Software testing is not … easy to explain. Last part.

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Software testing is not…

Software testing is not … part 2.

Software testing is not … part 3.

Software testing is not… finding bugs part 4

Software testing is not … playing. Part 5

There it goes, finally I come to the final chapter of the series of what software testing is not. The topics that I choose to cover in it are:

Software testing is not … set of predefined actions.

I bet you and I am pretty sure I would win, that if you ask 100 people related to testing and involved in software development, what software testing is about, you will mostly get answers like – finding bugs, following testing scripts and steps and scenarios, in order to discover bugs. So, why is that? What happened?

At first it is the enormous effort of companies and testing certification academies to “formalize” testing and represent it as something easy to do, easy to learn, easy to transfer as knowledge, so they easily sell it or replace one specialist with another.

And it’s totally understandable why people fall for that lie, why they prefer taking the short cut of the formalized version of testing, instead of the more analytical and more complex version of it. Imagine the following situation, just like Morpheus in Matrix with the red the blue pill in his hands. You are the new tester in our community and you have that choice:

  • You take the red pill, you go to certify yourself, you get to write test scripts in a very document or requirement driven way, you follow the development methodology guidelines, you follow the “best practices”, you act like tools are silver bullet that could solve all problems and that would ease the testing effort so much that you will practically have to do nothing, just hit run and the magic will happen.
    In general, to believe that testing is easy, once it is documented well, if you have the proper functional documentation, design documentation, if your testing scripts are written in a detailed way, so everyone could read and repeat them. Or…
  • You take the blue pill, you learn that software testing is complex cognitive activity, that its roots lie not only in the area of technology and programming, but much more in epistemology, psychology, sociology, logic, philosophy in general. You learn that certification means only, that you showed knowledge to someone’s understanding for software testing and that sometimes that “someone’s” understanding might have nothing to do with reality. You learn that your path as a software tester will be long and rough and you will have to put a lot of effort in order to stay relevant and make a difference. You will have to learn that no practice, methodology or tool is the ultimate solution to a problem, and every time you approach a problem you will have to investigate it and build your solution on the fly, rather than following someones “instructions”.
    You will learn that automation is in fact tool assisted testing, that its purpose is not to replace human testing, but to modify it, to enable it, to achieve more. You will learn that tools don’t do miracles, they only do what they are instructed to do, that automated checking is in fact one more responsibility in your testing practice and you will have to spend additional time taking care of it, extending it, debugging it, keeping it up to date and accurate.
    You will learn that testing is not about requirements and documentation, and that tester’s purpose is not to find bugs only, but to asses risks and provide information, not even to prevent issues from happening, just to provide accurate information about the product/project and the risks that might make the difference between successful product and a total failure.
    And last, but not least, you will learn that testing is about learning, it is organic, it is constantly evolving, it’s analytical, it’s experimental and is extremely hard to do it well, not only, it is also extremely responsible activity. It will probably take you decades to learn to do it well, to explain it well and to teach others to do it well.
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So, given these two options, as a novice tester, which one will you choose?


… easy to explain

Unfortunately, in the above situation many novice testers will get the easy way, the short cut. And we shouldn’t blame them for that. There is one major reason for that and it is, testers don’t talk enough about testing, we don’t explain what testing is and what it is not and one of the reasons for that is – explaining testing is not easy.

Everyday in our careers we are told by other people what testing is and how we should perform it, but think about it, how many times did you take the responsibility to say: “No, this is wrong. Let me explain what testing is and why I do it that way”. Conforming with other people’s false opinion about testing is harmful and toxic for the testing craft, we should take care and responsibility to educate our team members or other members involved in software development, what testing is and how we do it, to achieve high quality.

And by this I don’t mean confront their point of view. We should approach this with a lot of understanding, because the effort to downgrade testing, to present it as formalized activity, to strip its organic and analytic nature was huge. That’s why we should approach such opinions in an educational way, just like a teacher. As in school, when a student has wrong opinion about some problem, if we just say “no, you are wrong, you should listen to me, because I am the one who knows”, we won’t achieve anything, in fact the chance to have the student rebel against our position gets even higher. Instead we should focus on providing the other perspective, explain why do we think that this is wrong, provide information, provide our personal experiences in support to our claim. We should drive the conversation or the argument in the educational domain, where both sides will have the opportunity to test their view points and rethink them, in order to gain knowledge.

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And this is not easy, it’s not easy to speak about testing and do it in a structured way, making logical conclusions about your positions. That’s why we prefer to say what testing is not. And we are comfortable doing it, that was the reason why I started the series with “What software testing is not…”, but we should take that effort and move to the other side and start telling the story of what software testing is, what is its nature, how it is beneficial for the product and so on. And that’s what I intend to do.

So, as last words from these series, I’ve said about a hundred times, but I will again, testers, remain active – blog, participate in conferences, discussions, forums, webinars, write and read blogs, comment, make a fucking difference, no one will do that for you. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed the series, if you liked this post, I would love to read your comments, I will appreciate your shares and retweets.

Also, I have a challenge for you. Do you think I missed something? (I sure did) Were you ever pissed off by a ridiculous claim about software testing that you don’t see in this list, well tell me, extend my list, in the comments below. I would greatly appreciate your input.

Thanks for reading and I hope I will see you again guys in the second part of the series – what software testing is. 🙂 Good luck.

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Senior software engineer in testing. The views I express here are mine, they don't represent any position held by any of my employers. Experience in mobile, automation, usability and exploratory testing. Rebel-driven tester, interested in the scientific part of testing and the thinking involved. Testing troll for life. Retired gamer and a beer lover. Martial arts practitioner.

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