Do you know where to poke?


Whenever you tell people that you’re a software tester, people always think it’s an easy job. A job anyone can do with little or no training required. This cannot be further from the truth, but still this perception exists both inside and outside the IT industry.

I remember a story that I heard a long time ago and I like to associate it with the kind of work I do as a tester. The story goes something like this…

A guy went to a video repair shop (remember, I heard this story over 20 years ago, before the invention of DVD players when people only had Video Cassette Recorders) to fix his broken VCR. As he went into the shop, the door bell chimed and he saw that the shop was full of old TVs, VCrs and radios all piled up haphazardly on the shelves and on the floor of the shop. In the far corner of the shop was a work counter and an old man was there fixing a VCR.

The guy went up to the old man and said, ‘Um, can you take a look at my machine? It stopped working the other day.’

Old man said, ‘Sure, put it on the counter’, and he started unscrewing the cover. Once the cover was off, he looked into the machine and then with a screw driver, he started poking here and he started poking there, and muttering to himself, ‘Yup’, ‘Ah…’, ‘Hmm…’, etc. After a couple of minutes of doing that, the old man looked up and said to the guy, ‘I think I’ve fixed it’, and then he plugged in the machine to the mains socket and sure enough the machine whirled into life.

The guy was really happy that the old man was able to fix it so quickly. So he said, ‘Thank you so much. How much do I owe you for this?’ and the old man replied, ‘Fifty pounds’.

The guy was shocked. ‘Fifty quid? No way I’m going to pay you that. I saw what you did. All you did was poke your screw driver here and there and you didn’t even changed a thing.’

And the old man replied, ‘Yes, that’s true. I charge 5 pound for poking and 45 pounds for knowing where to poke.’

Like the old man, a good tester has the knack of knowing where the weakness might lie in a piece of software by simply using it for a short time and can tune the testing efforts that will uncover the most important bugs. But to an outsider, a tester’s job appear to be trivial and could be done by any person, but the difference is that a good tester always know where to poke. Do you?

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