Historically, testing was the bit of the application development cycle that got dropped when milestones started to slip. Testers were regarded as the people who held up the release of good-enough software with trivial niggles.
Y2K is supposed to have changed all that. Testing occupied up to 70% of Y2K remediation project timescales and budgets, and senior management were happy to go along with this, because they realised that the business could live or die depending whether its systems were still functioning on 1 January 2000.
We're now supposed to be living in a "permanent testing culture", where even the most demanding end-users realise it does nobody any good if their e-business applications fall over. Microsoft is said to have used one tester for every developer on Windows 2000 - and still 60,000 bugs got through.
Where did it originate?
Testing has always been a part of good application development, in theory at least.
With the arrival of automated tools, it's become a lot quicker and easier. Vendors recommend you should now test iteratively, as you go along.
This is relatively quick and painless, compared with allocating a block of days, which are all too likely to be squeezed out of the schedule.
What's it for?
Keeping egg off the faces of: a) the IT department, and b) the business.
It seems the message may still not have got through, however.
A survey by Benchmark, on behalf of testing tool vendor Mercury Interactive, found that four out of every 10 UK businesses don't plan to test their IT projects before they are launched.
And more than one in five new e-business, ERP, financial, and custom client/server systems could be launched without testing.
First comes reliability testing, which is mainly done by developers themselves, running memory leakage checks and the like on their own machines before handing over to the QA group.
Next is functional testing - trying to determine if the application does what the business wants it to.
Third, is load and stress testing - whether the application as developed in the laboratory will scale when it is in operational use. Whenever changes are made, regression testing is done to ensure the application is still doing what it's supposed to.
What makes it special?
Year 2000 brought the importance of testing home. When and if the UK adopts the euro, it's estimated that remediation and testing budgets could dwarf those for Y2K.
How difficult is it to master?
Some suppliers claim "if you can operate a video, you can run our automated testing tools". Not a job for adults, then.
But although many tools have record and replay capabilities, and can generate their own test data and test cases, you'll need programming skills to create robust, replayable scripts which test everything the user requires from the application.
Where is it used?
Not in enough places, according to Ovum testing guru Graham Titterington, commenting on the Mercury survey. "Testing is particularly vital for successful e-business applications because of their immediate and universal availability when released. There is no human intervention in the trading loop to do sanity checks."
Not to be confused with...
Testimony is not the budget set aside to pay for testing. However, the hormone that causes excessively macho managers to skip the testing cycle, and send their applications live before they are ready, is testosterone.
What systems does it run on?
Simulations can be done offline and away from the production platform.
But before the application goes into the real world, it's wise to carry out thorough load and stress testing in the target environment to ensure that the system can deal with the number of users it's intended to handle.
Not many people know that . . .
The origin of the word "testing" in the software development context is the Latin testudo, or tortoise.
What's coming up?
Mercury Interactive is offering outsourced testing services for dotcoms and other fast moving businesses who don't have time or resources to invest in their own testing facilities.
Most training is done through the vendors. Mercury Interactive and Rational have the biggest share of the tools market. QA Training offers both system testing and user acceptance testing training, which earns points towards membership of the Institute of Analysts and Programmers.
QA Training: 01285-655888
Rates of pay
Salaries for testers can vary from the mid-20Ks to mid-40Ks. Some employers will take you with a good development background, others will look for experience of a testing environment like Mercury's Winrunner, or SQA Suite (now owned by Rational).
Jobs on offer run from the mundane, but lucrative - such as testing trading and settlement systems - to the exotic, though not necessarily quite so well paid, testing software for Hollywood. Progressive Computer Recruitment and Computer Futures both carry a good selection of testing jobs.