What, Exactly, Is Software Quality Assurance?

The What, Why, and How of Software QA

Software development isn’t just a matter of knowing how to code. Software engineers put in a lot of work behind the scenes before they get to the code-writing part. Initial steps include gathering requirements, creating initial screen mockups, and determining how the end result should function.

But even that’s not all. Another component of software development is quality assurance (QA), which involves another professional performing quality checks on the software throughout the development process. You may visualize a QA professional as someone with a checklist going through its items to make sure all the software features work. But there’s more to it than that. Here we take a look at the “what,” “why,” and “how” of software QA.

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What Is Software Quality Assurance?

The digital world is filled with resources that can enrich any class, engaging students at a deeper level, and provide interactive experiences that can shed new light on their understanding of a lot of subjects. Imagine, for example, a geography teacher using Google Maps on a digital board to take students on a virtual tour of the Andes. Or a physics teacher using a 3D simulator to show the effects of different forces at play in a particular movement. 

There is a lot of software available for a multitude of subjects, from math and chemistry platforms to biology applications. But that isn’t all there is to it. Immersive learning can also mean virtual reality and augmented reality to offer more sophisticated classes to students. Imagine being able to “walk” through the corridors of the Colosseum or learning to play the piano through a projection on a desk! That’s precisely what technology can give digital learners.

Quality Assurance vs. Quality Control

QA differs from quality control (QC) in that QA is performed continuously throughout the development process, while QC is performed once at the end of the process. QC is more of a reactive detection of defects and QA is a proactive strategy designed to prevent defects. QA testers are mainly responsible for QA, but everyone on a development team needs to play their part to create a high-quality product.

Benefits of Quality Assurance

The QA process results in numerous benefits:

  1. Product quality. Creating quality products is essential for companies to earn revenue, as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty. Quality products also build the reputation of companies to bring in more business. 
  2. Problem prevention. Just as important as ensuring product quality is ensuring the absence of problems. Such issues can cost companies considerable time, money, and hits to their reputations. 
  3. Cost savings. When done right, the QA process can save companies money by identifying problems before they become too big to solve cost-effectively. In doing so, the process saves time as well, which can help companies more quickly move on to the next project.
  4. Security. Software products that lack security can cause big problems when user data becomes compromised. The QA process includes checks to ensure a high level of security while reducing potential vulnerabilities.  
  5. Engineer improvement. Through the QA process, software engineers learn from their mistakes as QA professionals check their work and identify issues.

Quality Assurance Testing Types

Testing for QA falls under three different categories: white box, grey box, and black box:

  • For white box testing, testers have a thorough understanding of the software they’re testing, including features and elements, and how they relate to each other. 
  • For grey box testing, testers have some understanding of the components but may not be entirely knowledgeable about how the software was coded.
  • For black box testing, testers don’t know how the software was designed or how the various elements work together. In this category, the tester is more like an end-user, coming to the process without insight into its inner workings. 

There also are three testing methods: manual, automatic, and in-between:

  • With manual testing, testers set up the testing environment, go over all the test cases, collect data, and develop reports manually. This method has become less common in recent years, though it still takes place in key stages. 
  • With automatic testing, testers have automatic tools and scripts that perform the same work. This method has become more common in recent years as more effective tools have been developed. 
  • With in-between testing, the actual tests are performed automatically after the testing environment is set up manually. 

More specific QA methods include the following:

  • Module testing: only one module or feature is tested. 
  • Integration testing: the tester checks to see if a module within the software can effectively communicate with the others. 
  • System testing: the tester verifies whether the entire software application is working as intended. 
  • End-to-end (E2E) testing: the tester approaches the software from the end-user perspective and ensures that all user requirements are met. 
  • Acceptance tests: the client tester checks to see whether previously agreed-upon criteria are met before accepting the final software product. 

All of these tests can be performed as smoke tests, which involve just minimal investigation to determine whether a software product works and if further testing should be performed. They can also be performed as sanity tests, which check to see if new features work as they should and integrate well with existing components. Or they can be performed as non-regression testing, which verifies if a new release of the software is compatible with previous versions. 

Tests can also be divided into functional or non-functional testing, depending if they test functionality or other areas of the product, such as security and scalability.

Quality Assurance Processes

QA is performed according to a series of steps, as follows: 

  1. Execute a formal technical review to discuss quality requirements for the software. 
  2. Develop a testing plan that includes a goal, a QA approach, activities, tools, and staff. 
  3. Create checkpoints to review how the process is going. 
  4. Perform multiple types of testing to ensure the best quality. 
  5. Enforce process adherence by ensuring the correct steps are taken during the development process. 
  6. Control change by validating change requests. 
  7. Measure the impact of changes made by the development team to fix defects. 
  8. Perform audits to ensure the QA process has been followed closely. 

Maintain records and reports, including test results, audit results, review reports, and change requests, so you can share QA information with stakeholders.

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