When you’re ready to automate your manual tests, you might naturally think you need to hire someone with a technical skill set who specializes in automating end-to-end tests. That is, you might think you need to hire a QA engineer.

It’s not an unreasonable assumption. But for many startups, it’s the wrong thing to do. 

QA engineers are quite expensive (in more ways than one), bottleneck release processes with their complex tooling, and can present other types of business risks.

For most startups, velocity and efficient spending are top priorities. So the drawbacks of hiring would be considerably painful if you didn’t have any other options for automating your test cases. But you do have alternatives. 

In this piece, we’ll break down the reasons why hiring a QA engineer might be a bad fit for your startup. And we’ll describe a compelling alternative to hiring that comes with all of its big upsides, with none of its big downsides.

Why is hiring a QA engineer a potentially bad idea?

Hiring a quality assurance engineer is expensive

It’s expensive to hire QA engineers, in ways you probably expect (like salary) and in some you might not. 

In this section, we’ll focus on the financial costs, putting aside the considerable time and opportunity costs of the hiring process. (It can take a lot of time to find, recruit, and onboard good people in any role, let alone QA engineering.)

Salaries

Let’s look first at the most obvious cost: salaries.

Publicly available salary databases like ones from Glassdoor and Indeed indicate hiring a full-time senior QA engineer with a few years of experience will cost you north of $100k in the U.S.

Most technology leaders would rather spend $100k+ on a new developer or engineer to work directly on the company’s product than spend it on QA — especially when there are more cost-effective QA solutions.

You could try to save money by hiring overseas in less expensive regions. But time zone and language differences among your software team members can make your DevOps and QA processes less efficient and/or more prone to errors. 

Tooling and infrastructure

Hiring a QA engineer also means paying for the testing tools and infrastructure the engineer will need to write, update (or “maintain”), and run test scripts and to analyze test results.

The job description of QA engineers typically centers around using open source testing frameworks like Selenium, Cypress, or Playwright to write and maintain automated tests in programming languages like Python or Java. Open source tools are “free,” but they also require:

  • Plugins that add important functionality. For example, Applitools is a popular commercial solution for adding visual validation testing to open source frameworks that otherwise only look at code. 
  • Test management software like TestRail to organize and manage the test suite. 
  • Real or virtual machines on which to run your tests. You can spin up and manage your own software testing infrastructure, or pay for a popular third-party test grid like Browserstack. 

Want to test in parallel to get results back more quickly? Browserstack charges $650 per month to run just five desktop tests in parallel. Very much not free. (Compare this to Rainforest QA — run hundreds of tests in parallel in our cloud of Windows and macOS virtual machines, and it’s all included in the price.)

BrowserStack pricing as of July, 2024

QA engineers use automation tools that bottleneck the release process and put quality at risk 

Many teams underestimate just how time-consuming it is to update — or “maintain” — automated test scripts to reflect intended changes in the app being tested. 

To be clear, if you don’t maintain your tests, then they can’t reliably do their job: letting you know when bugs and other unintended changes have slipped into your app.

We surveyed 77 startup teams in the U.S. and Canada about their automated software testing. Of the teams using open source testing frameworks like Selenium, Cypress, and Playwright, 60 percent spend at least 11-20 hours per week on maintaining automated tests.

And almost a quarter of these teams spend at least 31 hours per week. 

The more complex your app becomes (e.g., due to frequent updates), the more tests — and test maintenance — are required to give you confidence in the high quality of your app’s critical flows.

You can see this correlation between the number of (non-QA) engineers working on your app — which is a proxy for app complexity — and the time spent on test maintenance, as reported by our survey respondents.

Time required to maintain automated tests
Working with open source

Engineers working on the appHours per week
Median response
Hours per week
Max response
1-106-20>40
11-3011-2031-40
31+21-30>40

Test maintenance is such a burden that a full 29 percent of the teams we surveyed can’t keep up with it.

If you’re operating in an agile startup aiming to ship fast and frequently, test maintenance will be a painful bottleneck in your release process. And this puts software product quality at risk.

Because despite a lack of reliable test coverage, sometimes devs will ship without waiting for tests to get updated — because that’s what they’re incentivized to do. 

