When Programmers and Testers Collaborate

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Something magical happens when testers and programmers start to collaborate. There is less time spent sending bugs back and forth through the defect tracking system. Less time is wasted trying to figure out whether something is really a bug or a new feature, and more time is spent developing good software to meet customer expectations. There are many opportunities for starting collaboration before coding even begins.

Testers can help customers write and automate acceptance tests using the language of their domain with tools such as Fit (Framework for Integrated Test). When these tests are given to the programmers before they coding begins, the team is practicing Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD). The programmers write the fixtures to run the tests, and then code to make the tests pass. These tests then become part of the regression suite. When this collaboration occurs, the functional tests are completed early allowing time for exploratory testing on edge conditions or through workflows of the bigger picture.

We can take it one step further. As a tester, I can supply most of my testing ideas before the programmers start coding a new feature. When I ask the programmers if they have any suggestions, they almost always provide me with information that helps me with better test coverage, or helps me to avoid spending a lot of time on unnecessary tests. Often we have prevented defects because the tests clarify many of the initial ideas. For example, in one project I was on, the Fit tests I gave the programmers displayed the expected results of a query to respond to a wildcard search. The programmer had fully intended to code only complete word searches. We were able to talk to the customer and determine the correct interpretation before coding started. By collaborating, we prevented the defect, which saved us both a lot of wasted time.

Programmers can collaborate with testers to create successful automation as well. They understand good coding practices and can help testers set up a robust test automation suite that works for the whole team. I have often seen test automation projects fail because the tests are poorly designed. The tests try to test too much or the testers haven't understood enough about the technology to be able to keep tests independent. The testers are often the bottleneck, so it makes sense for programmers to work with them on tasks like automation. Working with the testers to understand what can be tested early, perhaps by providing a simple tool, will give the programmers another cycle of feedback which will help them deliver better code in the long run.

When testers stop thinking their only job is to break the software and find bugs in the programmers' code, programmers stop thinking that testers are 'out to get them,' and are more open to collaboration. When programmers start realizing they are responsible for building quality into their code, testability of the code is a natural by-product, and the team can automate more of the regression tests together. The magic of successful teamwork begins.

By Janet Gregory

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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