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Disruptive Testing: Part 2 - Lorinda Brandon

Welcome to Part 2 of our ongoing series where we interview testing luminaries to provide insight into the current and future states of the testing industry. Lorinda Brandon (@lindybrandon) has more than 30 years of experience in quality assurance working for companies such as SmartBear, RR Donnelley, EMC, Kayak Software, Exit41 and Intuit, among others. She has published extensively on InfoQ, Programmable Web, Network World on the importance of recognizing and nurturing the role of the tester to enable delivery of high-value software. Apart from being a software testing evangelist she is passionate about getting more women in technology.

Q Why do you think most people fall or stumble into software testing as a career instead of having been driven to it?

A When I started as a software tester in 1984, it wasn't really a career you chose - there was only one way in and that was to stumble into it. It's unfortunate that so little has changed in the 30 years since but the reality is that it is often still a job people fall into rather than plan for. When was the last time a high school student told you they wanted to be a software tester after college? I think there are several reasons for this:

  • There are very few colleges that offer classes for software testing, so people are not exposed to it before they go out job hunting. While the industry has developed a lot of training programs, they are offered outside traditional education, which means people are often already in the role of a tester when they take the training.
  • It is still seen as a “lesser” role within the software development organization and often one that people feel they can fill in other ways. There is a louder voice within the testing community itself, advocating for the necessity of testers - but I still find myself in many conversations where roles like UX design, development, and product management are seen as key whereas testing is not.
  • The pay scale is not equitable with other roles in the development organization. High school and college students know they can make a good living as a software developer but (on the rare occasion they even know the role of tester exists) they can easily see the discrepancy between pay scales.

Having said that, it's one of those jobs where people can easily fall in love with it and never want to leave. If you are a critical thinker who loves technology and detective work, this is the perfect job for you. We just need better PR :-)

Q Lorinda you are completely self-taught. What are your beliefs of the current testing certifications offered? Do you feel that organizations such as the ISTQB are progressively adding value to the testing industry?

A I think the main value certification programs provide is opening the dialog about what it means to be a skilled tester. The reality is that there is no job on earth where you don't have to learn by experience. Training is great for providing a framework and some terminology with which to communicate, but every day, every project, every company is different. You learn by doing, by failing, by re-thinking. Certifications on your resume only prove that you knew how to sign up for something, not that you have the skills to succeed.

Q A lot has been discussed about women in technology. Do you feel the challenges are shared in the software testing community? What has your experience been like?

A Stats show us that testing has a more balanced gender ratio than any other software discipline, although the last number I saw showed that 77% of testers are male. I think many women are discouraged from other areas (like programming or sys admin) because they are so outnumbered in technical education environments. There's a terrible syndrome happening right now with separate women's technology classes and conferences, as if women will have a hard time with the topic and need to be taught differently. It sends a subconscious message to both men and women that they are not equals in this field. Testing may not be as susceptible to this because, as we discussed above, testing is a field people stumble into so they don't have the same discouraging prelude as the other disciplines do. When I started out in software, the genders were balanced, even within programming ranks. It has become imbalanced over the last 30 years but more so in programming/architecture than testing.

Q In a recent interview you mentioned that the goals of testing haven't changed and that the mechanics of how to accomplish those goals are conceptually all the same. Do you still feel this way?

A Yes I do. Methodologies come and go, and evolve over time. There will always be many to choose from and new ideas will always emerge. But in the end, building software and testing software has some core fundamental aspects to it that don't disappear. How you approach those mechanics may be different from one organization to another, from one technology to another, and from one philosophy to another... but the goal is the same: understand the product, provide feedback on how well it works, and exercise it fully to find its limits. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I've been involved in the testing industry in one way or another for 30 years and have not seen those fundamental aspects change, even though philosophies and methodologies continue to emerge.

Q You once mentioned, "discussions around relevant software testing topics are becoming increasingly critical.” What conversations do you think need to happen? What in the testing industry has not been addressed?

A Oh my gosh. Many things. We still debate automation vs. manual vs. scripted vs. exploratory... we have not yet figured out how to live peaceably amid all of those things. As technology evolves and we head into new connected paradigms for health care, finances, money management, home security...we need to find ways of reliably testing the Internet of Things (IoT). It's a brave new world and, in some ways, the testing community is being outpaced. The only way to grapple with these new challenges is by sharing our knowledge with each other and hashing out ideas/concepts as a group. Programming skills will be more and more important as we develop testing strategies for the IoT. We are constantly barraged with news stories about breaches and hacks that speak to a greater need for security testing. Much of that testing will have to be in the form of trying to hack an API or a device - being able to accomplish that will help increase a tester's value in the marketplace.

Q Lorinda, you and I share the same opinion when it comes to the statement that software testing is a science. What are you looking forward to regarding the future of software testing?

A I look forward to seeing software testers come into their own over the next decade. The reliance on software today means that more people are demanding software that works. Undiscovered bugs can have major ramifications, as we've all seen. Now is the time for testers to innovate better ways of testing, better tools for testing, and demand better testability infrastructures from their developer partners. I hope to see the community come together to work on this and develop approaches/tools that enhance our contributions to the overall software industry.

Thanks Lorinda! It was great chatting with you.

Do let us know your thoughts on this interview and questions you’d like us to ask future guests. You can also read through other interviews in this series with James BachMarkus Gärtner and Matt Heusser.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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