You may have heard about QA, but what about SQA? Find what it means and its role in QA testing, along with best practices for testers.
If you’re new to the big, bright world of software testing or thinking about becoming a tester, you may have heard the term SQA. You may have heard of QA—quality assurance—but may be confused about how it ties in with SQA. If you’re unsure what it means, no need to worry! This article will explain what SQA means, its role in QA testing, and how you can leverage best practices in your work as a tester.
SQA is an abbreviation for software quality assurance—the methods and actions taken to ensure quality throughout the software development life cycle. At a high level, software quality assurance serves as the primary driver of quality by establishing systems, methodologies and processes to reduce and prevent defects during ongoing development.
It might sound like SQA is a glorified term used for QA testing and finding bugs, but it goes beyond the act of hands-on testing. SQA involves setting the bar for quality by putting the necessary building blocks in place for the rest of the team. The team members responsible for software quality assurance will set the groundwork for keeping quality high as everyone goes through their daily work.
In many organizations, QA testing occurs at specific points of the development process, like during a sprint or before deployment. On the other hand, software quality assurance is in play at all times. SQA is never a one-time activity but an active and evolving part of a high-quality software development cycle.
Before a new sprint or project kicks off, SQA sets up systems, methodologies and processes for quality. During active development, SQA puts these processes to work with testing and debugging strategies. After deployment, the team can revise and improve their existing systems and methods for the next batch of work.
The methodologies and processes used as part of SQA vary by team. However, most implementations follow the Principles of Software Testing, as defined by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB). The following principles are part of the ISTQB Foundation Level certification, widely used as the base of all software testing activities.
1) Testing shows the presence of defects, not their absence.
In any software application, testing will uncover issues and bugs. However, that doesn’t mean that an application is bug-free if testers can’t find any defects. SQA processes need to consider the ever-present possibility of new bugs appearing out of nowhere.
2) Exhaustive testing is impossible.
Every team and tester has a finite amount of resources available at any given time. An exceptional SQA implementation knows that it’s impossible to expect them to perform deep, intensive testing at all times.
3) Early testing saves time and money.
Studies have proven that catching defects as early as possible makes them easy to correct cheaply. Software quality assurance helps establish an environment where testing occurs early and often, so the team can handle issues quickly before they become an expensive burden.
4) Defects cluster together.
In most software applications, QA testers will find one or two areas where bugs often seem to assemble. Given that in-depth testing isn’t feasible—see Principle 2 above—SQA processes should allow the team to focus first on those trouble spots.
5) Beware of the pesticide paradox.
In the real world, pesticides become ineffective against insects over time, and the only way around it is to change the substance. Running the same tests can lead to the same ineffectiveness in software testing. A healthy software testing approach helps avoid this by observing and knowing when to change strategies.
6) Testing is context dependent.
A team that uses the waterfall methodology to build software for flying airplanes will require vastly different testing skills than an agile team testing a social media application. SQA allows teams to implement the best systems possible given their work.
7) Absence-of-errors is a fallacy.
Even if your team spends tons of time doing QA and finding plenty of bugs, it can still result in a low-quality experience for users. For example, the application may work but has a confusing UI, or the business model doesn’t scale. SQA considers this so the team can understand there’s more to exposing as many bugs as possible.
With the principles of software testing in mind, how can you convert that knowledge into actionable tasks for testing? No matter which organization you work for or which type of project you’re involved in, the first step to take is to figure out what you need to test. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a step that’s commonly skipped at the beginning of many testing projects.
Some testers jump far too quickly into their work without fully understanding the product and its quality needs. The effectiveness of any QA testing strategy requires a thorough comprehension of the risks that may occur before, during and after development. QA teams need to figure out the testing scope, prepare test cases, know which QA tools to use, etc. All of these tasks focus on software quality assurance.
Once you and your team have a better idea of your testing strategy, you can begin thinking about what kind of testing you’ll perform.
Software testing covers lots of ground regarding the different forms of QA that a team can perform. Testing is commonly grouped into two types: functional and non-functional testing.
Some teams may assign their testers to focus on functional or non-functional testing, while others expect testers to jump into both groups when needed. As a QA tester, your responsibilities can span across these two areas, so it’s essential to understand the role played by each type.
The purpose of functional testing in a software application is to verify that the system works as specified. Before the project begins, the product team should agree on how the application should work when built—typically called a functional specification. QA testers will base their functional testing strategy and tasks around this information to confirm that the development work matches the functionality in the spec.
