Anne-Marie Charrett is a Seasoned Software Testing Expert - She Tells Feature Friday Why She Loves Working with Start-Ups
The Ride of Your Life
As a freelance software test consultant, a good proportion of my work is with start-ups. I like it this way. Working with start-ups is an exhilarating process. You work with great creative people who are driven, determined and incredibly passionate about their business. The challenges they face require innovative solutions driven by the need for a short time to market and normally constaints on funding.
You need a certain mentality to work with start-ups and if you are comfortable in a controlled process driven environment, this may not be an ideal job. However, if it appeals to the maverick in you, then get ready for the ride of your life!
Benefits of working with Start-ups
Personally, I enjoy the freedom that working with a start-up provides. You get to work directly with all types of employees from CEO, Marketing and even the customer. You are in a position to influence areas of the business which are traditionally outside software testing jurisdiction and, vice versa, they can provide invaluable input to your testing strategy.
Software testing differs with every company and offers variety of purpose and approach. There is also a wide range of understanding of software testing. Typically, those more knowledgeable on software testing will demand more software testing. I suspect this is because the benefits of software testing are better understood.
Gavin Killen, Co Founder of DigiProve believes that software testing is integral to the success of a product. He explained, "There is no way if someone develops a product it is going to succeed without software testing. You think you've got it right, but you haven't....for example, we missed 25 big issues prior to our independent software testing. It was an invaluable exercise."
Working with start-ups demands that you also be creative and innovative to get the work done. The constraints on resources, like the lack of time and money, demand creative solutions. Often equipment and tools are limited, and testers have to find new and ingenious ways of testing more with less.
In most cases, you need to be fairly technical as it will be up to you to setup the test environments. Of course, it goes without saying that you are the ‘test team'. You plan the testing, obtain the resources, create the tests, setup the test environment, create reports, and sign off the testing. And don't rely on having Test Director to get you through the day!
It's simply not enough to suggest that test script management is a useful technique that will benefit the company. For a test tool to exist, you have to champion its cause, find an open source version of it, install and configure it, ready for everyone's use. Naturally, it goes without saying you will have to maintain it.
Start-ups often lack an extensive, formalised documented process as it is often considered to be an expensive overhead. And in many cases, this is true. Start-ups thrive in a flexible dynamic environment and it can be hard to justify a process that leads to extensive documentation. Whilst some documentation is essential for structure, more focus is spent on the tester's ability to be able to comprehensively test an application in a cohesive and disciplined manner that does not involve large amounts of paperwork.
It can be incredibly frustrating working with start-ups and it's definitely not a job for the faint hearted. The pressure to deliver software that will work, often leads you to be the lone voice voicing concerns on readiness. Because of this, you need a thick skin, be confident about your work, and be able to back your opinions with real facts.
You also have to be prepared for the constant change happening around you If you're the type of tester who gets frustrated when there are little or no requirements, or changing requirements, then this is not the field of work for you. Like it or not, requirements are constantly being altered, added, refined, taken away, and then put back again, and as a tester in a start-up you will have to be prepared for this constant flux.
You have to find ways to work with the changes as they arrive and plan for constant change. Working with start-ups is a bit like a roller coaster ride, with extreme ups and downs and in the back of your mind you wonder if you're not just a little bit mad to love it so much!
The Hard Sell
It's also hard work selling software testing to start-ups. A considerable amount of energy and time is spent in convincing ‘entrepreneurs' of the need to test using independent experts instead of developers. As one start-up CEO explained, "I don't need a software tester, I have developers, just don't call them testers".
Faced with this type of response, it's easy to become negative about testing in start-ups and because it's not a major revenue area, I suspect it doesn't receive much bandwidth in larger testing agencies. But in turning a blind eye, are we in the software testing industry failing to meet the needs of start-ups?
As an alternate to hiring a software tester, start-ups typically test in two stages - the Alpha Test Phase using an in house developer to test software followed by the Beta Phase, which involves customer trialling the software prior to its formal release.
It's a poor response to software testing, as most developers make bad testers. To put it boldly, developers like to create, testers like to destroy. Also, Beta Testing is not as cheap and easy as hoped by many start-ups. In fact, it's costly, resource intensive and time consuming.
Of course as software testers we all know this. We also know what the practical benefit our work brings to a company and that these benefits extend beyond finding bugs so that others won't.
For example, thorough software testing supplies confidence and knowledge to both supplier and client and reduces risk of product failure in the field. It improves the application's Usability and helps generate positive first impressions and these are essential as word of mouth is an effective marketing tool for start-ups.
In the world of start-ups, the benefits are amplified because software failure has greater impact. Simply put, if the product fails, the company fails. This is not necessarily true for mature companies who may have more than one product to sell, and if necessary can call upon additional resources to fix problems.
The trouble is, in my experience software testers are not seen to be providing value to start-ups. As an industry more effort needs to be spent meeting start-ups needs and more time spent on promoting these benefits to start-ups.
For example, there is a misconception that whilst the benefits of software testing are real, it brings with it a weighty, time-consuming process. What is gained in results is lost in time and resources. In fact, vast changes have been made in software testing in the last twenty years or so. Software development and software testing have changed enormously since the waterfall model was concocted in the sixties and seventies. Today, there are many ways that software testing can be executed that extend beyond the V-Model and a typical standardised software testing process.
My questions is, are start-ups aware of this?
Rapid Software Testing (RST) as invented by James Bach (http://www.satisfice.com) is a technique that is well suited to working with start-ups. The technique is aimed at testing quickly and comprehensively. It does so by placing greater emphasis on testing the application as opposed to test documentation. This technique is context-driven, considers cost vs. value in all test activities and uses exploratory testing techniques. It relies on the tester's intelligence to drive the testing through to its completion.
There are also available a large number of excellent open source testing tools available to start-ups which can assist for software test management or in the automation of testing; Having the techniques out there that allow software testing to be effectively applied in a quick, meaningful and cost effective manner, provides the benefits of risk reduction and confidence building without requiring enormous amounts of documentation or a large budget; great news for start-ups who work in a high flux, short time and low cost environment.
Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look at the start-up industry and see how we as software testers can help drive their success. In doing so, we not only involve ourselves in a dynamic and intense environment, we are also ensuring the creation of software testing jobs in the future.
Anne-Marie Charrett is the CEO of TestingTimes, an independent Dublin-based testing company.
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