Scaling QA engineering is cost-prohibitive

As your software development team and app grow, the more QA testing you’ll need to do to validate an increasing amount of important functionality.

One QA engineer won’t be able to handle all the necessary test writing and maintenance by themselves. Which means hiring another expensive headcount to scale your software quality assurance capabilities along with the rest of your team and development processes.

There are no economies of scale — every time you need to hire another test engineer, that’s another ~$100K chunk out of your annual budget. (Though you could spend somewhat less per head if you hire junior engineers.)

Hiring QA engineers adds new kinds of management overhead costs

In spite of QA being an important part of the software development lifecycle, managing QA personnel requires different communication skills, perspectives, and knowledge than managing software engineers.

It’s difficult to quantify this mental overhead a manager has to take on when adding a new discipline to their reporting structure. But the additional mental energy required to manage a new type of contributor can detract from your focus on the core areas where you can differentiate yourselves in the market (which typically center around product development). 

Here’s how one of our customers put it. When we met, he was specifically trying to avoid adding a new discipline to his team members:

“Starting a new team with a new discipline and focus and training is kind of difficult at this stage in a business, especially when everything is about racing to market. I’ve hired QA before and it’s really painful to run an engineering team and a QA team as well. It’s very different disciplines in my opinion, even though they’re very tightly related.”

Cybersecurity startup CTO

Having just one QA engineer creates single-point-of-failure risk

If you’re thinking about hiring your team’s first QA automation engineer, then you should consider single-point-of-failure risk.

This is the risk that stems from a single person in the organization having specific knowledge and skills that can’t be immediately backfilled if that person is no longer available. 

If your QA engineer is no longer available to your team for some reason (e.g., got sick, got fired, quit), that means not having anyone to create or update tests unless you reallocate developer time from shipping to QA. And that’ll be the suboptimal tradeoff until you (a) decide to sacrifice on QA, which has its own notable risks or (b) figure out another solution, possibly including going through the lengthy hiring process again. 

What’s the alternative to hiring when you want to automate your tests?

While there are meaningful downsides to hiring a QA engineer into a startup, there are, of course, some clear benefits to hiring in-house.

When you hire, you get someone who:

  • Deeply learns your product and priorities, internalizing the context necessary to operate effectively.
  • Embeds with your software team, allowing communication and execution to happen smoothly and efficiently. 
  • Can develop a QA strategy, improve testing processes, and introduce QA best practices (assuming you’ve hired a qualified and experienced QA tester).

An ideal test automation solution would have these benefits, without any of the big downsides we’ve mentioned. So, that solution would have the upsides of hiring but would: 

  • Be affordable and cost-effective.
  • Include all the tooling and infrastructure you need.
  • Feature speedy test creation and maintenance to avoid bottlenecking your releases.
  • Avoid single-point-of-failure risk and additional management overhead costs.

AI-powered, no-code test automation with optional test automation services

We’ve specifically designed Rainforest QA to be the best alternative to hiring a QA engineer for web-app startups, featuring all the big hiring “pros” without the big “cons.” Here’s how we deliver on that commitment.

Note: Rainforest has been designed for functional testing of web applications. It’s not going to be a good fit for testing native Android or iOS mobile apps, and doesn’t perform non-functional testing like security or performance testing.

Intuitive, no-code automation saves time on test creation and maintenance

At its core, Rainforest offers an intuitive, no-code test automation framework. Not all “no-code” test automation tools are created equal — some are quite complex and difficult to learn. 

But with Rainforest, anyone from your team can jump in and quickly create and maintain tests without any training. And the test scripts themselves are all in plain English, so anyone can read and interpret them.

Part of a plain-English test script created in Rainforest QA, including test steps created by AI based on a simple prompt.

We know from our market research on test maintenance that using an intuitive, no-code tool like Rainforest saves teams a lot of time compared to using open-source tools:

Time required to maintain automated tests
Open source vs. no-code

Engineers working on the appWorking with open source
Hours per week
Median response
Working with no-code
Hours per week
Median response
1-106-201-5
11-3011-206-10
31+21-3011-20

Rainforest’s test automation framework is also unique in that it primarily evaluates and interacts with the visual layer of your app, just like your end users would. Contrast this with open-source frameworks, which test the code behind the visual layer. Rainforest gives you more confidence that you’re protecting the actual user experience.

