What Testers Find

While testing at eBay, recently, it occurred to me that we need a deeper account of what testers find. It’s not just bugs. Here’s my experimental list:

Testers find bugs. In other words, we look for anything that threatens the value of the product. (This ties directly into Jerry Weinberg’s famous dictum that quality means value to some person, at some time, who matters.) Some people like to say that testers find “defects.” That is also true, but I avoid that word. It tends to make programmers and lawyers upset, and I have trouble enough. Example: a list of countries in a form is missing “France.”

Testers also find risks. We notice situations that seem likely to produce bugs. We notice behaviors of the product that look likely to go wrong in important ways, even if we haven’t yet seen that happen. Example: A web form is using a deprecated HTML tag, which works fine in current browsers, but may stop working in future browsers. This suggests that we ought to do a validation scan. Maybe there are more things like that on the site.

Testers find issues. An issue is something that threatens the value of the project, rather than the product itself. Example: There’s a lot of real-time content on eBay. Ads and such. Am I supposed to test that stuff? How should I test it?

Testers find testability problems. It’s a kind of issue, but it’s worth highlighting. Testers should point out aspects of the product that make it hard to observe and hard to control. There may be small things that the developers can do (adding scriptable interfaces and log files, for instance) that can improve testability. And if you don’t ask for testability, it’s your fault that you don’t get it. Example: You’re staring at a readout that changes five times a second, wondering how to tell if it’s presenting accurate figures. For that, you need a log file.

Testers find artifacts, too. Also a kind of issue, but also worth highlighting, we sometimes see things that look like problems, but turn out to be manifestations of how we happen to be testing. Example: I’m getting certificate errors on the site, but it turns out to be an interaction between the site and Burp Proxy, which is my recording tool.

Testers find curios. We notice surprising and interesting things about our products that don’t threaten the value of the product, but may suggest hidden features or interesting ways of using the product. Some of them may represent features that the programmers themselved don’t know about. They may also suggest new ways of testing. Example: Hmm. I notice that a lot of complex content is stored in Iframes on eBay. Maybe I can do a scan for Iframes and systematically discover important scripts that I need to test.

Maybe there are other things you think should be added to this list. The point is that the outcomes of testing can be quite diverse. Keep your eyes and your mind open.