurance is a necessary department needed to run tests to identify and report bugs or issues before products are released to users. The software tester’s role includes planning and designing tests, executing tests, bug reporting, performance testing, usability testing, and much more. 

How To Become a Software Tester: An 8-Step Guide

There are a lot of different ways to get into software testing, but you’ll need to take these steps to launch your career:

  1. Invest in Education and Learning

  2. Learn To Code

  3. Build the Necessary Skills

  4. Learn the Essential Tools

  5. Remember: Practice Makes Perfect

  6. Pursue a Certification

  7. Expand Your Network

  8. Work Toward the Job You Want

Invest in Education and Learning

While learning the tricks of the trade might not take as long as you’d think, it’s still important to prepare for a period of study. A college degree in computer science can still be very useful for getting a job as a software test engineer, but it’s no longer the only option out there. 

Many professionals in the industry don’t have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, and most companies care more about skills, knowledge, and experience than formal qualifications. That’s why self-study is a viable path if you’re suited for that kind of learning. If you like the idea of a college degree but you’d prefer something shorter and more affordable, then a bootcamp might be more your kind of thing. 

Rather than taking four years, as a college degree does, bootcamps can be completed in four months to a year. And rather than costing upwards of $100,000, you can choose a course ranging from under $1,000 to around $20,000, with the average being around $8,000-$15,000. Bootcamps offer a flexible schedule either on campus or remotely but still receive 1-to-1 support from industry experts and career advisors. There are bootcamps for all kinds of tech careers, but a software engineering bootcamp is the best place to start for an aspiring software tester. 

Learn To Code

No matter what kind of education you choose, you’ll need to perfect your coding chops. It’s a huge field with a lot to learn, so the more you dive into it and make it part of your life, the more skilled and knowledgeable you’ll become. Aside from your college or bootcamp studies, there are a lot of extra things you can do to engage in coding and the coding community. Here are a few ideas:

  • Work on coding challenges from platforms like LeetCode and HackerRank
  • Work on projects that align with your hobbies, interests, and learning goals
  • Participate in coding competitions like Codeforces and TopCoder
  • Participate in fun challenges like Advent of Code and share your solutions
  • Find another learner to pair the program with 
  • Contribute to open-source projects and learn how to collaborate effectively 
  • Return to older projects to review your own code and improve it 
  • Find online tutorials and courses in specialist areas you’re interested in
  • Study well-written code by experienced programmers to see how the pros do things
  • Find a small open-source project and try to make your own version, then compare yours to the real thing
  • Keep a coding journal or blog to document your learning journey
  • Spend time on debugging, so you can learn how to intuit where bugs and errors might be hiding

Build the Necessary Skills

In addition to coding in general, you need to develop the specific skill set needed for software testers. One of the best ways to learn about the skills you need is to read blog content from people in the industry and check out job postings for the kind of roles you want.

Technical Skills

Here are the technical skills you’ll need for the job:

  • An understanding of testing methodologies, including black-box testing, white-box testing, manual testing, automated testing, regression testing, and exploratory testing
  • Creating test case designs covering different scenarios, edge cases, and user interactions
  • Familiarity with test automation tools and frameworks such as Selenium, Appium, JUnit, and TestNG
  • Proficiency in at least one programming language, such as Java, Python, C#, JavaScript, or Ruby
  • Understand version control systems like Git to manage test scripts, collaborate, and track changes
  • Knowledge of testing APIs using tools like Postman, cURL, or REST-assured
  • Understanding of databases and SQL
  • Familiarity with bug tracking and project management tools like Kira, Bugzilla, or Trello
  • Understanding of performance testing concepts and tools like OWASP or Gatling
  • Knowledge of common security vulnerabilities and tools like OWASP ZAP
  • Ability to use and test applications on different operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and various Linux distributions
  • Familiarity with virtualization tools like VirtualBox or VMware and containerization platforms like Docker for creating isolated testing environments
  • Understanding of CI/CD pipelines and integration testing into the development process with tools like Jenkins, Travis CI, or CircleCI
  • Debugging skills
  • Familiarity with Agile methodologies and Scrum practices
  • Ability to review code for potential issues and analyze code quality using tools like SonarQube or Checkstyle

Soft Skills

These soft skills are essential too:

  • Communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical skills
  • Adaptability 
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Problem-solving
  • Empathy
  • Detail-oriented
  • Documentation skills
  • Continuous learning
  • Conflict resolution
  • Customer focus
  • Presentation skills

