Tech & Work

The Internet and ASPs take a toll on software testing

The rapidly growing use of the Internet to quickly deliver new versions of software, along with the emergence of ASPs, has resulted in a critical shortage of software testers. Bob Weinstein outlines how you can stay ahead in this week's Tech Watch.

Ed Kit has more work than he can handle. He heads San Jose, CA-based Software Development Technologies, a software testing and training company with big-name clients including Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Wells Fargo, to name a few. He’s also the coauthor, with Susannah Finzi, of Software Testing in the Real World. As a consultant, Kit’s job is to tell companies what testing tools are needed and then show them how to do the testing.

Testing has always been a serious business, yet some companies take it more seriously than others, according to Carol Lashman, president of Campbell, CA-based ConsultLink Services, a Web directory of high-tech consulting firms.

“Some companies involve testers in the entire development phase; others bring them in when the product is nearly completed,” she said. “Then it’s a frantic rush to test and market it as quickly as possible, which is often a costly mistake.”

Other companies are fanatical about testing.

Microsoft, for example, employs more than 3,000 testers and assigns one tester to every developer. Still, with all that painstaking care devoted to testing, its controversial Windows 2000 reportedly had 60,000 bugs. It sounds scary, but releasing products with bugs is a market reality.

“Often it takes a few major releases to get software right,” Kit said.

Adds Lashman: “Virtually all new products are bound to have bugs.”

But, there are bugs and there are bugs. No software developer wants its software to crash and then have to defend itself against negative publicity.

The growth of software testing
With the explosion of the Internet, software testing and the need for software testers, also called QA (quality assurance) engineers, are becoming critical at many companies.

“This has spawned the growth of the software testing tool industry, which has gone from nothing to more than 1 billion dollars in 10 years,” Kit said. “And, it’s growing by 20 to 30 percent a year.”

Kit says that during the past year, the advent of application service providers (ASPs) has quadrupled the need for testers.

“Software companies used to have a one- to two-year cycle to deliver updated versions to the marketplace,” he said. “But, now that the Internet has become the delivery system for software; yesterday’s beta test is today's new version.”

The faster turnover means that new software is delivered to the market quarterly, even monthly in some cases, creating an acute need for software testers. Thirty years ago, for example, there were no official testers. Developers were required to test their own software.

However, as the pace of business increased, people were assigned to test software.

“But now, software companies are in the business of real-time delivery of software applications,” Kit said.

Testing for integration
Beyond the volume and speed of software development, companies must also consider the possibility that new software can conflict with existing software as it is applied.

“Integration with other software platforms is increasingly complex and therefore more difficult to achieve," Kit said. “This is particularly true in industries that have a need for higher reliability software such as telecommunications, finance, military, and aerospace.”

The growth of the Internet has also raised awareness of highly scalable load and stress testing, according to Kit.

“Software testing is fast gaining equal footing with development since everyone knows when a Web application fails,” he said. “The complexity of systems to be tested can involve applications with thousands of screens, hundreds of developers and large numbers of software testers.”

Searching for testers
Considering the need, software companies are scrambling to find entry-level and experienced testers. Lashman says most companies require some programming background or a degree in computer science. Kit backed into the field after getting a degree in electrical engineering and working as a software developer for Bell Labs and Tandem Computers (now owned by Compaq).

Kit says a good tester brings a variety of skills; especially valuable is an understanding of the discipline and process of testing, as well as knowledge of its international standards.

Salaries? Lashman says the national salary ranges for testers are as follows:
  • Entry-level, $32,000 to $40,000
  • Mid-range, $40,000 to $100,000
  • Upper management, $100,000 to $150,000

There is no shortage of information about software testing. Kit advises finding companies that care about and invest a great deal in testing. To plug into the industry, look at the following quality assurance association Web sites: Society of Quality Assurance, Institute of Quality Assurance and the Quality Assurance Institute.

Bob Weinstein's weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace. It appears in major daily newspapers throughout the United States.

With such a huge demand for software testers, are you offering both full-time and part-time QA positions? Can businesses “afford” to use part-time, high-tech workers? Can they afford not to? Post your comments below or send us an e-mail.

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