The Declining Prestige of Software Testing

Because I am a Contributing Editor for Microsoft’s MSDN Magazine, I regularly survey managers, developers, testers, and all job categories for that matter, at Microsoft and other companies, on a wide range of topics. An interesting trend I have heard over and over again recently has to do with the declining prestige of software testing at Microsoft and other companies. Before you jump to any conclusions (shades of "Office Space"), let me explain. Among the many people I’ve talked to, there is a common consensus that software test engineers at Microsoft (the job title is "SDET" which stands for Software Design/Development Engineer in Test) today are, as a group, significantly more technically skilled and have better fundamental testing knowledge than test engineers as a group a few years ago. But in spite of this, I have heard literally hundreds of comments from non-testers (primarily developers and program managers) which state in effect that they do not hold software testing as a discipline in as high regard as a few years ago. How can this be? When probed, I usually hear comments that go something like this: "In the old (meaning C++) days, software testing was critical because the code was trickier (pointers and so on) and developers did relatively little testing (because there just wasn’t time). The test team found regularly found many critical bugs. Now, developers are testing much more of their own code, so there are fewer high-priority bugs to begin with. Additionally, developers are using increasingly sophisticated code check-in and regression testing tools which further prevent serious bugs from entering a build/iteration. This leads to a situation where software testing is becoming marginalized in importance, simply because there are fewer critical bugs." Well I’m not sure whether I agree with this or not, but I am sure that this perception (or perhaps reality) of the declining prestige of software testing is strong and growing at Microsoft and other companies, at least among the people I’ve talked to. I don’t have any immediate answers to this problem (if in fact it’s a problem at all) except to suggest that software testing as a whole (whatever the heck that means!) should closely examine itself and ask if it’s time for some radical changes in how we approach software testing. I am a huge fan of Microsoft technologies, Microsoft as a company, and software testing as a discipline, and think that this declining-prestige question should be examined to make all three areas stronger.
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