How to Effectively Discuss Software Testing

It is not easy to come up with a definition that truly encompasses all that the discipline of software testing entails. From writing test cases to performing automated testing, what a particular software tester does can vary greatly. It is not surprising then, that there often misconceptions surrounding discussions of software testing. Reading a post titled “Six Things That Go Wrong With Discussions About Testing” by James Bach on his blog gave me insight into some of the things that I should avoid when talking about testing.

The first point that Bach brings up is that the number of test cases that you have written does not matter. To anyone who has ever written a test case, this is a pretty obvious one. You could write a million test cases that all do the same thing, but if you’re not exercising the code in unique and possibly unexpected way, then you are wasting your time. Any tester who brags about the number of test cases that he or she has written is clearly missing some critical understanding of the purpose of testing software.

Secondly, Bach states that each test should be thought of as an event rather than as an object. Whether it is done automatically or manually, tests must be performed, they do not simply exist. This is why software testers will never be replaced by computers or algorithms. Each time a tester performs a test, it produces a unique and meaningful result. This ties in with Bach’s fourth point, which is that even in the case of automated testing, humans are responsible for the successes or failures of the tests being run. Computers are unable to think critically about problems like humans can, and they can only go so far as to check simple facts, not effectively¬†test¬†software.

Backtracking to Bach’s third point, testers should always be able to describe their testing strategy, even as it evolves over the course of testing. Understanding how and why a given test is being performed allows testers to think about things such as how to improve the test, what tests need to be developed next, and how to develop better tests more quickly in the future.

The fifth topic that Bach discusses is how people “talk as if there is only one kind of test coverage”. As a student currently learning about the types of testing coverage, this one came as a bit of a surprise to me. I imagine that testers who fall victim to this fallacy of testing never received formal education in software testing or have become so set in a single way of testing that they are failing to see the bigger picture.

Lastly, Bach discusses testing as an exploratory learning task rather than as some scripted, monotonous procedure. Again, I think that my current enrollment in a software testing course leaves me a bit biased on this point. Nearly every test that I write is a learning experience for me, and I certainly do not feel that testing is a static task.

While I can certainly see where Bach is coming from with all six of his “Things That Go Wrong With Discussions About Testing,” I am pleased to know that the my understanding of software testing does not fall into any of his categories for the most part. I feel that many of these things apply to testers who may have been self-taught or had minimal theoretical training. I think that my education certainly helps me to see the big picture of why software testing is so essential, rather than just going through the motions of writing test cases for the sake of it.

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