Study Software QA: Certificates, Training & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a software QA certificate program? Read about course requirements, the pros and cons of certificates and degree programs and potential careers.
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Software QA Training: Degrees & Certificates at a Glance

Software quality assurance (QA) engineers measure, test and improve the software development process. They work closely with programmers and developers to design and implement all aspects of software testing, including features, functionalities, usability and the prevention of defects and bugs. QA training may be gained through specialized certificate courses, or as part of broader degree programs in software engineering or information technology.

Thanks to a growing reliance on information technology (IT) and a rising demand for complex computer programs, software testing is increasingly critical. Those trained in software quality assurance can find jobs testing applications, system-level programs, games and other types of software for a variety of industries - including business, medical, communications, scientific, military and general computing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment to grow 30 percent for software developers and 22 percent for computer systems analysts from 2010 to 2020, both faster than average for all occupations.

Undergraduate Certificates Bachelor's Graduate Certificates Master's
Who is this training for? Those with limited software education or experience seeking work in software QA Individuals seeking a career in software engineering Those with bachelor's degrees seeking specialization in QA Those with bachelor's degrees seeking advanced knowledge in software engineering
Common Career Paths (with approximate 10th-90th percentile salary ranges) Jobs listed in the bachelor's degree column may accept candidates with a certificate plus equivalent work experience - Software Quality Tester ($30,000-$82,000)*
- Software Developer ($41,000-$97,000)*
- Quality Assurance Engineer ($42,000-$89,000)*
- Software Test Engineer ($45,000-$101,000)*
-Software Quality Engineer ($45,000-$102,000)*
- Software Engineer $49,000-$104,000)*
Jobs listed in the master's degree column may prefer a master's degree, but may accept candidates with a bachelor's plus work experience - Senior SQA Engineer ($42,000-$97,000)*
- Senior Software Engineer ($68,000-$136,000)*
- Software Development Manager ($81,000-$150,000)*
- Software Engineering Manager ($91,000-$161,000)*
The above jobs may require several years of work experience
Time to Completion 5 months-1 year, part-time 4 years, full-time 2-5 semesters or quarters, part-time 2-4 years, part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 3-10 courses
- Approximately 38-55 courses
- Capstone or senior project
- Approximately 3-6 courses
- Some schools require a research project
- Approximately 10-14 courses
- Some schools require a master's project or exam
Common Prerequisites - Some courses may require computer and/or programming experience - High school diploma or GED
- Previous coursework or experience enabling you to complete program requirements
- Bachelor's degree
- Previous coursework or experience enabling you to complete program requirements
- Bachelor's degree
- Previous coursework or experience enabling you to complete program requirements
Online Availability Rare Yes Yes Yes

Source: *PayScale.com (July 2012 figures).


Undergraduate Certificates in Software QA

Certificate programs in software QA and testing prepare graduates with minimal background in the field for entry-level jobs. The programs also allow those with some relevant college credit or work experience to gain specialized knowledge in software testing and quality assurance. Some undergraduate certificate programs have no prerequisites, while others may request work experience or knowledge of a specific programming language.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Undergraduate certificate programs can be completed in as little as 6 months
  • The hands-on nature of many software QA certificate programs gives students the practical experience they need to work in the field
  • Certificate programs often have convenient part-time and/or evening schedules
  • In some programs, the certificate credits can be applied to a bachelor's degree

Cons

  • An undergraduate certificate program in software QA may not be available in your location
  • Graduates will likely face job competition from those with college degrees
  • Because work experience is often important in the IT field, a certificate alone may not be sufficient
  • Industry certifications such as Certified Software Quality Analyst (CSQA) and Certified Software Tester (CSTE) require those without a degree to have significantly more work experience

Courses and Requirements

Undergraduate certificate programs cover the basic knowledge and skills needed for software quality assurance and testing. Students learn the best practices, methodology, tools and terminology of the field. Program graduates will know how to design and implement tests, to apply standards and procedures to a project and to detect and document defects and bugs.

Certificate programs in software QA or testing are likely to require courses such as the following:

  • Software testing
  • Software quality
  • Testing project planning and management

Online Degree Options

While online undergraduate certificate programs in software QA and/or testing are rare, a handful are available. These programs generally consist of 3-4 courses that are offered completely via the Internet. Such online programs may also be directed towards those preparing to sit for an industry certification, such as the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) Certified Tester exam.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Because real-world experience is so important in the IT world, take advantage of any opportunities you have to increase your hands-on training during your certificate program. Participate in an internship or co-op, if available, and get familiar with as many software programs and operating systems as you can.


