Friday, 17 February 2012

Q: What is Testing? A: look inside…

What is Testing?
Do you care?
  • Do you want to know because you want to know where the limits of your job start and end?
  • Do you want to know because someone asked you that question and you think you need to give them an answer?
  • Do you want to know because you really like definitions of abstract concepts?
  • Do you want to know because you need to pass an exam and give someone the right answer?
You might have a whole bunch of other questions - most likely you do since I only provided four alternatives to the "What is Testing?" question.
Questions I would rather believe people ask themselves include:
  • What do I do?
  • Why do I do what I do?
  • What do I need to do now?
  • What risks can I think of?
  • How can we find out if this software can ...?
  • I wonder if the software can still do that when ...?
But enough questions. Let me provide a simple answer to the first question "What is Testing?"
I don't think that such a 'thing' as "Testing" exists. Conversationally  a normal person might say something equivalent using the word sequence:
"There is no such thing as testing"
And while that might not help you pass your exam, and fails as a definition, and 'they' probably don't want to hear that answer; it might help you figure out where your job starts and ends.
Regardless, the above answer provides comfort and guidance to me during times of trouble.
If I ever find myself in a mess and think "What is testing?" I can politely answer myself "There is no such thing as testing, figure out a better question to ask". Or "Stop hallucinating, concentrate on what you see happening now, figure out what to do next."
If I had an actual answer, and if I knew what a thing called testing looked like then I fear that I:
  • might never look at the testing thing differently.
  • might think that as a "tester" I couldn't do anything that didn't look like the testing thing.
Over the years I've come to believe that my job involves looking at things and processes and concepts differently.
I want the freedom to make stuff up, the freedom pull in resourceful concepts as required, and the freedom to do what it takes to achieve the identified needs of the projects I work on.
I don't find the question "What Is Testing?" helpful.
  • I care what preconceptions other people might have about my role and their expectations of me and people like me ("Testers").
  • I care about the processes we use to identify, mitigate and make manifest risk.
  • I care about making what we do efficient and effective.
  • I care about agreeing actions and who will take those actions now.
I care about a whole bunch of stuff. And I test, because I care.
I just don't care about questions like "What is Testing?".
Do you?
PS. I think I managed to avoid all mention of reification and e-prime. Did you notice?


  1. [...] Q: What is Testing? A: look inside… Written by: Alan Richardson [...]

  2. The company I now work for doesn't have a 'testing' department. It has a QA Department (Quality Assurance). It's a subtle change, but as (previously) a tester, I actually find it quite freeing. I don't specifically have to 'test' something to perform QA on it. I can QA documentation by reading it and being picky. I can QA functionality by writing automated testcases or by reading the API and saying that it doesn't make sense. I can look over the story descriptions and complain when they aren't clear enough to describe what is going to be developed.

    I wonder if it might be a useful terminology for other people to use if they find they are being stuck in the little 'test' box at the end of the development process.

  3. I normally hate the title QA because I fear that people will view only the bearers of the QA title as having the responsibility for Quality. Good to see that some people manage to use the letters to free themselves.

  4. [...] • Evil Tester рассуждает на тему “Что такое тестирование?” и ставит под сомнение корректность такого вопроса. [...]

  5. I care about testing because I love software quality and hate regressions! Also, as a neophyte programmer it's easy to get confused about all of the different types of testing.
    For more info about the different types of testing (and useful links) see Testing, Testing and Testing at the Hacker's Valhalla (
    (P.S. I was polite and link to this page from there. Thanks!)

  6. Alan Richardson30 May 2012 at 23:37

    Thanks Michael,

    I'm now visiting Valhalla.

  7. Hi,
    Good article!! very well projected your view that the testing is not a fixed job but an innovative one and it keeps on changing accordingly.I also feel that having a basic idea about what testing is all about is also important for a beginner.