Originally Published Thursday, October 01, 2009
Software is knowledge. Software is the intangible product crafted by a team of people who have pooled their intellectual knowledge to help solve a complex problem and add value to those who use that software. So how does a tester contribute to the intellectual knowledge pool?
I guess we could say that finding and reporting bugs during the software development lifecycle (SDLC) is important knowledge because it helps identify many anomalies prior to release. But, the mere act of finding and reporting bugs is transient knowledge. Reporting bugs in the system does not add any long term or persistent value to the intellectual knowledge pool of a software company. Perhaps even worse, finding the same type of issue repeatedly actually stagnates the intellectual knowledge pool because the team is focused on fixing the same problem over and over again. Of course, finding really interesting and important bugs requires a lot of knowledge and creativity. But, once the bug is fixed the value that bug may have provided in the intellectual knowledge pool evaporates; especially if there is no shared learning experience that occurs as a result of that fixed issue.
One way software testers can significantly contribute to the intellectual knowledge pool is through defect prevention instead of defect detection. Simply put, if we expand our vision of the role of the tester to include problem solving instead of just problem finding we can open up new challenges, provide overall greater value to our business, and further advance the discipline of software testing. For example, if we were to identify a particular area or category of defects and identify the root causes for that type of problem then we can implement various strategies or best practices to prevent those types of issues from being injected into the product design from the onset, or at least develop testing patterns or tools to help the team identify many of that category of issues sooner in the SDLC. Understanding why certain categories of problems occur and providing best practice solutions within the appropriate context is intellectual knowledge that can be shared with existing and new team members, and can persist to help prevent certain types of problems from recurring in the future. This is intellectual capital in the knowledge pool. Testing tool and test patterns that can be shared and taught to others that help identify certain types of issues sooner can reduce testing costs. This is also intellectual capital in the knowledge pool.
If I am constantly burdened with finding the same types of problems over and over again, then my contribution to the SDLC and the knowledge pool is essentially limited to the bugs I find, and the value of those bugs often depreciates rapidly. Basically, I am simply identifying problems; I am not contributing to solving the problems.
Of course, I don’t think testers will ever work themselves out of a job and we will always be in the business of identify issues during the SDLC. But, if I solve one type of problem, then I can move on to face new and more difficult challenges. By solving one problem I get that job off my plate, and I can then move onto the next job. Organizational maturity and professional growth occurs through solving increasingly complex problems, not by continually dealing with the same problem.
I think the role of a professional tester is growing beyond that of simple problem identification, and many of us are exploring the more challenging aspects of problem solving. Finding ways to prevent defects or identify issues earlier, and essentially drive quality upstream are exciting challenges that will advance the practice of software testing and increase the value of our contributions to the intellectual knowledge pool and advance the profession of software testing.