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How to Adjust to the Changing Face of Software Testing

Matthew Heusser | March 15, 2013
Beyond testing scripts and automating everything, a new approach to software testing is gaining traction in larger organizations. Proponents including Barclays, the world's fourth largest bank. Should your team listen?

As for an inability to scale, Barclays Bank, along with others such as Raymond James Financial, seem to be proving that statement wrong.

Testing Is Dead, Long Live Testing

A few years after his initial presentation Brett Pettichord added the Agile School. This focuses on the programmer's perspective of testing and holds up unit tests, specifically test-driven development, as an exemplar. This kind of work-done by programmers, for programmers-can complement exploratory testing, as it improves code before it's explored from the customers viewpoint, reducing churn and waste from obvious defects.

Adherents to the context-driven school tend to talk about sapient testing so-called because it requires judgment and skill and is therefore work best suited for humans. The difference between the two has led to a belief that context-driven testers are opposed to automation. As Iain McCowatt points out, that isn't correct, strictly speaking. However, context-driven testers may offer additional, alternative ways of approaching testing other using tools to drive a browser.

Silicon Valley companies trying to evolve testing may be more familiar with something Alberto Savoia, a director of development at Google, referred to as "test is dead" in a keynote at the Google Test Automation Conference. Like the context-driven school, "test is dead" suggests the factory school can't scale to the challenges of today. It offers a different prescription, though.

Proponents of the meme see tendencies toward intense production monitoring, the capability to roll back changes in production quickly and GUI-driven test automation. All this is combined with massive exploratory testing, probably through a crowd-sourced vendor such as uTest. Companies that can do all that while offering free services on an extended beta (think Facebook or Google Mail) may just be able to eliminate traditional testing entirely.

"Test is dead" thinking doesn't reject context-driven testing as much as embraces it: It lays down a specific strategy that's appropriate for very specific conditions. Companies that don't give away the software for free and make money from advertising may need to consider a different model, though.

Microsoft's operating system division, for example, certainly has a different model, with a purchase fee and no push-button rollback. After Microsoft shipped Vista, it looked at its test process and decided to shift back to manual and exploratory testing, an example James Whittaker shared at an October 2011 speech in Anaheim, Calif.

Testing Can Be a Matter of Context

James Bach, a co-author of Lessons Learned In Software Testing , defined context-driven testing along with Cem Kaner in 2001. He was also first to recognize that these new kinds of customer-facing testing have risks.

James Bach wants to set your testers free-but are they ready for the responsibility freedom implies?

 

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