Bachelor's in Software Engineering

You are unlikely to find a bachelor's degree specifically in software quality assurance or testing. More common are broader degrees in software engineering, information technology or computer science that have required or elective courses in quality assurance. Some programs may also offer a concentration, self-designed area of specialization or capstone project option that emphasizes software testing or QA.

Bachelor's degree programs in software engineering (or in computer science or IT with a software development concentration) provide students with an in-depth understanding of computer science and software engineering. They will learn about the technologies, procedures and methods used in software development and maintenance. Program graduates will have the knowledge and skills to design, develop, test, analyze and implement software applications and systems.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's in software engineering or information technology can prepare you for a wide range of occupations, including software developer, quality assurance engineer, database administrator, network/systems administrator and computer systems analyst
  • A bachelor's in software engineering may qualify you to enter a career with a high top-end salary, such as software quality engineer, in which the highest paid ten percent of workers earned $102,000 or more*
  • Many software engineering programs provide valuable hands-on experience such as software training, real-world projects and computer science labs

Source: *PayScale.com (July 2012 figures).

Cons

  • Jobs in the field tend to require work experience in software testing or computer programming in addition to the bachelor's degree
  • Because IT jobs tend to be concentrated in tech hubs, software engineers may find it harder to find employment in some regions
  • As with other IT jobs, future growth in software engineering may be lessened by an increase in outsourcing of software development abroad
  • Industry certifications such as CSQA and CSTE require several years of work experience in addition to the degree

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in software engineering generally consist of foundational coursework in computer science, mathematics, natural science and engineering. As an undergraduate, you will likely also be required to take general education credits such as English, social science and the humanities.

Common courses in software engineering bachelor's programs include the following:

  • Computer architecture
  • Software construction
  • Quality assurance and testing
  • Introduction to programming
  • Calculus I and II
  • Introduction to statistics

You may also take required or elective classes in engineering economics, circuit design, game development, business management or mobile technologies. Many bachelor's degree programs in software engineering include a capstone project.

Online Degree Options

Several bachelor's degree programs in the field are available online. Online degrees tend to be in the broader field of information technology with concentrations in such areas as software systems engineering, quality assurance or software development.

Several schools offer their information technology bachelor's degrees both on-campus and online, with identical courses and requirements. Online bachelor's programs generally combine general education credits with core coursework in information technology and specialized classes in the area of emphasis.

Stand Out with this Degree

An advantage of many software engineering programs is that they offer hands-on classes and projects. You can enhance this practical training by choosing an internship or co-op experience, if available, and by getting familiar with as many software programs and operating systems as you can during your degree program. Your senior or capstone project may also provide an opportunity to specialize and to get practical experience in your area of interest.

You may also supplement your undergraduate experience by joining a student organization. Some schools have a variety of computing-related student groups that may participate in programming contests, listen to lectures by industry leaders or manage student-run computer consulting businesses.


Graduate Certificates in Software QA

Graduate certificate programs provide specialized knowledge in software testing, quality assurance and software engineering for students who don't have the time, money or desire to complete a full master's degree program. Graduate certificates are generally open to students with bachelor's degrees and/or work experience in the field. Some schools may require those without a relevant bachelor's degree (computer science, engineering, mathematics, etc.) to take prerequisite courses before enrolling in the certificate program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graduate certificate programs can be completed in as little as 1 year, part-time
  • The hands-on nature of many software QA certificate programs provides you with the practical skills you need for employment in the field
  • Course credit can likely be transferred towards a related master's degree

Cons

  • A graduate certificate program in software QA may not be offered in your location (however, broader certificate programs in software engineering might be available)
  • You may face job competition from those who have completed the more comprehensive master's degree
  • A graduate certificate may be insufficient for certain college teaching, research or consultancy positions

Courses and Requirements

Graduate certificate programs teach the knowledge and skills needed to perform testing and quality assurance during the software development process. Common courses cover testing tools, managing testing and test automation. Certificate programs in software QA or software engineering are likely to require the following courses:

  • Software testing techniques
  • Software quality assurance
  • Software requirements
  • Software design
  • Software project management

Graduate certificate programs in the broader field of software engineering may also address such topics as software development, user interface design and database management systems. Some schools also offer or require a capstone or research project.