Learn the Essential Tools

There are all sorts of tools associated with software testing, some used on just about any project, and others used in specific cases. Here are some of the most commonly used tools in the industry:

Test Automation Tools

  • Selenium
  • Appium
  • TestNG
  • JUnit
  • TestComplete
  • Cucumber
  • Cypress
  • Robot Framework

Load and Performance Testing Tools

  • JMeter
  • Gatling
  • LoadRunner

Security Testing Tools

  • OWASP ZAP
  • Burp Suite
  • Nikto

API Testing Tools

  • Postman
  • SoapUI
  • REST-assured

Database Testing Tools

  • DBUnit
  • SQLMap

Code Quality and Analysis Tools

  • SonarQube
  • Checkstyle
  • PMD

Test Management Tools

  • TestRail
  • qTest

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Tools:

  • Jenkins
  • Travis CI
  • CircleCI

Browser and Mobile Device Testing Tools

  • BrowserStack
  • Sauce Labs

Remember: Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’re starting to get a hang of the essential skills and tools, it’s important to test yourself in a more challenging environment. While it can be difficult to find places that want your help when you’re a beginner, there are a lot of different projects to pursue and contribute to—and when you’re applying to entry-level positions, even unpaid experience is resume-worthy. 

Consider an Internship

The ideal way to get professional experience in a real development environment is with an internship. These are easiest to find for college students whose institutions help them find positions as part of the course, but anyone can apply for internships on job boards like Indeed, Dice, InternJobs, WayUp, and InternMatch. 

Volunteer for a Cause

There are lots of volunteer projects that need technical input, and software testers can use sites like Catchafire, Code for America, and TechSoup to get matched with volunteering opportunities. While an internship will likely give you a more comprehensive experience of what the software testing job is like, volunteering is still a great way to practice and will look impressive on your resume.

Participate in Hackathons

Hackathons are often free to participate in, so they’re a surefire way to gain experience while you look for something more substantial like an internship or volunteer project. You’ll collaborate with other participants to work on a large-scale project in a short amount of time, giving you an effective way to practice your time management skills and ability to hit deadlines. Some popular hackathons include Hacktoberfest, Global Game Jam, and MLH Hackathons

Pursue a Certification

Professional software certifications are a great way to bulk up your resume when you’re just starting out as a software test engineer. They validate your skills and your education, showing that you can properly apply the skills you’ve learned. There are quite a lot of software testing certifications to choose from, so you can choose whichever best suits your skills and your learning goals. Here are some examples: 

  • ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualifications Board) certifications 
  • QAI (Quality Assurance Institute) certifications
  • IIST (International Institute for Software Testing) certifications
  • CP-SAT (Certified Professional – Selenium Automation Testing)

Expand Your Network

While you’re studying, learning, and practicing, one thing you should always keep in mind is networking. It’s never too early to start building professional relationships, so you should take any opportunity you can to create a lasting connection with the professionals you meet, both online and offline. 

Get on LinkedIn

LinkedIn helps you start a proper working relationship with anyone you meet. Even if you only quickly introduced yourself, sending a LinkedIn invite is completely acceptable. When professionals gather at conferences and events, everyone will go home with masses of LinkedIn connections waiting to be approved. So make sure you join the crowd and connect with the people you meet. 

Join Online Communities

Online communities are a great way to get involved, no matter how beginner you are or where you live. Try joining and frequenting communities like the Software Quality Assurance & Testing Stack Exchange, r/softwaretesting, and Ministry of Testing to learn from others and build connections. There are also Discord servers and Slack communities out there to join as well.

Attend Conferences, Events, and Meet-Ups

Attending industry events is the classic thing that comes to mind when you think of networking, and despite all the online alternatives available now, meeting people face-to-face is still hugely beneficial. Here are a few examples of conferences you can look into:

Work Toward the Job You Want

Eventually, you’ll graduate from your coding bootcamp or reach a point in your independent study when the skill requirements on software tester job posts don’t look so scary anymore. This means you’re finally ready to start your job search! There are a lot of things you need to think about to succeed in finding a job, but here are our top two tips for aspiring software testers. 

Build a Strong Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Crafting the perfect resume and building a well-optimized LinkedIn profile is essential for landing a role. Include any formal qualifications, certifications, volunteering experience, hackathons, internships, freelance work, open-source projects, and any other relevant work. Make sure to fill your skills list with the specific skills and tools each job asks for, and choose work experience bullet points that are as relevant as possible to the role. 