Rainforest AI handles a lot of maintenance for you

While working with no-code can save your team some time, you’ll still need to dedicate a number of hours every week to keeping tests maintained. And the hours only go up as your app grows and becomes more complex.

Which is why we’ve integrated generative AI deeply into Rainforest — to remove even more of the test maintenance burden from your team.

Rainforest’s AI can automatically update — or “heal” — tests to reflect intended changes made to your app. (All the changes the AI makes are fully transparent, and you always have final control over your tests.) 

A six-minute demo of Rainforest AI, including its auto-healing capabilities.

Instead of someone on your team having to update your tests to reflect the latest state of your app, Rainforest’s AI can handle a chunk of the work for you. Your tests stay useful and reliable, with minimal work from your team.

A test in Rainforest automatically healed itself using genAI in response to a change in the tested app.

Experienced Test Managers take the remaining maintenance tasks (and more) completely off your plate

Finally, if you’d like to completely avoid the distraction of test creation and maintenance so your team can stay focused on shipping, we offer optional test automation services

Our services aren’t like traditional QA outsourcers or freelancers, which tend to suffer from communication and service-quality issues. We dedicate one or more Test Managers to your team. They work in or near your time zone, speak fluent English, and embed in your comms and project management tools (e.g., Slack, Teams, Jira, etc.) to deeply learn your product and priorities. All of our Test Managers have been with us since at least 2017, have been reviewed highly by customers, and undergo regular training and evaluations. 

When you need new or updated test coverage, all you need to do is send your Test Manager a message and/or quick overview video of what you need, and they’ll take care of the rest. When a test fails during a run (and it’s one of the failures not handled by the AI), the Test Manager handles the initial investigation, updating the tests that need it and passing the legitimate bugs along to your team.

They get started quickly — they can start creating your automated smoke suite on day one, and your full regression test suite not long after that.

“Our Test Managers are really proactive, they triage all the errors and things that happen in tests, they fix up the tests, they write new tests, and they ask crazy-insightful questions on the product. Rainforest has become a safe pair of hands for us.”

Tyrone Erasmus, Co-founder / CTO at Push Security

Between its intuitive no-code approach, AI implementation, and optional services, Rainforest can completely remove the bottlenecking burden of test maintenance from your team’s plate. So you can focus on shipping, fast, while having the confidence that your up-to-date test suite is catching bugs before they get to your end users.

Rainforest is an all-in-one platform

In addition to its AI-powered, no-code test automation framework, Rainforest includes all the tooling and infrastructure you need for writing, maintaining, and running automated tests and for debugging test results: 

  • Infrastructure. Run your tests massively in parallel on a cloud of Windows and macOS virtual machines (VMs) running all the popular browsers. Customers get test suite results back in less than four minutes, on average. 
  • Test management. Quickly organize your tests by feature, tag, and other dimensions. Add your tests to groups that run on a schedule or on-demand via your release process or the Rainforest QA UI.
  • Integrations. Get real-time notifications in Slack, Microsoft Teams, and/or email. Integrate Rainforest tests into your CI/CD pipeline with our API, CLI, GitHub Action, or CircleCI Orb.
  • Detailed test results. AI-generated explanations of test failures, test recordings, repro steps, HTTP logs, and browser logs to make debugging easier.

QA consulting expertise included with every plan

Plus, every Rainforest plan includes a dedicated Customer Success Manager (CSM). Our CSMs aren’t just experts in the platform — they’re problem-solving software QA experts who have helped hundreds of startups develop their test plans and app testing strategies, improve their QA methodologies, and implement best practices. You’ll effectively have a QA consultant on retainer. 

Exploratory testing services for functional and usability testing 

It’s generally not possible (or advisable) to cover every single functionality in your app with automated tests. 

To cover everything else, Rainforest offers exploratory testing services. We dedicated six experienced software testers to your account who, on-demand, can test everything off the “happy paths” covered by your automated tests. They’ll not only surface functional bugs, but usability issues, too.

Rainforest costs less than half of hiring a QA engineer

Rainforest is priced to start at less than half of the cost of hiring a QA engineer in the U.S., even when you add optional test automation services.

Talk to us about customizing a Rainforest plan to fit your needs.