Online Degree Options

A few graduate-level certificate programs in software quality assurance or software testing are available online, as are a number in software engineering. Some schools offer their programs completely online, while others offer a hybrid format with some courses offered online and others offered on-site.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

All students in the field can benefit from familiarizing themselves with a variety of software programs, operating systems and technologies. If you know what you want to focus on after your certificate program, you can also choose elective courses or research projects that address your area of interest. Finally, networking with user groups and professionals in the industries and technologies that appeal to you is a good way to increase job prospects.


Master's in Software Engineering

Master's degree programs in the field are usually offered in software engineering and include quality assurance and testing course components. These programs teach the fundamentals of the discipline and provide an in-depth understanding of best practices in software engineering technologies, methodologies and tools. Most programs cover both technical and management aspects of software engineering.

Master's of science programs in software engineering are designed for those with bachelor's degrees who want specialized knowledge in the field or who want to change fields completely. Most departments consider both academic and work experience in the admissions process. Some schools require a relevant undergraduate degree but will accept students from other fields if they have related work experience, pass an examination and/or take transition classes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An MS in software engineering will give you a competitive job advantage, especially in organizations where most employees hold an advanced degree
  • A master's may help you prepare for a management-level position with a high top-end salary, such as software development manager, in which the highest paid ten percent of workers earned $150,000 or more*
  • A master's degree may qualify you to teach at the community college or even university level
  • Master's programs often offer convenient full-time or part-time schedules to accommodate the needs of the traditional and working student

Source: *PayScale.com (July 2012 figures).

Cons

  • A master's in software engineering can take several years to complete
  • Because software engineering is such a practical and changing field, many employers seek work experience in addition to any degree
  • Colleges may prefer to hire those with PhDs for teaching positions

Courses and Requirements

Master's of science degrees in software engineering consist of core coursework in software development, project planning and quality control. If you do not have a related undergraduate degree, you will also likely take prerequisite courses in mathematics, computer programming and/or operating systems.

Common courses in software engineering master's programs include the following:

  • Requirements engineering
  • Object oriented modeling
  • Software architecture
  • Software project management
  • Software testing and quality assurance

Depending on the school, you may also take elective classes such as information security, game development, user interface design, legal issues or engineering economics. Some programs allow students to choose an area of concentration such as software development or computer security. Schools may also require a research paper, capstone project, internship, comprehensive examination and/or oral examination.

Online Degree Options

A number of master's degrees in software engineering are available completely online. Most of these programs include a software assurance or testing course component, with some schools allowing students to specialize in software QA or testing. Many departments offer their degree programs - with the same coursework and requirements - both on-site and online. Some programs also require a capstone project, graduate thesis or internship as part of their master's degrees.

Stand Out with this Degree

Networking through user groups, student organizations, internships and industry associations can increase the job prospects for all students. Master's candidates can also benefit greatly by becoming skilled at a variety of software programs, operating systems, programming languages, scripting languages, testing frameworks and technologies during their course of study.

Increasing emphasis on computer security suggests that graduate students who have studied information security, systems designs and advanced mathematics will have an edge in the job market. Students can also choose an elective course, program concentration, master's thesis or research project that addresses their area of interest.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Computer Science - Software Engineering
      • MS in Computer Science - Software Engineering
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Computer Science - Software Engineering
      • Master: Computer Engineering
      • MS - Systems Engineering
    Bachelor's
      • BS - IT - Software Systems Engineering
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
      • B.S. - Software Development With No Declared Minor or Concentration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Software Development
  • Online Programs Available
    4. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Technology: Software Analysis and Development
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • PhD-TIM - Engineering Management
    Master's
      • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • MSTIM - Engineering Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Engineering Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Utica College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Computer Forensics Cert
  • Campus Locations:
    10. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Network Engineering

Featured Schools

Lewis University

  • MS in Computer Science - Software Engineering

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Colorado Technical University

  • MS - Computer Science - Software Engineering
  • Master: Computer Engineering
  • BS - IT - Software Systems Engineering

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Herzing University

  • B.S. - Software Development: Computer Programming Concentration
  • B.S. - Software Development With No Declared Minor or Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Software Development

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Technology: Software Analysis and Development

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • MBA - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • MSTIM - Engineering Management

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Engineering Technology

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