Common misconceptions about testing and the people who perform it.
Being a tester in software engineering comes with its own sets of myths and stigma about the role. This post is about the these misconceptions and i aim to hopefully give an inside perspective of someone who has actually been through these woods and maybe help to change these.
Who is a tester in today’s real world you might ask? Well, one of the MD of my current company had below profound thought to share.
A tester is a cross between a developer and a product manager with a healthy dose of paranoia — Sidu Ponnappa
1. Manual testing is non technical and easy
As harsh as it sounds, this is where most of the stigma comes within testing as a skill. People who are doing manual testing are thought of as less technical as they are in most cases are required to black box test the application using the UI like an end user would do.
Is this true?
Well, Yes and no. Testing can be as technical as the individual so desires given a simple fact, If he has the right mindset to look.
A person doing testing need not restrict himself to just UI testing. There are many different areas where a tester can add value to app development (API/DB/Contracts/Integration/Unit/Performance/Security) and so on. All of these areas requires someone to go in, understand how the nuts and bolts work and then find ways of identifying the gaps and “break” the system
Obviously the above requires a lot of technical skills and tool knowledge and are quite tedious.
2. A tester is born with special skills and is the “ONLY” one who owns quality
This one bums me out not as much when it comes from devs but rather from testers themselves.
Throughout my career i have seen/faced this situation where devs who are not motivated enough to test their own code would throw each and every small change to the tester to verify and the tester would find some issues/bugs in this code. This is followed by self validation and euphoria and the dev and test repeat this cycle for endless no of hours.
Testing is not a magical skill which only a select few individuals posses or can master. We are not special snowflakes. Anyone who believes this is just wasting his and his peers time.
Developers can test code, PM can test and so can a tester. Anyone who has the right testing mindset and is curious about how stuff works/breaks can contribute to this effort.
Let’s take this with a grain of salt. Some activities are better guided by a person who specializes in testing and can move the team towards a culture of quality but this in no way concludes that it is the testers who own quality.
Now if both dev/testers would do each other a big favor and get their heads out of their asses and work together we would have a much better team and quality product at the end of the day.
3. Testing is just verifying the app from the UI
“You are introduced into a new project with no test coverage, what would be your approach?” — Asked a tester to another
If you ask the below question to someone who is getting started with testing and automation, chances are you would hear something like below.
Well, I would just test and automate every case on the UI using selenium/appium or equivalent tool — Answered the tester
Did you spot the mistake in above approach?
Well for starter,
- It completely inverts the automation pyramid. The intent for testing something should be to get as quick of a feedback as possible and UI tests completely beat that intent
- Also this creates a dysfunctional scenario wherein someone has to maintain and debug all these 1000+ long running tests that oddlysometimes fail. Gosh!
Yes you can parallelize the executions on a cloud provider and throw more VM’s or containers at the problem but that does not change the fact that successfully getting lot of value out of UI tests is indeed a very challenging task with low ROI in most cases.
Instead if more API, Contract tests, Integration, Unit tests are written with only a cherry pick of UI tests on top it would be a win win for everyone.
4. Manual testing and test automation are two separate entities
There is a bit of a great divide in the testing space where folks identify themselves largely as either a Test automation engineer (a.k.a SDET) or a manual tester and generally automation skills are more sought after than manual testing skills. Few folks even brag about it. On the other end of spectrum folks are reluctant of picking automation skills.
In reality though what seasoned testers realize is:
Test automation is just a means to an end. Not THE END in itself.
Manual exploratory testing is a large precursor to automation and requires a high degree of curiosity factor and ability to not look at a feature/app with inherent biases.
Automation is just another tool in the kitty bag of a skilled tester to get rid of tasks that are boring or repetitive or delegate computations that is better done by machines as an example would you like sniffing through thousands of lines of logs to identify some error patterns? Surely a machine can do this better.
It’s silly to think test automation kills jobs for a manual tester when it is there to make life easier. No one person can test 100 micro services with 10 conditions each every night. It’s not practical or possible even.
In essence manual testing and automation are really ally’s fighting the same war.
5. Test Automation is not “development”
Lots of testers believe they need to understand just the basics of programming to be able to succeed with test automation. As long as tester can write crummy code that does the job and works it is acceptable.
We don’t need patterns or clean code. A test function which is 100 LOC long is perfectly fine since we are not “real” developers anyways
Code is code. Regardless of who writes it.
We face challenges like below:
- The act of crafting meaningful automated tests requires understanding the feature behind it thoroughly and to ensure we assert code at the correct level using functional or non functional aspects. This requires sound dev skills.
- We need to write maintainable, extensible frameworks which are intuitive for others to follow and allow the testing efforts to scale.
- Choice of programming language with an ecosystem that supports the needs of different projects, developing POC’s, using IDE’s, working with build tools, CI, test frameworks as well as setting up telemetry using different reporting solutions are all activities which take good amount of skill.
How are these any less challenging than writing a backend service or a UI using some framework sometimes baffles me? It’s no less and should not be treated any less.
Testers also need to understand that anything less than clean code should not be acceptable and we need to understand sensible dev practices and patterns if the framework/harness has to scale.
Everyone is a developer and should aim have the same set of technical design/coding skills to be efficient.
6. Everything needs to be automated
This is a common misbelief among people who do not understand testing enough that if you have 1000 cases asserting your app then every last one of them needs to be automated.
What people learn from experience is that every new test that is added adds its own maintenance costs. Experienced people who have got their hands down in the trenches know that Test selection and prioritization i.e choosing what to automate and when is an essential skill and can make all the difference between successful or failed automation projects.
7. As a tester, we should be isolated from devs and should not look at dev code/PRs/Unit tests
Have you seen cases like this?
- Tester will ask the dev if he is writing enough unit tests for the feature and would be satisfied with just a verbal response?
- Tester would rarely take a look at created code in different pull requests?
- Testing is treated as a separate discipline and feel they should test everything from outside the box
All of these are in some shape or form myths or old practices which does not have much of a place in the modern software engineering world.
Agile as a core tenant advocates for “Whole team” approach wherein teams really are cross functional and can and should collaborate on code
As a tester. There is really nothing wrong in getting code access to the app that you are testing day in and out to get an insider perspective of how it really works. Or giving comments on PRs. It is acts like this that help bridge the gap between dev and test. You might not understand each and every component but you might be surprised by the value you can bring to the table with your systems thinking mindset and ability to see impacts beyond the immediate code, Often times a dev deep in his act of creation misses basic or edge conditions which are often better captured as a unit/integration test.
Well, you as a tester can help identify and even fix these issues.
And that it folks!
What do you think about the above? I am curious to hear your thoughts on this. Hopefully this post helps in a small way to clear some of the myths around testing.
If you found this useful in any way. Why not share it with a friend or colleague.
Until next time. Keep breaking stuff! Cheers!