As well as your resume and LinkedIn profile, you’ll also need a portfolio website. Here, you can show projects you’ve worked on, tests you’ve designed, and link to your GitHub repository. 

Start Applying and Prepare for the Interview

They say searching for a job is a full-time job in itself, and that’s not far from the truth. In the current competitive environment, it’s not enough to apply to just a handful of roles a month. To maximize your chances of success, you need to set aside time every day to apply for as many roles as you can. 

While you’ve worked hard to get to this point, don’t make the mistake of being too picky about your first software testing job. Its main purpose is to give you proper paid work experience and be a stepping stone for your next role. 

When you land interviews, make sure to prepare. Research the company and practice for the technical interview with resources like interviewing.io or Pramp.

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The Impact of AI on Software Testing

The role of AI in software testing lies primarily in the automation and algorithmic aspects of software testing. It enables smarter test case generation, intelligent test data creation, and more accurate defect detection. Software testers are already using AI tools, and the sector will likely continue to expand, but it’s never going to replace the need for humans. 

AI can learn from data on past examples to do things like predict defects or simulate user behavior, but it can’t understand the overall intent of the humans who wrote the code. It can help software testers automate parts of their job, but it can’t tell when something aligns with the goals of the project and when it doesn’t, so humans will always be needed for this.  

How Much Can You Earn as a Software Tester?

Software Tester average annual salary

In the United States, the average salary range for a software tester or quality assurance analyst is between $69,000 and $108,000. If you work at a good company in a high-paying state like California or New York, you can earn a six-figure salary. At top companies like Meta and Google, software testers can earn as much as $138,000 to $146,000 per year. 

What Does the Career Path of a Software Tester Look Like?

There are multiple ways to begin your career and progress up the ranks in software testing, but here’s a general outline of the typical career path:

  1. Entry-level tester
  2. QA engineer
  3. Senior QA engineer
  4. Test automation engineer
  5. QA manager
  6. Senior QA manager
  7. QA architect 

Becoming a Software Tester: Real-Life Examples To Learn From

Hearing about real people’s experiences is a great way to gain a better understanding of the software testing role and how you can break into the industry. Here are a couple of examples to get you started. 

Madeline Elaine

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Madeline has been working as a software tester for two years. Check out what she has to share about becoming a tester and starting out in her first role.

Space Hint

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Zarina transitioned from being a flight attendant to a software tester at 30 years old. Learn about what she did to learn the skills and find a job in the industry.

How To Become a Software Tester FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about becoming a software tester.

Is Software Testing a Good Career?

A career in software testing offers opportunities for growth, specialization, and advancement, making it a viable and valuable career choice. The average salary in the United States is around $86,000, but there are opportunities to reach the six-figure mark if you’re in the right state and at the right company.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Software Tester?

The time it takes to become a software tester can vary depending on factors such as your prior knowledge, learning pace, the complexity of the projects you work on, and the level of expertise you want to achieve. It can take as little as a few months, or as long as a couple of years to become proficient as an entry-level tester.

Do You Need a Degree To Become a Software Tester?

While a formal degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field can be beneficial, it’s not always a strict requirement to become a software tester. Many successful testers have entered the field with diverse educational backgrounds. What’s more crucial is your understanding of testing methodologies, tools, and hands-on experience. Certifications and practical skills are often valued just as much as, if not more than, a degree.

What Is the Difference Between a QA Tester and a Software Tester?

The terms “QA tester” and “software tester” are often used interchangeably, but there can be subtle differences in their meanings based on industry practices. A QA Tester focuses on ensuring that the software development process adheres to quality standards and best practices. This role might involve process improvement, audits, and setting quality guidelines. A software tester, on the other hand, primarily focuses on testing the software to identify defects, ensure functionality, and validate that the product meets specifications.

Since you’re here…
No one wakes up knowing how to code – they learn how to code. Tens of thousands of students have successfully learned with our courses, like our Software Engineering Bootcamp. If you’re a total newbie, our Software Engineering Career Track Prep Course will be a perfect fit. Let’s do this!

About Monica J. White

Monica is a journalist with a lifelong interest in technology, from PC hardware to software and programming. She first started writing over ten years ago and has made a career out of it. Now, her focus is centered around technology and explaining complex concepts to a broader audience.