Sunday 19 July 2009

A Sisyphean Task?

I thought that as my first foray into blogging I would elaborate on the title and purpose of my blog. If you are unfamiliar with Greek Myths, Sisyphus was a king who was punished with the task of rolling a boulder repeatedly up a hill only to watch it roll back down. A Sisyphean task is one that can be seen as repetitous and unavailing.

A somewhat depressing title for a blog, you may think, however for I think that many peoples' perception of the task of Software Testing is not too far removed from this. If we equate the height of the boulder to be the confidence in the piece of software under test (SUT) then the task of testing the software could very much be seen as a Sisyphean Task. We execute tests to push up the confidence in a piece of software, only for new functional and environmental changes to be introduced that cause this confidence to roll back down. We then have to push the boulder back up, negotiating all of the newly introduced obstacles whilst at the same time covering the old ground of existing functionality to ensure that no new problems have been introduced.

Where then, lies the appeal? If testing is truly a Sisyphean task then how can it appeal as a career to intelligent and creative minds? I think that the answer can lie in how the task is perceived. If we amend our viewpoint of Sisyphus' labour from a manual task to an engineering one, then the challenge becomes significantly more interesting. How can we speed up the process of moving the boulder up the hill? What solutions can we engineer to reduce the manual effort required to increase our confidence in the system. What are the most efficient ways of increasing confidence without the need for repeated effort? How can we ensure that these solutions are flexible enough to cope with the changing landscape in which they are required to work? It is in creating the most elegant, flexible and efficient solutions to performing the Sisyphean tasks that define the work of the softare tester that we find one of the most sastisfying challenges for the increasing number of creative minds that are choosing software testing as their area of expertise.
Phil said...

Welcome to the blogging world, hope you carry on with the posts

Seems you have good company for your first post - see James Whittakers 'The Plague of Boredom' post

Adam Knight said...

Thanks - I'm being realistic with a demanding job and two young children and aiming for a steady rate of a post a month, I'll see how I go from there.

Liked the Plague of Boredom post - I appreciate the concerns of focusing on automation at the expense of tests. I think that the beauty of Automation comes two-fold though:

1. It provides a technical challenge to both testers in designing automation systems and developers in making software solutions as testable as possible.

2. It removes a lot of the repetitive tasks from the testers life, alleviating the 'Plague of Boredom' by allowing the tester to utilise more of their insights, imagination and experience to creating new ways to test the system rather than simply repeating the old ones ad infinitum.

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