Testing teams have different functional testing methods at their disposal to validate the state of an application. Among the most common methods used are:
While functional testing focuses on the correctness of a working system, non-functional testing looks at how the application performs under different situations. Some teams have service-level agreements and objectives to define the requirements for a system’s expected reliability and robustness. These tasks might include measuring the expected average response time for a given request to an API or ensuring that your website will work for specific browsers and operating systems.
Non-functional testing often occurs after functional testing to ensure that QA can perform these tests in a functioning environment. Some non-functional tests QA testers conduct are:
A good QA tester will have a solid combination of hard and soft skills at a high level. Hard skills mean you have the required knowledge to use specific tools and technologies for the role like Jira or know how to do some coding for test automation. Soft skills cover critical thinking, clear communication and effective collaboration with your co-workers.
Most teams will have specific requirements, such as understanding how to set up an automated test suite or using a particular test case management tool. However, tools and methods change rapidly in the world of software development. It’s usually more important to develop a solid set of soft skills to become an effective QA tester. Communication and collaboration are crucial in SQA since it spans many areas in any project.
Everything explained in this article might sound like you’ll need to have a vast skill set from the start to become a QA tester. While it helps to have some knowledge and experience in software development and testing, you don’t need to know everything. Having some of the skills mentioned earlier, such as excellent communication and the ability to analyze clearly, is enough to get going. You can develop the fundamentals as you proceed.
When you advance in your career, you’ll have the opportunity to choose the difficulty setting on what you want to accomplish. You might start doing manual testing but then gain an interest in learning how to code for test automation. Or maybe you’ll want to focus on security or performance instead of purely functional testing. In short, you can make QA testing as “hard” as you want once you figure out where your interests lie.
If you’re looking at how to do QA testing for your project, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your work.
Follow the seven principles of software testing.
The principles of software testing mentioned above are the core of what software quality assurance is all about. As a QA tester, you need to test early and often. You also need to avoid getting stuck in old habits, adapt your strategies when needed, and remember that no product is ever bug-free, no matter how exhaustive your testing.
Every project has its fair share of issues, and testers will encounter different obstacles on the road to quality. These principles will help keep the team aligned with your testing and serve as a reminder whenever you feel lost or unsure if your testing strategy is on the right path.
Read more related tips for how to overcome complexity and burden when adding features to an existing app—testing early and often fits into this plan.
Do both manual and automated testing.
Most testing teams place a higher priority on either manual testing or automated testing. These days, the trend is toward test automation. However, that doesn’t mean automation will replace manual testing. Both manual and automated tests have their place and purpose. Ideally, your project will have a healthy mix of both strategies.
Automated tests are excellent for regression testing and handling complex, time-consuming scenarios that are difficult to test by hand. Manual testing is ideal for exploratory testing, leading to discovering bugs that an automated test script can’t find. A high-quality software application will benefit from having QA handling different approaches to testing side by side.
Communicate clearly with all teams.
Most problems on testing teams stem from a lack of clear communication. Examples of this are unclear test cases and specs or sending bug reports to developers with little information to help them fix the issue. It’s not uncommon to see clashes between QA and other product teams due to inefficient collaboration.
The role of a QA tester goes beyond testing. It also includes communicating and collaborating with other team members, especially those outside the QA department. The quality of a product belongs to the entire team. It’s crucial to help others, like product managers or developers, understand the function of QA and how it will assist them in their work.
If you’d like to learn more about software quality assurance, the following websites expand upon the topics discussed in this article.
ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation Level
The principles of software testing mentioned in this article come from the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB). The Certified Tester Foundation Level certification covers these principles and other essential concepts used in the realm of testing. The certification’s official website contains the exam syllabus and many sample exams that will help you further understand these topics.
Basics of Software Testing
This website by GeeksforGeeks covers many of the topics discussed in this article, along with additional concepts such as Black Box and White Box Testing. The site also has other sections for software testing and development areas to help you understand how testing fits into the rest of the software development life cycle.
Beginners Guide to Functional and Non-Functional Testing
This article briefly discussed the different types of functional and non-functional testing. On the Software Testing Material website, you can find a deeper explanation of these types of tests and details of various methods used for each.
This article discussed software quality assurance, how it ties into QA, and how to make the most out of testing. These topics cover a lot more ground, and there’s plenty more to learn for each subject. However, this information will help you start and get you on your way to becoming an effective QA tester.
Dennis Martinez is a freelance automation tester and DevOps engineer living in Osaka, Japan. He has over 19 years of professional experience working at startups in New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Dennis also maintains Dev Tester, writing about automated testing and test automation to help you become a better tester. You can also find him on LinkedIn and his website.
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