minutes read

How to become a software tester? 101 series from a seasoned QA Specialist

Written by
Marcin Gruszczyk
Published on
October 13, 2023

You've probably heard opinions that the easiest way to enter the IT world is by becoming a software tester, as you don't need to know anything about programming to make a lot of money. Or when you just feel you have a knack for finding bugs and see that something can be done better and have a lot of suggestions to make users' lives easier. Let's be clear – of course, none of this is true. Or is it? Read on to find out.

Marcin Gruszczyk
QA Specialist
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Hi, I'm Marcin Gruszczyk, a QA Specialist at Apptension. In a series of articles, I would like to guide you and others through the steps you need to take to become a software tester, dispelling myths associated with this career path. I will highlight what I think are the most important skills, tasks, learning opportunities, costs, etc.

Recently, I've seen more and more clickbait titles promising mountains of gold after just a year of working as a software tester or Quality Assurance Specialist and expensive training offers "guaranteeing a job" after its completion. Theoretically – easy, fast and fun. But how is it in reality?

Who is a Quality Assurance Specialist?

Let's start with an explanation: who is this Quality Assurance Specialist or software tester? In short, it is a person responsible for testing the application according to the guidelines. That is, if the development team prepares some new functionality and describes how it should work and behave, then we testers check it.

In case everything works as expected, we can be proud of ourselves. Much more often we catch various errors such as inconsistency in the appearance of the application in relation to the design or when, i.e., we submit a form, an incorrect response comes from the server, and instead of the expected action, we see something different, which makes the form not work as designed.

Bug reporting is a daily occurrence and requires a comprehensive approach. We can't report a bug because something doesn't work and then just high-five the programmer and go for a beer. We need to provide as much information as possible about what doesn't work and how we got to it, including a screenshot or video showing the problem and collecting logs.

Being a manual tester, we do not need to know any programming language, but still, it requires us to understand at the same or similar level as programmers how the application we are testing works so when we encounter a bug, we can determine where it came from.

A tester and software developer's work is closely related, and we are not two separate entities but one team working on a project. There are different opinions and experiences about this cooperation, but in my case, I have always cooperated well with programmers who were willing to explain to me how something works or how it should work.

You may also like: How we do Quality Assurance at Apptension

Who can walk the path of QA Specialist?

Now that we briefly know who a tester is and what he does, it's time to answer the question, "Can anyone become a tester?". Although it sounds simple, and it seems enough to click a few times in some places or check if something works and tick off the task, it is not so. People with a poor grasp of new technologies and whose knowledge is limited to turning the computer on and off or firing up the browser and going to YouTube are simply unsuitable and will struggle hard.

Currently, there is no guarantee of finding a job as a tester after any course. It is such a beleaguered field in IT that there can be 1,000 resumes per place. It doesn't matter if you do a course for a few thousand or a few dollars on Udemy. It doesn't matter at all, and the much more expensive training offers nothing beyond what you can find on your own or for little money on Udemy. With these costly courses, it is like selling pots over the phone or at meetings – the usual basic product dressed in ribbons, sprinkled with glitter and displayed on a red carpet.  

Software testing requires daily effort, a watchful eye for detail, and developing good habits – just like software development does. I've come across the opinion that, on average, a software developer needs about a year of non-stop work and programming before being able to find a job and do it without needing to be led by the hand and asking questions when in doubt. In the same way, a software tester needs time to do the basics without hesitation, reflexively, and without any doubts.

Quite a few people in recent years have had this attitude – "I've done a course, I'm certified, my apprenticeship ends here, and here I am – take me on board." When I started my adventure in testing, finding a job without experience and any knowledge in this area was very difficult but doable. Nowadays, with the many people applying for junior positions, it seems nearly impossible. I started working as a tester without knowing anything about it and was happy to have a job. For the first year and a half of my work, I earned just under 3,000 PLN. So, contrary to what some courses claim, I was not making the mythical PLN 20,000 after a year.

One of the traps beginners fall into these days is having an ISTQB FL certification. It is a certification based on the ISTQB syllabus, which contains valuable information, especially at the beginning of your journey. So, where is the trap in this? People think their resume will be better if they have the certification. Well, there's a surprise because many people thought the same and got the certificate. In effect, something that should make them stand out became a fairly common thing.

Might be interesting: What does Quality Assurance actually mean? (and how we use it!)

Another pitfall in terms of ISTQB is that people learn it by heart. So, with more creative approaches to testing, they don't know what to do. For example, looking at testing only through the prism of the certificate and the knowledge contained within it is like looking through a keyhole. However, a broader perspective, creativity, and literally looking through an open door are needed. It lets you test an application unconventionally to discover a bug that may be critical and protect users from threats.

So what's next?

Let’s finish this piece here – I've touched on a number of topics that I'll continue to cover in future articles, as well as show approaches to testing, tools, or places from which you can confidently gain knowledge without going bankrupt.