Friday, April 22, 2016

The Changing Role of Software Testers

Back in the earliest days (probably before most of the readers here were born, around 1958., there was no distinction between testers and developers. They were all called programmers, and the best of them were chosen for our test group (ours, on Project Mercury, was the first test group that I know of).
Our test group was copied for a number of IBM Federal Systems projects, but over the years, people started having a different sort of test group. These groups were not made up of programmers, but were largely chosen because they would be cheaper than programmers. It was widely believed that any idiot could do testing. Many times I heard managers say they could train monkeys to sit around banging on keys.
Since that time, gradually over the years, more managers have come (ever so slowly) to realize that testing is a specialty that requires special people with special training and talent. We still have many “monkey-managers,” and for those managers, the role of testers has not changed much. But where professional testing is valued for itself, yes, the roles of tester and developer have become more similar (though not identical).
BTW, the role of monkeys hasn’t changed much, but, then, some developers play that role very well.
(see also, Perfect Software)


Albert Gareev said...

Dear Jerry,

I enjoyed reading your latest post. And I feel the same.

Back in Russia, in 1990s, I also was trained as a software engineer. There were no division to testers and programmers. The focus was on the ingenuity mindset and a life long learning and research.

In fact, even though I was in the hardcore IT faculty ("Informatics and Robototechnics"), we complained - because every semester we had courses like History, Chemistry, Physics, Ecology, .. , and always Philosophy. That was, of course, on top of Math, Math Analysis, Applied Math, and Systems Analysis.
Yes, we complained, because we thought we didn't need any of that. We didn't think we'd ever use that knowledge.

But, as our wise teachers were saying, it was for the purpose of stretching of our minds, forcing them to process vast amounts of seemingly unrelated information, and making us to learn the skill of learning in a systematic way.

Looking at my career, and I spent first years as a programmer, and last ten years I spent in various testing roles in Canada, I can fully acknowledge that testing I'm doing demands all of my skills and capabilities; requires to think deeper, broader, and sharper than in a programming role.
So, thank you for "..the best of them were chosen for our test group".

Back to your article - thank you for the historical information. Wow! You witnessed the testing discipline being born!
It's still so young and seems to be still struggling for the right to exist as a discipline distinct from programming.
When I was doing my research, I concluded that testing (in a way) dates back to over 5,000 years. Even blogged about it ( I also have a reference to your works there. I use your definition of quality as a touchstone in my testing.

Thank you!
Albert Gareev

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clw666 said...

Yes I have heard this 'monkeys' affectation. I have also been told 'once it is automated we won't need you at all'.
That is until a beta testing-type bug is found and then the complaints can sometimes start ....'Only YOU could find that' (inference that the test analyst is being unnecessarily hard on the software)
We have to remember hat Human Nature comes into play and persons that criticise, break or otherwise are seen to destroy the handiwork or 'baby' of a programmer/developer will often be seen negatively (defence mechanism), especially if the test analyst cannot code themselves ....