Thursday, December 24, 2020

Trust Us: Push, Publicise, and Punish

In the recent peer conference organised by the Association for Software Testing and BCS SIGIST we asked ourselves the question Should the Public Care about Software Testing?

I summarised the presentations in Who Cares? a couple of weeks ago and now the AST and SIGIST have published a joint report which manages to pull together and contextualise both the presentations and a whole day of conversation into a coherent whole.

The report outlines a number of risks around contemporary software development that it's thought the general public are largely not aware of, but suggests that people should only need to care about software testing to the extent that they can trust that experts have exercised good judgement about where, what, how, why, and when to test. 

It goes on to propose three categories of approach for establishing public trust — push, publicise, and punish — where pushes are applied up front to influence behaviour during the development of a product; publicisation puts information into the public domain to help consumers ask the right kinds of questions; and punishments penalise undesirable behaviour and introduce additional practices to attempt to prevent it in future.

Standards can fit into all three of these categories and are interesting particularly because there has been recent controversy over the ISO 29119 standard for software testing. The report notes that if a testing standard is expected to be a proxy for a product quality standard, then it is risking trying to "drive software development from the back of the bus." It then offers what the participants considered were important factors for any attempt at a testing standard to consider.

The conference wasn't set up to make proposals on behalf of AST or SIGIST, or commit the organisations to a policy or a position, but the report does conclude with a few threads that recurred during the conference about the relationship between software testing and the public:

  • Software is made for humans, and humans should be at the centre of its development and use. This includes understanding human biases and accounting for them.
  • Software production has mixed incentives, notably tension between business needs and societal needs. These have to be balanced carefully and include incentives to test appropriately according to the context.
  • Testing software appropriately is important, but we testers should not fixate on testing for its own sake, nor on the craft of testing, above the bigger picture concerns of making the software work, and work safely, for its users.

The material created at the conference is jointly owned by the participants: Lalitkumar Bhamare, Fiona Charles, Janet Gregory, Paul Holland, Nicola Martin, Eric Proegler, Huib Schoots, Adam Leon Smith, James Thomas, and Amit Wertheimer. 

Read the full report: Should the Public Care About Software Testing?

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