A Child's-Eye View of Software Testing

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Summary:

You've had to explain and justify your job to Management, to Human Resources, and to everyone at your high school reunion. But now comes the ultimate test: Your child's assignment for the next show-and-tell is to describe what her mom or dad does for a living. You scramble for an easy way to explain—maybe for the first time—what you do at the office, but your software testing reference books just don't have enough pictures of cute animals to really do the trick. This book might be just what you're looking for.

Have you ever tried to explain your software career to a six-year-old?

Think back to your own childhood. If you were like me, your friends' fathers and mothers had jobs that corresponded to some character on Sesame Street , which for a third grader makes them genuine and understandable. Tommy's dad was a firefighter. Susan's mom was a nurse. These were real jobs, plainly evident from the fact that in both of those professions you got to wear really cool hats.

My dad, on the other hand, was a manpower and budget analyst for NASA. While the whole spaceman tie—it won him some hipness points—my dad never got to wear a cool hat, and for thirty-eight years he did something every day, forty hours a week, that I never really understood.

Software tester Robert Sabourin has tried to bridge that information gap with his children's book I am a Bug, and he makes his mission clear in the book's title page. "This," he writes, "is a picture book for Mommies and Daddies who help make Computer Software. We hope you have fun explaining your job as you read with your children!"

Illustrated by his twelve-year-old daughter Catherine, the self-published book was clearly a kick for Sabourin to put together. Its approach is unique—as its two-tiered text simultaneously targets two very different audiences. Along the top of each page, in big friendly letters, is a simple narrative about bugs and bug zappers, aimed at preschoolers. Beneath each page's childlike drawings runs the second story, a sixth-grade-level explanation of software QA and bug hunting.

As an example, here's Sabourin's bi-level take on change management:

Getting lots of frogs can help get rid of lots of bugs, but too many frogs in the same place are a big problem too!

(Once we decided to get lots of people to help us find and correct all the bugs. But that didn't help because we got mixed up and confused.)

That parallel approach is what makes I am a Bug an amiable show-and-tell-and, at the same time, a little hit-and-miss. "My kids weren't quite sure what to make of it," explained a testing colleague (and mother of four) with whom I sent the book home for a test drive. Her youngest, a third grader, thought the easy-to-read bug vignettes a little slow (no spaceships, no central character, no battle carnage). Her older children could understand the higher-level narrative about software testing, but assumed (understandably) from the book's appearance that it was meant only for a younger age range.

All that aside, this isn't a general audience book, and shouldn't be expected to stand on its own, unguided, in a competition with Harry Potter . Despite its limitations, what it can do is to serve as a springboard for a conversation with your children about your work—one more way to keep a dialog going between your reality and their Pokemon-video-game, mall-shopping world. As a software quality person you may not get to wear a cool hat to work, but you shouldn't let that get in the way of showing your kids what you do all day and I am a Bug may be a good start.

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