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Many manufacturing, engineering, software, and other development processes include steps for ensuring that products and services meet the needs and terms of the customer. A quality assurance engineer often performs steps to check a project at various stages of development in order to attest to the quality of what is being produced. In software engineering, a quality assurance engineer may be responsible for testing and debugging software code, while in hardware development, a quality assurance (QA) representative might be tasked with inspecting parts and assembly to ensure they meet government and client specifications. Most quality assurance engineers also review documentation and checklists developed for the project or program.
While quality controls are in place at most stages of a product’s development and are within the roles of all team members on a project, a quality assurance engineer generally performs steps at the end of a benchmark or milestone of a program time-line. If a client requests a design development process with reviews at the preliminary stage and at each progressive phase, a QA engineer likely will be reviewing and signing off as a last step in each phase. When an engineer finds a problem with quality at any of these stages, a product may be demoted for improvements and moved through the cycle as many times as needed to meet expectations and requirements.
Some companies have full-time devoted staff who provide quality assurance to a multitude of programs. Other firms may contract employees in order to complete one large-scale program or component of a program. Projects requiring official government overview, such as an aerospace upgrade of a military plane, for example, may utilize temporary on-site representatives who review and provide a QA stamp of approval based on federal guidelines as needed throughout a project term. Documentation often is a part of QA review and approval, as a product’s technical development and components often must be recorded as outlined in a contract.
Generally a quality assurance engineer has a high level of experience in a discipline which enables understanding at many levels of a program’s development. However, sometimes a QA specialist can apply the same quality techniques from one discipline to another field. Having an understanding of the smallest components of a program with an ability to identify problems with the completed project as a whole is typically a talent of a QA engineer in any specialty.
A unique skill of many QA professionals is the ability to test and even attempt to break a program or process in order to troubleshoot any potential problems before they become actual problems for end users. This can involve hours of software bugging and debugging, automotive and aeronautical road or flight testing, or hardware dynamics and temperature testing, depending on the field. Being able to identify issues before they become issues for a customer often is a large part of what a quality assurance engineer does.