Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Social Networking and the Test Industry

Recently my friend and colleague Paul, who happens to be the VP of Technology at a major aerospace and telecommunications company, sent me the following query.

 "I would be interested in getting your views on the use & impact of social networking on software & hardware testing."

That is an interesting question. Three areas come to mind. 

1. Social networks devoted to the subject of testing.

Test is generally not taught in school, and doesn't receive the same respect in a company as design or development. Participation in a social network focused on the subject gives testers the opportunity to ask questions or discuss ideas, keep up with the state of the industry, or just receive encouragement in the importance of the discipline. It can be a very useful tool for professional development. I have recently started participating in the LinkedIn Group Software Testing & Quality Assurance, and a really excellent independent organization called The Software Testing Club (www.softwaretestingclub.com). 

2. A good bug tracking tool has built in social networking type features (IMHO).

Any serious test effort, in hardware or software, should involve the use of a tool to document and track bugs or defects. This would include the details of the problem and the test that uncovered it. It would track the state of the bug as it progresses through its lifecycle toward fix and verification - or whatever might be its final disposition. The tracking packages can also have some very useful extra features that seem to fall into the domain of a social network, like the ability to host threaded discussions attached to the defect, and notify interested subscribers of updates in the discussion or state, or subscribe to new filings in a particular area. The tool is assumed to be running internal to a company, perhaps on their intranet. 

3. Crowdsourcing.

There is a relatively new type of testing going on today that involves a large group of testers, often geographically dispersed, working independently, but organized and managed over a social network. This is somewhat reminiscent of the way open source software development works. A prime example is a company called UTest (www.utest.com) that is worth checking out. They have >10,000 people signed up, non-employees, with varied levels of education and experience, who have an interest in participating in software testing. A company will contract UTest to have their software exercised, and UTest will assign a group (50? 100? 200?) to the task. Testers are compensated based on unique bugs filed or test plans supplied. This has been called crowdsourcing.

The Software Testing Club (mentioned in point 1.) is building a crowd-sourcing type organization called (strangely enough) The Crowd. Expect that to be a more focused, perhaps closer to a contractor source.

Due to their large and actively interested user bases, Microsoft and Google get to accomplish a fair semblance of crowdsourcing with a Beta test of a new product or version.

It's a little harder to imagine the applicability of crowdsourcing to hardware test. I imagine you could run a test effort against a released product, or send out samples to a large group.

So those are my initial thoughts on the subject. I would love to hear yours. Comments welcome.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Sean,

    Excellent post and thanks for the mention of the SoftwareTestingclub. I'm glad you like the community and are getting value from it.

    It's an interesting discussion point is social media and testing. I'm fascinated by social media and I believe certain elements of the testing community have jumped on social media and social communications due to it bringing people and ideas together. However, there are still HUGE amounts of testers who don't see the value in it. And so the conversations and ideas can be somewhat one sided, especially the conversations around certifications, metrics and heavily scripted testing.

    Testing communities such as The Software Testing Club are working hard to bring in all elements of the testing community but there are still many many testers who don't want to broaden their social reach or follow the latest trends, news and advancements in testing.

    And the big question for social communities and testers is how we can start to involve everyone.

    Great post.

    Thanks
    Rob..

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  2. Really good summary, thanks for posting it.

    For me the SoftwareTestingClub is THE place to go to when it comes to getting in touch with the testing community. As people post their views, questions, answers and experiences one can get a feel for how experienced someone is and if you'd like to have them test for you or if it isn't a good fit.
    This in turn helps with The Crowd, I believe that the value you get there is high.

    Note: I'm not affiliated with the STC. I sometimes help out but don't receive any money or other things from them.

    For the bug tracking tool - I'm not sure if the tool itself needs all the bells and whistles of a networking system. As long as these functions are somehow covered in your organisation it's fine from my point of view.

    Thomas

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  3. Thanks for the comments, Thomas. In my group we switched bug tracking tools by corporate decree after a merger, and we lost some of the networking abilities - like facilitating a group discussion in a defect or note. The audience and enterprise scope are larger for the new tool, so maybe there is a rationale. Still, I grumble a bit.

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  4. Glad to hear you find the STC so useful and thanks for the recommendation. I've been involved in it since the early days so it's really gratifying to read praise for it

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  5. I'd also like to suggest social get togethers. In London we have the London Tester Gathering which happens whenever I get around to organising one.
    It's a great, less formal way to hear talks, meet people, talk over situations/problems, find work and learn about new tools.
    Here are a couple of write ups: http://www.bettertesting.co.uk/content/?p=389
    http://expectedresults.blogspot.com/2010/05/growing-community.html
    http://thesocialtester.posterous.com/london-testers-gathering
    http://cartoontester.blogspot.com/2010/05/cartoon-plagiarism-and-toast.html

    There are similar all over the world, if there isn't one near you, start one!

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  6. I'd love to come to a London get together. Unfortunately my company won't pay for the flight. :) I will have to look for something more local (Connecticut, maybe Boston or New York).
    Thanks, Tony, and Phil.

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