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From QA to Continuous Testing

My prior blog “DevOps – It’s All About Continuous Testing” post is that QA testers don’t need to fear DevOps because continuous testing QA is a central part of DevOps infrastructures that are implemented according to best practices. That is not to say however that continuous testing is precisely the same as traditional QA testing or that QA test engineers can rest on their laurels in the new world of DevOps and continuous testing.

Traditional QA testing is a serial process that constitutes a distinct phase that follows the development phase and is conducted by an SQA test team “independent” of the development team. The idea was clearly described by Glenford Myers in his seminal books “Software Reliability – Principles and Practices” and “The Art of Software Testing” published in 1976 and 1979 respectively. According to Myers “4th Axiom [of testing] “It is impossible to test your own program”. Myers felt programmers shouldn’t do any testing, even unit testing. While the application of this axiom to unit testing was not followed by most practitioners in the software industry, the idea of independent software functional and system level testing has been a widely accepted practice for many years. The underlying rationale is that it is “impossible” for the same person (the developer) to objectively test his/her own code due to the inherent bias to want the code to work, while a good QA tester must have the opposite attitude to want to break it in order to uncover bugs in the code. If you follow this logic only “unusual” developers would be able to perform both roles successfully and therefore building a team based on this rare personal quality is essentially not practical.

Despite the obvious logic of “independent QA test” concept, many very complex software projects without an independent QA test team resulted in extremely high quality products. There are many high quality open source software products that had no independent test organization behind each release version. Meanwhile there are countless examples of software projects that had massive independent test resources that resulted in products that failed miserably. How can this be? Perhaps it is not “who” is doing the test that matters but rather it is the quality and frequency of the testing itself that is important.

Continuous testing, with its fundamental concept of “fail early and fail often”, is the new QA test method of choice. Sure, testing is still essential and QA test experts that are most skilled in the best practices of test design are valued because they will produce the best quality products. Years of software engineering experiences have demonstrated that developers can learn these skills if they are taught and even “normal” developers can do a great job of testing. Instead of QA testing “after development”, testing is conducted continuously as the software is developed, build-by-build, feature-by-feature. Obviously it is better to find bugs earlier rather than later. So why didn’t we always have continuous testing as part of development processes?

Several industry developments converged to make continuous testing the winning method for software engineering quality assurance. Numerous “modern” test methods such as agile testing, test driven development, behavior test methods, model based testing, and automated regression testing, to name a few, describe how quality software can be accomplished without the need for an independent QA test team. The advent of Agile development processes and DevOps infrastructures, in which development build-test cycles are accelerated to minutes or hours instead of days or weeks, has accelerated the development and adoption of automation and orchestration tools and methods. There is simply no other way to get a reasonable amount of testing done on each build-test cycle unless the tests themselves and the environment for testing are supported by orchestration tools and reliable regression tests are systematically automated as the product is developed.

Meanwhile virtualization technologies have enabled a wide variety of product test topologies to be stood up on demand at a speed compatible with the rapid build test cycles and yet not require expensive dedicated equipment configurations. It is this combination of improved test methods, Agile processes, continuous integration speed afforded by automation and orchestration tools, and low cost test dynamically configurable infrastructures afforded by virtualization that has resulting in DevOps.Continuous testing is “the new QA”.

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