Why Testers Need to Get Used to Change

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Summary:

Jeremy Carey-Dressler describes how changes in technology, like the growth of mobile devices over personal computing, has altered the traditional roles of testers and their methods. As the market creates winners and losers, things will settle down some and it will become slightly easier to have common test techniques. For now, testers must get used to change.

Growing up with computers, I have seen them change from business machines to personal entertainment devices. For the past ten years or so, I’ve watched computers go back to being more business-oriented. Now most entertainment is moving from computers to mobile devices. Why own a giant computer when you don't type much text? This change in the way people are using computers appears to create new challenges that I would like to focus on.

For example, people are accepting buggier software. Mobile users are now more like power-users within their touch-only world, which lowers traditional input errors. However, input-method variation is also going up and likely to cause new failures. Consider the case of Microsoft’s Kinect, which had problems recognizing people with darker-colored skin and problems with voice processing for high- and low-pitched voices or voices with heavy accents.

Additionally, I see another change in how performance is becoming more important; you can't, for example, wait a long time between traffic lights to send texts or check the weather. Since we don’t have a standard platform set, we have a divergence of systems that causes more difficulty in testing the hardware. User-usage patterns continue to split further between the consumer, business, and government.

Mobile devices are also not using traditional user interface design patterns, and with single-use apps, designs are now less consistent. We are seeing functionality changing all the time, sometimes just between devices due to A/B testing. New devices that were not originally designed to hook on to the Internet, like your air conditioner or heating appliance, will now be able join the web. Finally, we are witnessing high-profile (think blood pressure) medical device apps becoming standard for many people's mobile devices.

I see at least two major themes here: divergent use patterns and divergent expectations. Big business will keep having high expectations while consumers will have much lowered expectations and less patience. When all the applications cost a dollar, expectations for quality drops, yet if it takes more than thirty seconds to use, you might as well throw it away. This shift in attitude is an interesting one and one that I don't see discussed much by our community.

Sorry, I'm Not a Smart Phone App Testing “Expert,” but Who Is?
When I go to conferences, I don’t see many QA folk discussing how to test mobile apps. In my personal life I use a dumb phone and laptops. Maybe in the testing world, few of us are testing consumer mobile apps? That is to say, who hires a QA tester for a dollar application, anyway? There are over a million apps in Apple's app store but 60 billion downloads. This makes 60 thousand downloads for every app on average. An average of $60,000 take away 30 percent for Apple's commission often is not enough money to justify testing. Even if those numbers are off significantly for popular applications, it might still not justify a dedicated tester.

What does this do to our jobs? I'm invested in the job of testing. If you are reading these words, it's likely you have invested in testing as well. And our world is changing.

It seems to me, QA will likely be involved in the "free" apps as they are likely to be involved in economic transactions that pay a good deal more. Amazon, Delta, Hotels.com, and most other “free” applications for business actually involve much more value that the “free” label suggests; the cost of the app is built into the goods you buy. The same applies to games, which have add-ons that cost but are free-to-play.

What Will Change?
One large pattern of change that seems most obvious to me is the lack of attention to details and how that will be exploited. We are seeing one-person companies popping up, in which this one person does all the development, testing, operations, and marketing. He may also work in the office next to you during the day. With these developers lacking the resources to carefully run their app business, other small teams of black-hats are taking advantage, creating fake copies of the apps, and selling them, sometimes with malware.

The app market is currently the Wild West of software. In addition to this, recently high-end device manufactures are looking at using phones as commodity hardware to function with additional hardware, like medical devices. The US government may try to regulate these manufacturers, but other nations do not always follow the same rules. With so many apps being developed, the government can’t even provide the scrutiny these apps might need.

Then there are some smaller changes that are less easily categorized. Businesses will have reams of detailed customer data that will become a commodity due to aggressive data collection methods. With apps that are leaky and insecure, it's easy to get this kind of data. The large organizations that have been developing websites don’t have the knowledge (yet) to build apps, so they may choose to not create them, but instead build mobile websites (m-dots). Or, those organizations may invest in creating apps, but outsource that development work as the app market is still crazy.

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About the author

Jeremy Carey-Dressler's picture Jeremy Carey-Dressler

Jeremy Carey-Dressler (aka JCD) is an automation tester and toolsmith who currently works at Kount®, a financial fraud detection company. He has been testing hardware, software and firmware across multiple industries for over 12 years, with a special focus in automation. He teaches and lectures at conferences while continuing to search for new ways to push the boundaries of automated testing in order to improve the craft.

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