Wednesday, 14 October 2015

An introduction to testing


I’ve had a few requests for an article that explains what testing involves for a complete newcomer, so here it is! As I’ve progressed in my career in testing, I’ve discovered it’s a subject that isn’t widely taught in academia and very few people ever choose it as a career path. I’d like to be able to contribute to changing this and hopefully one day inspire others to choose it and feel the same passion to become a better tester!

What is testing?

Testing is the process of designing, executing and analysing tests. According to, the definition of a “test” is:
“A procedure for critical evaluation; a means of determining the presence, quality, or truth of something; a trial”
In other words, it typically means taking something - be that a piece of software, an aircraft or a piece of chocolate - and evaluating some truth from it while comparing it to some form of specification.
The result of carrying out these tests is that you gather information and learn something about the thing you are testing. Testing is all about learning as much as possible about whatever you are testing - through this you can provide information regarding how a system actually works, what specific code does, bugs and the overall quality.
The reason companies hire dedicated testers is simply because there is so much to learn and test! Typically, most companies operate as departments - with a programmer and a salesman focusing on totally different aspects of the company. Because of this, very quickly no one in the company knows everything about their product. As a tester or as a testing team you play a part in trying to provide this full picture - or at least provide people information on what they don’t know.

Why not document this information or automate these tests?

Absolutely! As a tester I am always promoting the use of documentation to ensure that the information I have to uncover is not difficult to uncover again.
Automation used well can also save a lot of time in discovering simple or basic failures particularly for more repetitive or laborious tasks, taking the burden off manual testing to focus on more creative types of tests.
However, both of these are expensive activities. Both require work to write, design and maintain and can only be written when the information has been defined.
Also, automation in itself is not testing because it cannot understand the context, what it is testing. The automation will only test what you tell it to test and will not, for example, investigate problems it notices during the test. So while it can save you some time performing repetitive checks, you still need a human to critically observe a system too.

Hence, the position of a tester exists to help guide the decisions on what tests to run, what to automate and what to document. This is all very dependant on what is being tested and the non-functional requirements of the business. There are companies that have requirements which mean a larger amount of automation and documentation is required than others. Some companies will have programmers carry out testing and others will have huge testing departments of over 100 testers. Others may even rely on end-users to test their products. However in all of these scenarios, the objectives of testing are the same - to gather information on the system and learn.

How do I become a tester? How can I learn?

Regarding academia, currently there doesn’t seem to be any academic courses on testing at all, a quick search on UCAS in the UK shows that there are no degree courses on testing as a subject.
For software testing, there are qualifications such as the ISTQB/ISEB which many companies recognise, however it is not necessary to hold this qualification to become a tester and there is a lot of disatisfaction in the software industry for this qualification.
From my experience, there are only two routes into software testing:
  1. Applying for a junior testing role in an organisation which is willing to hire inexperienced staff and train them.
  2. Working in a different role and switching to testing within the same company.

The main piece of advice I can give though is, if you are applying for a testing role - try to learn as much as you can about the company, what you might be testing and anything else you can think of. What will make you a good tester is your ability to learn and to understand what you still don’t know and seek this information out - testers should always be inquisitive and asking a lot of questions.

Ok, so if there aren’t many useful courses, what about online?

Yes! There are plenty of places online to read about testing practices! I’m mainly knowledgeable about software testing so I can only recommend the following resources on software testing as a start:
There are also some good places to ask questions, read further into various topics and become involved in the testing community:

However, I’ve found the following video is a fantastic introduction to testing, it articulates what you are trying to do as a tester pretty well: