The other day, we published a post about how software testing is a profession in its own right – and not a stepping-stone towards some other career.
The article was very well received. But a number of readers pointed out that “profession” can mean different things to different people. And you know what? They’re absolutely right about that. Our basic argument was sound, but we didn’t define our terms very well.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training.”
We like this definition because it makes things much easier. All you have to do is look at the training, education, and academic research that surrounds a certain skill set to determine whether it qualifies as a profession:
- Academic coursework is a good litmus test for difficulty. It proves that this is not a skill that you can simply walk in and master. It requires guidance and instruction.
- Academic research is particularly useful because it shows the maturity, depth, and even seriousness of a given industry or topic.
Academia provides one other thing worth mentioning – innovation:
- Scholars contribute tools and methodologies developed from research conducted in the field.
- They analyze data to codify best practices within the industries they study.
- They develop mathematical models to explain the how and why of what practitioners do.
If you doubt this for a second, just look at what Peter Drucker did for the world of management – or what Einstein gave to aeronautics and telecommunications.
But when it comes to software testing, the above definition causes some problems. There simply isn’t a lot of academic research surrounding our industry. Only a handful of universities around the world offer college-level courses in the field.
Most of you reading this didn’t acquire your skills on a traditional campus. You had to beg, borrow, and steal your education by any means necessary.
So Does Software Testing NOT Qualify As a Profession?
That’s a good question. Maybe the definition is flawed. After all, some of the toughest, most selective professions in the world lack a well-defined academic trajectory:
- There is no university training to become Pope.
- And 9 of America’s presidents never attended college – including Washington and Lincoln.
But that’s a cop-out – introducing a definition (that we selected), only to say that it’s not a very good one. So let’s stick with what Wikipedia says, “A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training.”
How does software testing measure up?
Well, at first glance, it doesn’t look so good. As mentioned before, college courses are rare and the academic literature is limited.
But these resources are growing rapidly as practitioners and academics increasingly collaborate on research.
At Testuff, we frequently work with colleges and universities, helping them incorporate testing tools into their curricula. And these types of partnerships are growing rapidly – largely because our SaaS delivery is so conducive to classroom learning. Students can collaborate in real-time and teachers can assess performance – regardless of location.
We’ve also become more involved with conferences like the Software Quality and Testing – Academia and Industry Symposium at Ben-Gurion University. Hosted in Israel, this conference was a truly international event that imported some of the brightest minds in the industry, including the University of Memphis’ Jasbir Dhaliwal.
I know what you’re thinking. These examples are specific to Testuff and don’t reflect any wider trends within the industry.
But the bonds between software testing and academia extend well beyond the Testuff community. In fact, there have been major conferences and workshops as far back as 2007 – probably earlier.
And we’re making tremendous headway in academic research. Do any of the following sound like the authors are describing career stepping-stones?
- Software fault interactions and implications for software testing
- Benefits and Limitations of Automated Software Testing Systematic Literature Review and Practitioner Survey
- Applicability of modified condition/decision coverage to software testing
And we’re not talking about high-level topics either. There are now ultra-niche papers that tackle individual specialties within the industry:
- Software Testing as a Service: An Academic Research Perspective
- A Markov chain model for statistical software testing
Some researchers have even begun receiving prestigious awards for their academic contributions to the software testing community.
The Bonds Between Software Testing and Academia Are Growing Stronger
If you ask me, we’ve passed the litmus test. Progress is still slow, and we’re nowhere near where we could or should be.
A Google Scholar search of “software testing” reveals only 120,000 academic papers, compared to 1.2 million for “software development.”
But then again, there were only 14,000 academic papers on software testing before 2000.
As software becomes more sophisticated, testing’s importance will only grow with time. And practitioners, researchers, and students will increasingly explore opportunities to collaborate. It’s already happening organically – all over the world. The depth of these partnerships will increase exponentially (especially if more of us play an active role in marrying theory with practice).
This is not simply wishful thinking – it’s basic economics.
The market demands high quality software. And thus, the industry will increasingly recruit software testing professionals who possess the requisite training to help satisfy that demand.