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What the *BLEEP* do we know about Software Testing?

In IT’s ever expanding forward movement towards innovations and trends , we sometimes lose touch with the basic human elements that remain the same no matter the advances in technology. Communicating with our clients and colleagues about what we can do for them in simple terms is one of those ever remaining challenges. Human communication remains a face to face affair even in our age of social media.  And though we as IT professionals may fancy ourselves the elite of the information age – we must remain prudent and aware of not  leaving our clients behind.

Case in Point: Software Testing

I was recently discussing with some new “junior” test colleagues about software testing. Inevitably, we came to the point of discussing “the basics”. When testers talk about “Testing” or “Quality”, we assume that we know what we are talking about. The fact is, we usually do “know” what we are “talking” about, but the challenge is that we cannot always explain it in simple terms for everyone who isn’t a tester. The apparently simple question: “What is Software Testing?” may seem evident to an IT professional. But I can guarantee that for just about everyone else, this is far from the case.

To test this, my colleague testers agreed to launch an experiment. Each would ask our colleagues, family / friends, or clients what THEY thought testing was.  The results point out that “what we do” is not universally understood. A baker can explain what they do in simple terms and the added value for society is evident. For testing however, we encounter lots of misunderstandings, and it seems that it’s all in the eye of the beholder. The Experiment had ended. We all had different results.

  • A tester spoke to his girlfriend studying accounting : She emphasized that any product needs some form of quality control before it is released to the public but that she didn’t care if it was tested so much as if it worked.
  • Another tester asked friends over drinks if they knew what he did. He clearly had to work up his courage to admit that he is not only working in IT but he is actually a software tester. As if it was something that he already knew they wouldn’t understand.  Here testing is seen as some “specialty” or isolated and unique task. We are “odd”.
  • One tester spoke to her Father and he knew about terms like “bugs”.  Interesting that the term “bug” is known by most people, yet this term makes us look destructive and negative. We are likened to exterminators with insecticide. We hunt defects and eliminate them.
  • One tester spoke to his mother who didn’t even know what software was but she knew it must work or else her husband would forget to take his heart medication.. We testers have a big responsibility it seems and it’s taken for granted that the software works. We only hear when a defect causes problems, we don’t hear when testers potentially save lives by finding dangerous defects first.
  • I spoke to a developer colleague who claimed the “first tester” is the developer then it is provided to the “tester-tester” as not all developers test their code. Isn’t it reassuring to know we are still needed? Developers do make mistakes and a good collaboration between testers and developers can increase the quality of a system. But we are the “tester-testers”. Again, a specialized group.

With a variety of answers, it seems all of them realized Software Testing (once they were made aware of it) is an important endeavor. They saw it as a form of Quality Control that impacts their lives. They understood that a tester is needed. But did we get any closer to solving how to communicate to others about testing? Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. We learned from this experiment that testing needs to be explained in simple terms and placed in context. The value of testing needs to be illustrated to match the situation.

We took some positive lessons from the experiment as we learned to put more thought into explaining to others in a clear fashion what we do. At least now they know we exist. If we can’t talk clearly about what testing is and its importance to others, then no one will care and rightfully so. Of course testing is important, but “they” just don’t know. That’s our job as testers – to help them know.

Talking to our clients and our business partners or end users can also present a barrier of communication when explaining why testing is needed, but if we cannot explain what the added value is or what the return on investment entails, then we should take Einstein’s advice.  We don’t need to fight about definitions, we need to always put effort to explain in simple terms what we do and then do what we say.

Testing? What is it? Some say we help business make decisions about the risks in their software. Others say that we are quality advisors along the path of their product development. We help business find issues before those issues reach their clients. Once Testers can explain what they do, the others will get the picture and realize that “not testing at all” is not an alternative with the importance and complexity of systems today.

Do we need objective definitions? “TMap NEXT®” (Sogeti’s well-known and implemented Business Driven Test Methodology) defines Testing as: Testing is a process that provides insight into, and advice on, quality and the related risks of a system… Seems simple enough. But we as Testers shouldn’t have to adhere to one or other definition. We need to take the situation at hand and re-define testing to suit the purposes.

For some Testing is :

  • “Identifying the risks and correcting them before end users suffer from them”
  • For others it’s an “Explorative and learning process carried out by skilled individuals”.
  • Or in many cases: “We help business find issues before those issues reach their clients.


“What is your definition?

But “Software Testing” is not alone. it’s the same with terms like : “The Cloud” , “Big Data”, or “Business Intelligence”… Try to explain these terms to your Family, friends, neighbors or children. Try in one simple sentence. The results can be very revealing. We need to remember to speak in simple terms and show the value of testing for the context and stop using circular definitions and testing jargon only, otherwise we run the risk of looking like we do not know “bleep” about testing nor our client’s needs.


More information:

DanielMaslynDaniël Maslyn is a passionate and creative software testing professional with over 15 years of experience in real-world situations ranging from hands-on operational testing roles to test management positions. Knowledgeable in a variety of test methods, techniques and testing paradigms.

His focus has always been on the quality of the “end user” experience and how pragmatic testing can improve this. He is an up and coming speaker at global conferences and guest lecturer at universities in Belgium on various topics relating to software testing. A sampling of topics or testing methods he has been involved with or influenced by include: TMap® NEXT®, TPI NEXT®, TAKT, Test process Coaching, Innovative Test Consultancy, Set up of Test Competence Center(s), Global Software Testing Research, Right Sourcing for Test Services, Results driven Test Approach, Agile Testing, Exploratory Testing, Context Driven Testing, Test Tools, Test Automation and collaboration and compliance with known testing or development standards such as RUP®, TMMi®, CMMi® among others.

He is TMap® Next Foundation and Test Manager certified , CATS Agile Tester certified and holds other testing techniques or methods certifications as well as various management certifications such as ITILv3 and PRINCE2 foundation certifications. He is part of the Belgium Testing SME team for Agile Testing and other topics and was a contributing content elaborator to the PointZERO® vision.

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