Putting software testing at the heart of a project

Software testing might not be everyone's favourite job, but a group of volunteers is finding success at promoting it not only as...

Software testing might not be everyone's favourite job, but a group of volunteers is finding success at promoting it not only as a vital part of running systems but as a career in its own right, writes John Kavanagh.

Indeed, it has become so successful that the Specialist Interest Group in Software Testing (Sigist) is now the biggest of the 50-plus BCS groups, with almost 1,800 members from inside and outside the BCS.

Members have given up their time to help develop qualifications in this field, and have drawn up a standard for testing software components, now taken over by the British Standards Institution.

Standards in areas such as reliability, performance, security and usability are now being worked on. All this is helping to move testing from being the poor relation of development to sitting at the heart of every project. "We promote testing from the start of a project," says Barbara Eastman, a freelance test manager, who chairs the group.

"During requirements specification, testers should be able to identify the eventual acceptance criteria. Testing isn't just about running tests: it can be about reviewing documentation. If a tester can't extract from a spec the things that will need testing, there's probably something wrong with the document. So testers can provide a useful check from the start."

Eastman says the need to involve testers throughout a project is still not universally recognised, although she says a growing appreciation of the impact of system failure is helping to get the message home. The year 2000 issue and the interest in e-commerce have also helped, she says.

"E-commerce is great for awareness, because of the huge numbers of external visitors to a Web site. The testing issues are much the same but the emphasis is different. For example, security, performance and usability are especially big issues."

Testing might not be for everyone. Eastman says, "Testers need a different mindset to that of developers. They're generally seen as picky and pedantic, and able to pay close attention to detail. But they also have personal skills - needed so that they don't hurt a developer's ego. In addition they might deal with end-users in acceptance testing. The users do the testing, because they have the knowledge of the business and the processes, but it helps to have someone technical to guide this testing."

The idea of taking up testing as a career has been boosted by the development of independent qualifications. The group helped develop the foundation certificate; a practitioner certificate is being worked on and a diploma is planned. The qualifications are managed by the BCS Information Systems Examinations Board. Courses are available through eight accredited organisations.

The foundation certificate was introduced at the end of 1998 and the number of candidates has already topped the 1,700 mark.

  • Membership of Sigist is free. It holds five one-day conferences a year in central London, with attendances often exceeding 200 people. It also produces a newsletter and has an informative Web site. The administrator is Claire Mason on 01422-377050 and at sigistregs@aol.com

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