Software Testing and Quality Services
Ubi dubium, ibi opportunitas.
As of January 2011 I am no longer maintaining this page.
I decided to leave the page here since some of you have expressed interest
in the content.
Please contact me via my web site link above. Thank you.
"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers."
Software Testing - A Primer
Planes, trains, and automobiles. Telephones, microwave ovens, and
television sets. Medical monitoring devices, power stations, and banks.
Software is just about everywhere nowadays in one form or another.
There are many highly-intelligent men and women who create the
software that drive all these wonderful, magical machines. The act
of translating ideas into reality is kind of like solving a complicated
puzzle. And to make things more difficult, each (software
development project) puzzle changes depending on a lot of things.
As such, there are no Rules in this "puzzle" of software
development (except maybe to remember to
nicely with your coworkers) so much as Guidelines.
There are many illustrative analogies for describing software
development projects. Here is another one: developing
software is kind of like building a house.. at night. Until you
shine a light on the work completed, you don't really know how well it
was built or meets the customer's expectations. Testers bring an
assortment of lights and ways of looking at things to help everyone see
as much as possible in the time available.
Almost everyone plays a "testing" role at one point or another when
they are involved in creating software. Some do it full-time.
There is both an Art and a Science to Testing Software.
Unfortunately, until recently, there has been a great lack in formal
education and training for developing good testing skills. The
software testing skills-spectrum is very broad though, so it will likely
take some time before this all becomes "academic" and a natural part of
the way we look at things.
Here is some information to get you started:
The People You Should
In addition to understanding the playing field, it helps to know who the
players are. Here are some of the people I know and respect in the
Software Testing profession. If you happen to see one of these names in an
email, next to an article, or on a book, read it! Better yet - attend one
of their workshops, courses, or go to the same conferences that they go to.
It's a good bet that you will probably learn something useful. I have.
There are many more terrific people in this industry. Start by getting
to know the ones doing work and research in an area of your interest. You
may find some of their articles on
StickyMinds.com, and some interviews on
DDJ Testing Blogs.
The Things You Should Know
What makes a great tester? A great tester is always learning, always
improving themselves. The following is a list of some of the key areas for
development for a Software Tester. (Many of these areas may also
generally improve the quality of your life outside of work too!)
(Click one of the links to jump to the section below)
BTW, I'm always adding to and clarifying this list, so please send me any
suggestions you may have.
1. Think like a Hacker
2. Think like a Scientist
- Learn or relearn the
Scientific Method. It is an indispensible process to help you
understand and do good testing. (Don't just rely on the one link I
include here. Google "Introduction to Scientific Method" and see what
turns up. Always read from multiple sources!)
- Learn Mathematics - in particular:
Mathematics is the language of Science. If you want to understand the
controls and variables in your testing 'experiments' then you should have a
good understanding of Stats.
- In Performance Testing, the Scientific Method and
Statistics are critical success factors.
- If you wish to develop Metrics for managing the testing
effort, you need to understand how to validate your assumptions in
order to understand what it is that you are really measuring. (Most
metrics I've seen and heard used on development projects are just really,
really bad because they have no rational mathematical basis whatsoever.)
- Psychology can give you some good insights.
Cognitive Psychology can help you understand the nature of observation (also
critical in good testing), while other branches of Psych can help you learn
to work effectively with project team members. Read "The
Irrational Tester" by James Lindsay. See the
People Skills section below for more.
3. Problem-Solving, Analysis, Critical &
- Become a
You don't need to be a genius to test software. It helps if you have a
consistent problem-solving approach that helps you to track down and
Lateral Thinking and Parallel Thinking! Browse Edward De Bono's
web site and material. The Six Hats method is particularly effective
in team environments.
- Learn how to organise information in various ways.
Whether you are working with
Mind Maps or Pareto Charts, learn how to collect and analyse data and
then present it in a meaningful way to achieve results. Every new
technique you learn becomes a new tool to add to your utility belt.
