The Context Problem – Part I: Talking about testing

On January 10, 2012, in Software Testing, by Rasmus Koorits

The problem of talking about testing

I tend to read a lot of books, blogs, forum posts and tweets related to software testing. One of the things that I keep seeing time and time again is the myriad of contradicting opinions people have about certain aspects of testing. The eternal “To automate or not to automate” question and more recently “test is dead” are both prime examples, but there are others too — whether testers should learn to code or not, the use and misuse of metrics, the advantages of one tool over another, the value of certifications, scripted test cases and test documentation… the list goes on, but you get the point.

So why is it that opinions differ so widely?

I have been pondering the subject for a while now, and here is what I came up with:
It’s probably because context matters. A lot.

I call it the context problem of talking about testing. The context problem has a chance to emerge whenever someone says something specific about software testing that is possibly true in his context, but might be a really bad idea somewhere else.

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Here we go again!

Date : 16-18 March 2012
Place: Tallinn, Pärnu mnt 139 (detailed description later)
Theme: “Taking one for the team”

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The “Test is Dead” story is not news anymore. A lot of the good testers out there have since tried to reframe the idea, to put in into context. See Mark Tomlinson’s blog post on the subject or listen to this TWiST podcast (requires basic membership; it’s free) for good examples.

To refresh your memory, here’s a short recap:

After posting an ominous article about the death of testing this June, Alberto Savoia finally got to explain those cryptic lines in his opening keynote for GTAC 2011. In short, he believes that building the right product – the right “it” – is far more important that building “it” right. Or, to put it another way:

Testing slows you down… by the time our competitors had a well tested product, we had millions of users.”

So he appears to claim that it is far more important to test the concept than the actual product. He even wrote a book about it.

I have to admit, I can see a lot of potential in this approach. The success of twitter is just one example of how users can easily overlook even serious bugs in the product as long as the “it” part feels like warm apple pie.

Then again…

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