Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Black Box Testing - time to go?

Regarding black box testers... Having lived in both product software AND IT engineering worlds, I'm beginning to understand the root cause of the argument about the value of blackbox testing. Developing user product software requires a ton of testing; at MS, we did this against more functional specification rather than business requirements. I'm convinced software applications (even apps like Oracle Retail, which suffer significantly from the lack of blackbox testing) need serious blackbox testing because the target audience and the way the product will be used are so varied. Integrating business applications in an IT setting, however, really doesn't need as much and yes - I believe this could be covered by business personnel rather than by QA engineers.

But here's the conundrum... Until the IT industry accepts testers as engineers and allows them to work with dev as code is developed (and this on a day-to-day norm rather than an exception to the rule), it'll be difficult to convince engineers to go into testing and to stay there. In my role as TM for Circuit City's MST project, I interviewed 30-40 people for open roles and found practically no one who could code. None of my 30-member team in Richmond could code beyond writing XML (well, one could--he was my best test lead, too). Very few of the personnel provided by IBM, the engagement partner, could code either. One tester they provided, who had a rather high bill rate, was justified b/c she had 'retail experience'. She worked in a clothing store in NY during college!

So there's a chicken/egg thing which has to be solved one company at a time. Convincing management to 'up the bar' for test engineers, convincing development to be more agile, etc. are all necessary steps and I think it's still going to take a while. I for one am totally convinced that you get more for your buck with whitebox and gray box testing, and that you get way more for your buck hiring technical testers. But convincing a CS grad that she should consider test when all the glamour is associated with development? That's a challenge.

All that having been said, don't scoff blackbox testing. A great test engineer (very rare commodity) is a good programmer who excels at white box testing, who can black box test as well. Those finishing touches, esp in product development, are critical to project success.

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