- You can find many useful books out there on Problem
Solving if you just look. Here are a few to get you started:
- Exercise your brain to keep it sharp! Solve puzzles
- especially lateral thinking ones. There are many puzzle web sites
out there - browse them on your lunch breaks! (My Fun
page has some examples.) Not into puzzles? Pick up a Mystery
novel instead. Make critical & lateral thinking a part of your fun
time and you'll soon discover that work might be easier than you thought!
- Become an Investigator.
There is a lot to be gained by knowing how to interview people while working
on a software development project. Learn to ask the right questions.
Learn to read the cues from those providing the answers. Learn how
to ask the questions so that you get the information you need.
- Practice developing
Mental Models. This is especially useful when "Black-Box" testing.
Use your observations to come up with a theory of how you think the software
or just some feature works. Discuss the ideas with your peers and
explore the various boundaries of your model to see if you discover anything
interesting about what you are (really) working with. Some call this
process "Reverse Engineering" the design. It's a useful tool for
testers.. whatever you call it.
4. Technical (Report) Writing
- It doesn't really matter how good a tester you think you
are if you can't communicate clearly and concisely. A tester who can't
write a clear bug report is like a carpenter who can't use a hammer -
- Society for
Techical Communication. Ever wonder how Technical Writers become
good at writing the user documentation? Practice. Join the STC
for a year or two, attend their local chapter meetings, read their
magazines, befriend the Technical Writers in your organization and learn how
to become a better writer.
- Language barrier? If you are having troubles putting
your thoughts into words, just remember that a
picture is worth a thousand words.
- Take a screen capture of the problem you are looking at and
edit the picture in a simple "Paint" program that comes with most Operating
- Use the drawing tools to add arrows
and simple text to point out the problem(s) you see.
- Save the file as a PNG, GIF, or JPG (just *not* a BMP!) and
upload it as an attachment into your Bug Tracking system or email it to the
- Start a Blog.
Practice may not always make perfect, but it might get you
pretty close. If you want to become a better writer, then write!
- Take a
Journalism course. Learn to focus on the facts and present them in
- One of my favourite quotes: "I keep six honest
serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and
When and How and Where and Who." - Rudyard Kipling, The
Elephant's Child (1902)
5. People (a.k.a. the "Soft") skills
Making Software is first and foremost a people-activity. Approach it
from a strictly technical perspective and you will go down in
every time! It's not about brown-nosing and politics.. it's about being
personable, respectful, and professional. You will always be more
successful as part of a team than as an individual.
6. Testing Theory, Skills and Knowledge
This is, of course, one of the most important areas to focus your
professional development on as a Software Tester. Without a doubt, you
will need to understand things like:
how to develop a Test Strategy; what are the various Test Techniques and
when to apply them; and the role and strengths of the various types of testing
performed throughout the development of software. (The latter two in
particular will require
experience, not just knowledge.)
TestingEducation.org - your one-stop Software Testing Knowledge
resource! Follow the links to Course Notes, Lab Articles, and Workshop
materials. Did I mention that it's all FREE?!
Start Reading and going through the stuff today!
Lessons Learned in Software Testing, by Kaner, Bach and Pettichord;
Testing Computer Software, by Cem Kaner.
- Software Engineering. Discover the "big picture".
Find out where testing fits into the "Quality Assurance" picture and what
are some the many different verification and validation activities performed
throughout a development project. Read
The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks.
7. Additional Technical skills
- Project Management.
You want to understand Test Management and what a "Test Plan" is really
about? Take a Project Management course. Don't take one of those
wimpy one-day courses either.. go for at least a three-day hands-on
workshop. You won't regret it. Check out the
Project Management Institute
VBScript. Scripting comes in handy when you are testing, but more
importantly it helps you get a better appreciation of some of the types of
bugs that may crop up during software development.
- Databases. Learn
SQL! Become familiar with Oracle, MS SQL, or just play around with
MySQL. Any tester
worth their weight in salt isn't afraid to find out where the data goes
after you type it into a User Interface. You become a more effective
and valuable tester when you are comfortable looking at and modifying the
data in a database directly.
- Get friendly with the Web.
Learn what a
WIKI is and how you might
use one within your Test group or department.
