Testers Make Software Teams Highly Productive

To put it mildly, developers are not great at testing their own products. Bias, pride, wrong assumptions, lack of time, switching contexts, all play a role in making developers ineffective at testing their code. Most companies, especially startups, don’t fully understand the role of a tester. Very early on in my career, we made the mistake of hiring people to be testers who applied for a software developer position but weren’t good enough programmers. We paid for it in terms of software quality and over-worked team. It wasn’t until I worked with some great testers that I realized how effective and productive software teams become when they have great testers on board.

The best testers or quality assurance engineers I’ve ever worked with weren’t developers. One was a DevOps guy and the other was a Network Engineer. They became testers coincidentally because they were very smart and tremendously effective at finding bugs, even when they tested the system as a black-box. They treated the whole exercise like puzzle solving. Here’s an example bug report from them:

“Found an issue with API to retrieve all widgets right after registering as a new user. Requests kept timing out. Upon digging further, I discovered that the system is throwing NullPointerExceptions. This is happens because the xyz counter in the database wasn’t properly initialized in the previous step. Initialize the counter in the previous step and also catch all un-handled exceptions and return an error to the user.”

Or this one.

“Found an issue. The system throws exception when the user selects option 5. I checked the logs and found nothing. I ran wireshark to look at the request and response and found the issue to be caused by developers sending a unicode character in the request. Don’t send unicode characters and log error reasons which is field_10 in the XML payload.”

These bug reports not only clearly identified the issue, but also the root cause and suggested a better course of action, thus refining the product and improving its quality.

Some organizations naively assume that automated tests written by developers can replace testers. Wrong, very wrong. I love automated tests. But a good tester finds deficiencies and suggests improvements that a developer or an automated suite may overlook:

Tester: When I pass a string instead of a number for the billing amount, the app doesn’t capture it. You need to check the type and ensure its a number.

Developer: What do you mean? I wrote the test for it just last week and my end-to-end client did in fact receive the status code 4000 which means it’s an error.

Tester: Yes, the error is returned. But the error comes from the database in the form of an exception when it tries to store a string where a number should go. This is inefficient because the database call is expensive.

Developer: Yeah. That makes sense when I think a about it. I will get it fixed.

Another great reason for having dedicated testers on the team is to provide positive reinforcement and closure to developers who may otherwise be doubtful whether they are on the right track or not. Developers usually breathe a sigh of relief when their releases are certified by testers and are told that everything works as expected.

A great tester gives programmers immediate feedback on what they did right and what they did wrong. Believe it or not, one of the most valuable features of a tester is providing positive reinforcement. There is no better way to improve a programmer’s morale, happiness, and subjective sense of well-being than a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine to have dedicated testers who get frequent releases from the developers, try them out, and give negative and positive feedback.

Until next time.

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