Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Practice makes Perfect... thoughts on software testing & professionalism

Which camp are you in? Should we overlook Christina Aguilera's Superbowl faux pas as a moment of human fallibility? Should we strip her of her citizenship and deport her to outer Mongolia for disrespecting the national anthem?

I think the whole affair provides us a good opportunity to reflect on the standards of professionalism. As a friend of mine pointed out, it was an easy mistake to make, could of happened to anybody, she doesn't deserve to be picked to death for it. This is true. On the other hand, in this context she was more than just anybody, she was supposed to be a professional. Being professional means you don't make 'easy' mistakes. It means that when the eyes of a nation are on you, you perform flawlessly, disregarding any but the most unforeseeable events.

Professionals are held to a higher standard. We expect them to practice, to drill, to repeat their performance hundreds of times. We expect them to accept criticism, to seek feedback, and to work out the kinks. As an audience, we don't accept seeing a beta-test on game day.

Which camp are you in?

Do you let project timelines drive shipping untested code to your customers? Do you shrug your shoulders at each new reported bug and say 'well I'm only human'?

Do you use automated testing so that each feature is practiced hundreds of times to work out all the kinks? Do you look at each new bug and ask "How could I have missed that?", and then take action to ensure it can never happen again?

Athletes and performers who "practice, practice, practice" are rewarded by defect free performances. Software developers who "test, test, test" are rewarded by defect free code. In either case, mistakes do and will still happen. But why waste your audience's respect and patience on the easy ones?