Everybody Tests!

Bugs happen...

by Jay Newlin

If you spend much time on Quality Assurance blogs, LinkedIn threads, or other communities, you’ll quickly come across the “age-old” discussion: Can anyone become a tester? You’ll find all sorts of arguments from a myriad of viewpoints. Many folks say No because they are interested in ensuring that those who claim to be Software Testers learn some very important paradigms, techniques, and tools. Others say Yes because they have learned how to incorporate folks into the QA Team from all sorts of backgrounds. To be honest, depending on context, they’re all right, and they’re all wrong.

While this blog post will look like I’m arguing a bit more for the Yes camp (where I do tend to land most of the time), it’s really not exactly part of that argument. I actually want to think about the times that we all (yes, you, and you, and you, too!) test software -- whether we know that’s what we’re doing or not.

Can anyone become a tester?
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Think about some of your favorite (or most-used) apps on your phone or on your computer. Have you ever experienced a crash? How about the inscrutable, “Oops! Something went wrong!” message? Or, something Just. Didn’t. Work. the way that it’s supposed to. (Even from my chair in my home office, I can see you nodding your head!) In those moments, you actually have a choice: You, too, could be a software tester!

Obviously, one choice is to totally ignore what happened and continue on (yeah well, we all know that really means reboot, restart the app, try again, and hope that the issue doesn’t happen again). The other choice is to borrow my Tester’s Hat for a bit and participate in the QA process.

You see, most software developers will really appreciate hearing about that issue from an end user. No matter what we do in our lovely software development offices, we can’t know exactly how every user is going to use our app. We can’t possibly test on All The Things. We can’t configure our test devices with all the possible combinations of apps and hardware and OS flavors. What we do is test on the devices and systems that we have determined to constitute the majority of our users’ equipment, but they’re usually fairly lightly used, and we reboot them a lot. Your specific setup and exactly how you use our products? That’s as unique as you are!

So, what should you do? Well, first I’ll tell you what NOT to do: Don’t jump on the app store, find the app, and write a 1-star review that says something like, “App crashed! It stinks!!!” That doesn’t help anyone -- especially the developer.

Instead, check out the app in the store. Both the Android Play Store and the Apple App Store include information on how to contact the developer. Perhaps you’ll need to visit their website. Perhaps you’ll have to send an email. But, please: reach out, and let them know what you encountered.

If they don’t have a fancy helpdesk or bug tracker, then please use this guide to give them the information that will be helpful in tracking down and debugging your issue:

  1. Describe what you were attempting to do (eg, “Could not create a new task”).
  2. Provide a list of the steps to reproduce the issue. Be sure to include anything that might seem odd or out of the ordinary (eg “I was switching back and forth between creating and reviewing my existing tasks” or “I turned the phone from Portrait mode to Landscape mode”).
  3. Describe what actually happened (eg “The screen froze, and I could not tap the ‘Save’ button”).
  4. Give a quick description of what you expected to happen if it’s not readily apparent as the opposite of the issue.
  5. If you had a chance to grab one, include a screenshot of any error message or unusual/unexpected output that you encountered.
  6. Let them know what kind of device (phone or computer make and model) and operating system that you’re using. If you can find it in the app or on the app store, let them know what version of their software you’re using.
  7. Include your name and email address so that they can contact you if they need to follow up on the issue.

Look at that! You were a software tester for a few minutes! I’ve done this a lot of times for all sorts of apps that I use regularly. I almost always hear back from independent developers and small development shops. I’ve even heard back occasionally from some of the largest software companies in the world. I am often asked if I would help to beta test the next release with the fix for my issue. I’ve even developed a bit of a rapport with some developers whose products I use often.

Thanks for reading. You can borrow my Tester’s Hat anytime you need it to help make software better!

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