Hot skills: Winrunner is number 87 in the CW/SSP list of top IT skills.
What is it?
Winrunner is an automated tool for testing enterprise applications before deployment by making sure they will not fall over, and after they have gone live by ensuring they perform acceptably. Winrunner is part of Mercury Interactive's Optane suite of integrated products for enterprise testing, production tuning and performance management.
Where did it originate?
Mercury Interactive was founded in 1989 and became one of a dozen or so specialist testing tool companies.
Software testing has long been the Cinderella of IT skills - the bit that is skipped when development deadlines slip - but as the end-user moved from the internal employee to the external customer, deploying "buggy" applications became commercial suicide.
Y2K projects established the importance of reliability and functional testing. When several online banks suffered delays and embarrassment when their applications failed to scale, testing in load, stress and capacity became big business. Mercury rode the wave and in 2001 was named in Fortune magazine's list of the 100 fastest-growing companies.
What is it for?
Winrunner captures, verifies and replays user interactions automatically, enabling developers to build test "scripts" which, when run against an application, identify defects.
What makes it special?
Automated testing removes much of the complexity of manual testing by emulating large user populations; co-ordinating the interactions of different applications, databases, browsers, clients, servers and networks; and building test suites that can be adapted incrementally as systems evolve.
Where is it used?
Mercury Interactive says 75% of Fortune 500 companies use its tools. As well as selling its products to user organisations, Mercury provides a subscription-based testing service.
How difficult is it?
Mercury says, "The Winrunner Datadriver wizard eliminates programming when automating testing for large volumes of data. The function generator presents a quick and error-free way to design tests and enhance scripts without any programming knowledge." But while tools such as this help with scanning large applications, they are not a replacement for the skills of a trained software tester. Mercury's own testing certification takes 160 hours to complete.
Not to be confused with
Winbag, an unnecessarily wordy piece of software; Wincheater, a utility giving you an unfair advantage in computer games.
What does it run on?
Winrunner supports more than 30 development environments, including Java, Visual Basic, Powerbuilder, Explorer, Netscape, Windows XP, SAP, Siebel, Oracle and Peoplesoft.
Few people know that
Mercury, the winged messenger, was also the Roman god of merchants and thieves.
What is coming up?
With the slowdown in software purchasing and development, Mercury Interactive is shifting its focus to optimising and tuning existing systems.
Gaining a certificate in automated testing involves taking one or more courses, gaining experience and then completing an extended examination. Mercury Interactive runs its own courses, or for a supplier-independent qualification, try the BCS Information Systems Examinations Board certificates in software testing. The BCS Testing Special Interest Group is the UK's biggest independent organisation for testers.
See also books such as The Art of Software Testing by Glenford Myers, The Craft of Software Testing by Brian Marick, and Boris Beizer's Black Box Testing.
Jobs and money
Junior testers with Winrunner skills can expect to earn about £20,000 a year. This rises to £40,000 for test directors and software quality assurance managers.