Software testers: The “Test Pilots” of Software

Don’t laugh – Sometimes I think what I do as “test pilot” for software (Hey, are you smiling?!)

What got me thinking about this? Discussions in online software testing groups such as these:

  • Why developers think the reasons testers are testers because they couldn’t make it as developers?
  • Is Software Testing a Thankless Job
  • Why in the world QA never get credits or praise for a job well done?

Clearly other software testers are experiencing this. I’m fortunate. I work at a place that values quality and understands the cost of failure. I’m encouraged to be excellent, to find important bugs, the ones that make a difference. So of course, I see myself and my colleagues as test pilots of software.

Yes, I know that a test pilot suits up and struts out onto the runway, while I sit tethered to a computer or mobile phone most of the day. I know the test pilot risks life and limb to put the aircraft through its paces, while the most dangerous thing that could happen to me is I might fall off my chair. Still, I think it’s a valid comparison. Here’s why:

According to wikipedia, a test pilot must be able to:

-Understand a test plan;
-Stick to a test plan, flying a plane in a highly specific way;
-Carefully document the results of each test;
-Have an excellent feel for the aircraft, and sense exactly how it is behaving oddly if it is doing so;
-Solve problems quickly if anything goes wrong with the aircraft during a test;
-Cope with many different things going wrong at once.

Substitute “flying a plane” with “exercising the app” and the word “aircraft” with “software” and that’s what we do! OK it was a stretch, but worth it.

The motto of Empire Test Pilots’ School is “Learn to Test – Test to Learn”. Isn’t this what we do as software testers?

One of The Society of Experimental Test Pilots Core values is “the test pilot’s job is determining truth.” That’s what we as software testers do!

Can you imagine someone asking Chuck Yeager if he became a test pilot because he couldn’t design aircraft? In all fairness, all test pilots are engineers. Software testers come from a wide range of prior experiences. Still, I think it takes boldness to say to a product owner, “I can find a significant problem that you’d want to know about.” And then deliver.

When I tell someone outside of the software development community, “I’m a software tester,” they usually ask skeptically “Do you like that?”. I say, “Yes, I get to try out software before anyone else. It’s fun!” Then they usually say something like, “Wow. You like that…” They also seem skeptical that it could be fun.

Within the software development community, there’s a pervasive attitude of “Software testers? Anyone could do it.” (Again, not at my company, but I know the larger community experiences this.) Could anyone be a test pilot? I was surprised to find that during the Cold War some test pilots were replaced by bears. Actual bears.

With that in mind I don’t feel  bad about the “anyone could do software testing” attitude. There may come a time when I’m replaced. At least it won’t be with a bear. 😀

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