Monday, June 27, 2011

It ain't negativity if it's the truth

I think every software tester has been accused of "being negative" at least once in their career. Funnily enough, a reply of "that's because it's my job" doesn't go down too well.

Still, when your job is based around finding what's wrong with something before it gets into the gentle hands of your customers (who are usually even more able to find problems than the best testers, because... well, we do what we think a sensible person would do. We usually don't get a chance to do monkey testing and randomly click stuff because we're flat out trying to make sure that would should work, does), you're going to have a mindset that's focused on finding flaws. Possibly you'll even get nitpicky. Or - horrors! - negative.

When you look at testing in the broadest sense we've got several basic responsibilities when it comes to new software. We're effectively responsible for making sure that
  • it does what it's supposed to do
  • it doesn't do anything it shouldn't do
  • it doesn't break anything that used to work
  • if it does barf, it does so as gracefully as possible
  • and it doesn't gobble all the available CPU, take forever to do a simple lookup, or any of the thousands of usually undocumented extras that are taken for granted.
  • Oh, and it looks good and doesn't confuse anyone.
In my experience, the first and the third points generally get hit for the most obvious scenarios. Anything beyond that is bonus, because getting those two stable usually takes all the time that's available before the release goes out. Also in my experience, code delivery is often late (usually because the schedule wasn't exactly realistic in the first place), and release dates are an immovable object of Herculean proportions (usually because there are contractual obligations to have something in a customer's hands by a certain date for money to change hands - and if money doesn't change hands there are serious implications for little things like jobs).

Also in my experience, when a customer hits on the one scenario in several million that blows the software up, they blame the testers for not finding it. They don't know - or care - that we're supporting hundreds of other customers who all have completely different configurations and would never hit that problem. They just want their scenario to work.

This might not go down well with managerial types, but I don't consider it to be negative when it's true. Even my typically blunt form of honest isn't something I'd call negative - because I'm not claiming things are worse than they are.

Of course, to those who like to live their professional lives in cocoons of happy-happy sales talk, it's going to sound negative.

(True story - the worst year my employer ever had, every month without fail the sales manager kept on with the "but next month will be great and it will all turn around". Needless to say, it didn't - but whatever the heck drug the sales dudes are on, I wouldn't mind a stash for release days. It must be potent stuff).

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