Twiki is rather popular
within companies because it provides security and revision history.
- Information Management.
As Testers, our job is to provide information to the decision-makers.
A good part-time hobby would probably be to investigate this interesting
area of Information Science and Knowledge Management a bit further. (It's
not a coincidence that the "I" in "IT" stands for "Information"...)
- Hardware. It's
not mandatory for all kinds of testing but I've found knowledge of hardware
components to be very useful to me over the years. Knowledge of how
RAM works, RAID and hard drives, Modems, Video cards, CD and DVD ROM
technology, Networks, Printers, etc. can all be beneficial when testing
software and systems. What's the best way to get to know hardware?
Turn it into a hobby! There are some good courses and certifications
available if you want to get serious about it. Check out
certifications like "A+" (A Plus), "Network+", and so on.
Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking, by Gerald M. Weinberg.
A must read!! This is the first in
a 4-volume set. Get them all if you can.
- Spend some time in Technical Support. (Some time in
Sales or Marketing might be an okay second choice.) Understand your
first-hand and find out what's really important to them. You may
- Learn about Quality Theory from the masters: Deming,
Juran, Watts Humphrey, etc. Read the publications coming out of the
Carnegie Mellon Software
Engineering Institute. The PDCA cycle and some other ideas may
- Learn what Software Development
Life Cycles are and what the different development models have to
offer. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each model should help
you know when to apply the best one for the situation at hand. Just
remember this rule: One size NEVER fits all.
- Learn about CMMI. And then forget all about
it. Remember: you are a Tester. This info should help you better
understand your role in the big picture as well as understand the
differences between "Software Quality Assurance" and "Testing".
9. Integrity and Discipline
- Take the job seriously. Be assertive - stand up for
yourself without putting others down. Lead by example.
Accept and admit your mistakes. Better yourself -- others will follow.
- What does Integrity
mean to you?
- Find a good "Code of Ethics"
and follow it. For example, check out the ones for
- Tact and Diplomacy.
- Develop Presentation Skills. Learning how to summarise important
information into a presentation with impact is not easy. There are
books, courses, and workshops available to help you make the most of your
presentations and charts -- look into them.
is one person you should get to know. Get one of his books, or better
yet attend one of his workshops if you can!
- Here's a hard one for many people I've met: Learn how to get to
- Become a Mentor or Coach. Besides the immediate benefit of sharing
knowledge, coaching helps you to develop patience, respect and
understanding, and how to build relationships. All of these will
strengthen your team.
11. Professional Development
- Participate in the Software Testing community by joining
some mailing lists. Participate! Everyone's skills,
backgrounds, and experiences are different, so you never know when your
feedback may be the key to helping someone else with a problem similar to
one that you have already encountered.
- Attend a conference or workshop.
Check out the Continuing Education courses at your local college or
university. Take a writing course, Project Management course, or look
for some good Leadership or Management courses that might give you insights
into working with others.
- Join a local or international Professional networking
organisation. Take note of the
Association for Software Testing. Some "QA" groups don't cover
much Software Testing, but this group is all about the Testing!
- For example, some peer networking groups in my area include
- Start a Library!
- The age of paper books has not yet come to an end. Start
collecting! There are many suggestions already made on this page.
- Everyone's library is customised to their own interests. At a
minimum, you should have some books from each of the above categories.
- Get a magazine subscription. There are many other good
magazines out there but not many of them focus on Software Testing. Some
good ones that I have come across include:
Testing Club Magazine - free online magazine. Start here.
- comes in two flavours: hardcopy and Zinio electronic format. (I prefer
the hardcopy to take with me places, but the electronic format could be
really handy if you live far from the U.S. or if you prefer reading
StickyMinds.com - the electronic companion to
magazine. Many discussion forums you can participate in and several
eLetters that you can sign up for to keep you abreast of current
submissions to the site.
- help you build leadership skills by giving you the lingo and
information you need
Software Test & Performance - issues available in PDF format for
free. Great gems in some of these issues!
LogiGear Newsletter Articles on important software QA testing
Contact me at:
paul [at] staqs [dot] c o m