Sure it’s a lot fun to tease them and try to make their lives miserable, but really, if we didn’t have testers who would we, as engineers, have to torment? The marketing people? Please, they’re not even self aware enough to know that we’re doing it, and that’s no fun. Testers, on the other hand, are not only fun to use as scape goats, but they also provide an important service for the product.
Namely one I never want to do.
Despite that, I found myself doing exactly that recently. My WordPress plugin is now code complete, but is in need of testing. I looked around the apartment for suitable candidates, but the lizards around here are so small they cannot even depress the keys on the keyboard despite jumping on them. That’s how this unmentionable task fell to me: I had to write and execute test plans.
Now writing test plans and such is something that I learned about in college. At the time I thought “Bah! This is nice for reference and all, but I’m never going to use this. I’m an engineer! I create the bugs, not find them!” Oh, how wrong I was. While in college, I also worked as an intern. Although I was supposed to be working on developing internal tools, I often got pulled into doing QA work. (Note for the unexperienced: the QA department is always understaffed. Hide behind the nearest potted plant if the QA manager ever comes within ten feet of your cubicle.) It was a never ending battle: me trying to escape QA work, the QA manager pulling me back in, and the other engineers laughing at me the entire time.
Testing and quality assurance work is never fun. When writing a test plan, you have to think of all the possible ways that a feature can break, and make sure all the different angles are covered. But that’s balanced by the fact that you can’t test everything so you have to be smart about what you test. That way you get the maximum possible coverage for the least amount of work. After you write the mind-numbingly boring test plan, some unlucky bloke has to run it. The experience is much like putting a portable drill to your temple and pressing really hard.
I’ve actually managed to get the test plans for my plugin written now. I found that writing them myself was a good exercise. I had to change my attitude from “how do I make this work?” to “how do I crush this pathetic excuse for software, and send the developer running home to his mommy?” I found several bugs just by thinking through how to test the different features. I also found that there were features that weren’t as usable as they should have been, since I hadn’t been looking at them from the point of the user, but that of an engineer. All of this, and I hadn’t even run the test plan. Good stuff.
I’m not looking forward to running my test plans. I have to run them at least three times: once on Safari, once on Firefox, and once on my arch-nemesis, Internet Explorer. May God have mercy on me.
I say all of this to show that I respect the testers and quality assurance people out there. Sure I go through this each time I have to do some sort of testing myself, or a tester finds a bug that I wouldn’t have caught myself, but it bears repeating. Testers are there to make to make the engineers look good. Unless the tester wants your parking spot. Then they’re probably trying to get you fired so they can have a shorter walk to the building.