Industry Seeks Software Testing Breakthrough

Software developers are open to a new testing approach proposed by ThoughtWorks, a consultancy with product plans.

Developers need to test early and often if they want to deliver quality code, according to experts. With that in mind, tool makers and developers are welcoming the idea of a breakthrough in the testing arena.

ThoughtWorks, a consultancy known for its work in agile computing, told eWEEK of its plans to enter the product business with a functional testing tool named Tide.

The notion behind Tide comes from the need to manage functional tests independent of the way developers write software, said Neville "Roy" Singham, founder and chairman of ThoughtWorks. That idea is something ThoughtWorks worked on with Ward Cunningham, who invented the concept and created Fit, the Framework for Integrated Testing.

"On the surface, it sounds excellent," said Andy Glover, president of Stelligent, another agile development consulting firm. "The hook, of course, is the integration with development. Just like with Fit, developers have to then create the back-end code to actually run the specifications, which oftentimes becomes the bottleneck."

Cyndi Mitchell, managing director of ThoughtWorks Studios, the London-based product arm of ThoughtWorks, said the company is applying its more than 10 years of production experience with agile development to Tide, which is expected in February 2008.

"Were creating a tool geared toward making functional tests long-lived assets," Mitchell said. The tool will be geared toward "polyskilled" teams where business analysts writing business requirements will work with developers and testers, and new tests will be generated from the requirements.

Tide will "sit above the functional testing level" and will make tests derived from functional testing tools, she said. As a first phase, Tide will support the open-source Selenium test tool for Web applications.


Click here to read more about ThoughtWorks "Tide" testing product.

Targeting early testing is key and is a different approach than companies like Mercury Interactive, now owned by Hewlett-Packard, have traditionally taken, Glover said.

"Testing early is always a good thing and is one of the central tenets of agile software development, especially lean development. You test in quality," he said. "It must be built in, and testing up front uncovers those issues. This sort of tool would be excellent in the hands of domain experts, customers, etc., working in conjunction with development. The evolution of the specification is quite helpful in delivering value to stakeholders quickly."

Cunningham said ThoughtWorks "has a great deal of experience using Fit and Fit-like acceptance testing frameworks on real projects." He said independence is important for functional tests.

"Someday, every successful system migrates to new technology and one must face the question, What exactly does this system do?" he said. However, "enlightened testers have always been asking to be involved throughout every stage of a project. Fit, and, presumably, ThoughtWorks support for Fit, gives them a way to create tangible artifacts with value now and into the future from this collaboration."

Carey Schwaber, an analyst with Forrester Research, said using Fit helps pull testing earlier in the life cycle by dividing responsibility for test automation between technical resources like developers and non-technical resources like testers and business analysts.

"Tech-savvy team members create and maintain the test infrastructure, while business-savvy resources use this infrastructure to define test cases," Schwaber said. "This results in test scripts that last longer and are easier to maintain when necessary.

"The division of labor is also crucial to the success of small, cross-functional teams—including but not limited to agile teams—that dont have dedicated test automation engineers, or even dedicated testers," she said.

Jerry Rudisin, CEO and president of testing tool maker Agitar Software, said, "Tools like Fit and Concordion are increasingly popular among cutting-edge testers because they allow the QA [quality assurance] engineers to focus on the scenarios that need to be tested and they leave the job of writing the fixtures that implement the tests to the developers."

Rudisin added that there are a number of such open-source efforts, "but thus far there hasnt been a sophisticated commercial offering that would offer the rich reporting and management that QA organizations expect and require from their traditional tools. But a bigger obstacle than reporting is that such tools require a change in how the development team operates. Most development teams already say they are stretched trying to make their current schedules. Where will they find the extra time needed to create the fixtures?"

Joe Ponczak, co-founder of testing tool maker Codign Software, said: "I like Fit. I think it is easy to use, versatile and, like you said, brings the tester closer to the developer. I believe that Fit is unique in the industry, but I dont believe that any tool will, by itself, solve the software-testing dilemma. Its ultimately a process problem—Fit will require assistance from development, take time away from development tasks, and ultimately change as often as requirements and code change."


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