Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Testers, Developers and Coders

What's the difference between a tester and a developer?

I originally looked at testing and development and the people that do it, like this:

I then migrated to believe in an overlap. Testers can sometimes develop, and developers can sometimes test.

Then came an important realisation. That testers are developers, insofar as they are part of the development of the software. Hopefully a well-used and important part.

However, there's a secret truth about this diagram. The strange thing about testing is that it doesn't require any particular skill, it just requires some sense of purpose. The desire to find things out about the product. When a coder compiles their code and sees a compiler error they've arguably just performed some testing. They have learned something about the product and then they can use the information to act on it. When they check their own work locally to see if it seems to behave sensibly before they put it in a build they have done testing. Informal testing, exploring the product for problems. This necessarily happens, it can't be avoided, even if they try! So where does that leave us, if coders are testers? Well, in some places they've decided that if testing can be done by anyone (which is pretty much true), then why not fire all of the testers and re-name the "developers"? Test is dead! Except that it's not, it's just being done by someone else.

Consider coders doing testing like bleach. It's potentially dangerous, but can be used for good. Now consider a view of testing where "testing can be automated", and "acceptance criteria" are a suitable substitute for actual requirements and non-shallow testing, as an acid that, if brought close to a sensitive surface like software development, can eat away at it. Now if we mix the bleach of tester-coders with the acid of testing ignorance we get a cloud of chlorine gas, choking the life out of coders, testers, software users, and anyone else who comes close enough. It's not likely to kill anyone in small enough doses, which is why it's possible to carry on with fake or bad testing especially in a big company where there's enough room for the gas to dissipate a little.

That's where the test expert lives. We are wardens of the health and safety of the people who design, build and use software. We ensure that the bleach is used responsibly in a well-ventilated area, and we keep dangerous acids locked away in a cupboard. We do this by not just exclusively testing, or concentrating on testing, but being skilled and tenacious in our pursuit of the truth and making it palatable enough to be realised by those blinded by their fantasies about their software. Don't strive to have testing achieved, strive to achieve good testing.

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