Is testing dead?

“Test is dead”

Last year, 2011, Alberto Savoia, presented the opening keynote at GTAC with the title “Testing is dead”. Alberto started with an all to recognizable Old Testmentality:

  • Top down
    • Thou shalt follow the spec
  • Rigid
    • Thou shalt not deviate from the plan
  • Distinct roles and responsibilities
    • Developers shalt develop
    • Testers shalt test
    • And never the twain shalt meet
  • Do not release until ready
    • Thou shalt not sell wine before it’s time

He concludes this with declaring that in essence the focus is on building it right.

Alberto’s then takes an elaborate detour to arrive at the conclusion that in the New Testmentality the focus is on building the right it. While doing this he comes to the conclusion that success, in the Post Agile era, does not depend on testing or on quality but on building the right it at the highest speed (to get the best realistic marketing edge). And so you do not actually need to test at all. Well…. at least at the start, in the right environment…. I could go on but I think Mark Tomlinson’s blog post says just the right it.

The reactions

Alberto’s keynote and later presentations like James Whittaker’s at EuroSTAR have spawned a load of critical reactions from the testing community. (At least the part that I am following.) Most of them were even downright negative and dismissive. As an example a quote of one of my fellow DEWT’s: “Ik vind het  ‘Test is Dead’-paradigma in ieder geval tijdloze flauwekul” (in English this translates to “In my opinion the ‘Test is Dead’ paradigm is to be considered timeless nonsense”). I can understand these reactions and based on the stories and without critically thinking over what the paradigm was saying I had a similar mindset.


In short the ‘Test is dead’ paradigm argues that test will disseminate into two directions. It will either move down to the developers or it will move up to the users. The arguments for the movement down to development are that software in general has gotten better; that there are more possibilities to quickly fix in production, that software is able to self repair; that there are more standards,better software languages and that software is no longer localized but available in the, more stable, cloud. The arguments for moving testing up to the users are that the current testing slows down the development process and that it imitates user behaviour. Since speed has more value than quality and users can do a better job at being users then testers this kind of testing is no longer necessary.

I agree with the observation. It is true that software nowadays is different then the software that was produced when the first major test approaches were established. The shift to web-based software (delivery) and the growing knowledge and acceptance by the public of software updates has changed the playing field. I think a lot of what testers (still) do nowadays can be done by developers as well. Particularly the stuff I heard a fellow tester sigh about during a TestNet event “Come on do I still have to test input fields and buttons on correctness. Why don’t those lazy programmers write unit tests as they are supposed to.”. Oh and yes there are loads of testers that go and sit behind their computer and punch keys as if they were users. But are they really testers…..

I do not agree with the conclusion. When it comes to testing business logic, calculations, multi state or multi integrated programs, security, or usability more and bigger unit tests really do not cut it. Yes they take out the more or less obvious bugs, but still leave the less obvious and unimagined ones mostly untouched. If you want to catch those you need sapient testers who are able to use their investigative skills. Who are able to cooperate with and understand developers, business analysts and users. Testers who adjust their skills and the use of those skills to the context in which they work. Only these kind of tester can smoke out bugs that otherwise would have gotten away and provide information that allows others to make the right decisions. Even Alberto Savoia himself limits his arguments when he says during his keynote that eventually you have to build it right also and that security sensitive, risky or regulated software still needs a testing process.

So is testing dead?

Yes if you mean factory style mindlessly following standards and pre-scripted testing.

No if you mean sapient critical skillful and context-driven testing.

or in other words

Testing is dead, long live testing!