A Meeting Place for Average Joe Testers

Tester Center Web site provides community for QA pros.

The Web today is rife with online forums for software testing and quality assurance professionals. So why would Microsoft step up to the plate and add another to the stack?

One thing these sites have in common is they're "mostly haunted by consultants," says James A. Whittaker, a security architect at Microsoft working on Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative.

"Test consultants seem to be the main contributors to these forums," Whittaker says, "and that's great. Consultants should contribute to the body of knowledge in software testing. But so should the practitioners -- the people who are actually doing this work every day. We felt that we needed a place where average Joe testers could talk about what's working for them and what's not. Those people don't have consulting agendas; their only agenda is, 'I've got to get my work done in the most efficient and effective manner possible.' That's what we're hoping to see on the Tester Center."

Tester Community
Launched late last month, Microsoft's new Tester Center Web site is designed to provide testers of every stripe-veterans, newbies and everyone in between -- with a community where they can exchange ideas and best practices, swap stories from the trenches and earn a bit of peer recognition. The site features blogs, a library of articles and a selection of "whiteboard chalk-talk" videos in which Microsoft testers get out their erasable markers to sketch out everything from risk-assessment frameworks to techniques for automating the testing of audio playback.

Whittaker expects the chalk-talks to become a popular feature of the site, and they're one of his favorites. "We give you a hard testing problem and ask you to go to the whiteboard and solve it," he says. "If you do a good job, you get good ratings on your interview. The chalk-talks have that flavor; one architect describes a hard problem, and someone goes up and works out a solution on the whiteboard."

Taking Testing Seriously
A former college professor of software testing at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., Whittaker is probably best known as the author of the now classic "How to Break Software: A Practical Guide to Testing" (Addison Wesley, 2002) and its sequels.

"The reason I ended up at Microsoft, as opposed to any of the other companies I consulted with over the years, is that they seemed to take testing more seriously than most," he says. "They understand the role of testing, not just as a check on quality, but for improving quality."

Whittaker says that Microsoft hopes to attract industry input and generate dialog with testers and developers. He expects much of that dialog to be generated in the software testing discussion forum, where participants can ask questions and get guidance from peers and Microsoft's own testers.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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