Software testing is one of the most crucial parts of business success, but it can also be the most commonly disregarded and undervalued. Software engineers and owners alike usually try to put off the software testing phase of a project, because it can extend the deadline and increase cost. However, the cost and effort associated with testing are excellent investments—and can ensure stability and reduce overall costs from buggy, poorly executed software. Whether you’re running an application in the cloud, deploying a new server-side application, or launching a new mobile app, software testing is an integral part of getting up and running successfully.
In short: Test now; avoid frustrations, reworks, and overblown budgets later.
Do I Need to Test My Software?
Because of its added cost, testing is a big question mark for many app owners on a budget. They often want to know if it’s even necessary. Whether it’s a desktop app, a mobile app, or a new component in your SOA, the answer to the question “Do I have to run testing?” is always “Yes.” No matter the circumstances, your software should always go through a thorough round of testing.
Even the most talented coders benefit from testing—especially if the app (or fixes to the app) are on tight turnarounds. Buggy code can put your application into “technical debt.” Technical debt occurs when you spend more money fixing the bugs than you would have spent in testing, catching those bugs prior to launch. Technical debt can be endless if the bugs are at the core of your software. It’s an unfortunate consequence of poor testing either by the developers or from your quality assurance (QA) people.
Note: QA and testing are used interchangeably, but they are different aspects of the software development life cycle. QA involves assurance that the software life cycle follows requirements to meet overall objectives. Testing is the actual process of testing the software for bugs and finding defects.
Even if you think your app is small and bugs are not a possibility, the best practice is to always have someone test it. This includes additions to your software and even bug fixes themselves. A good rule of thumb is that any changes to your code base need a review from a QA person. While it seems exhaustive, “bugless” software has a few clear advantages:
- It improves users’ trust and loyalty for your app
- It reduces costs associated in nonstop fixes
- It allows your developers to focus on scaling and expanding rather than critical outages
When Should I Test My Software?
Sometimes testing can happen after an app has been fully developed, but often times it’s a more continuous process that happens parallel with development. If you’re using Agile software development process or test-driven development (TDD), testing may happen on a per-sprint basis, or it may happen on a per-unit basis, testing each component of an app as it’s completed.
There are a few different types of testing to know and some frequently used testing terms to be familiar with before you get started. Read on for a quick guide to testing 101.
Manual vs. Automated Software Testing
You can generally focus your testing efforts in one of two ways (or both): manual testing or automated testing. In addition, large applications with frequent changes may even require regression testing, which can be either manual or automated, and is designed to ensure that new changes don’t break the old functionality that’s already deployed.
Each type of testing has its pros and cons. Manual testing provides real-world, human feedback on your app, like input about user interface (UI) components, usability, and design. (Usability testing is specific to how users interact with your software, and provides more insight into how people will use your product, less about bugs, but they can happen in tandem depending on the project.) You may get less exhaustive, thorough feedback than you would with automated testing, but it will be more personalized. A skilled manual tester will know what to look for and common pitfalls, plus be pros at identifying those pesky errors that hurt customer engagement and loyalty. If you can, consider hiring a tester brand new to the application to run through the process and identify usability issues with a fresh set of eyes before it’s deployed.
Automated testing is very popular in the QA industry because it’s incredibly thorough. Automation testers setup testing scripts designed to run through every scenario of a “user story”—a story that defines how a different users interact with each page of your app or site. Scripts go through every possibility of a user story and find errors that human testers might not catch. For instance, if your app has an address form where a user can choose from one of 50 states, a script would go through and submit a new user application for each 50 states to make sure they all work properly. A human tester may only submit an application for one or two states.
Also, automated regression testing should occur after a change or a bug fix is implemented to ensure those new changes don’t break old functionality.
The Software Testing Cycle
A typical software testing for a larger project can include unit testing, integration testing, validation testing, and system testing. During integration testing, which can happen in many different patterns, including Big Bang, bottom-up or top-down, all of the components, or units, are combined and tested as a whole to ensure they all work together—things like how they communicate, share data, and rely on subsystems. Bottom-up testing starts with the lowest level components then works its way up the hierarchy, whereas top-down testing starts at the highest level then works its way down the branch to the base. Both have their own benefits.
Unit Testing: Isolating Components and Testing Them One-by-One
There are various levels of the testing process: unit, integration, system, and regression testing. Unit testing is the most microcosmic level, breaking down the usable components of your software and testing each one individually to ensure it’s totally functional and ready to be integrated with the rest of the software as a whole.
By isolating these components during the development process and testing them as they’re completed, you’re catching any bugs within those components early in the development cycle, not toward the end. Writing unit tests and running them regularly (and concurrently) is a big part of Agile software development, designed to keep projects moving through development in intervals and simplifying integration and integration testing.
Whitebox Testing vs. Blackbox Testing
These types of testing will matter more to the developers doing the testing, but chances are you’ve heard the terms and are wondering how they differ. Black-box and white-box testing differ in what aspects of software they are designed to test. White-box testing focuses on the inner workings and structure of software—mainly, attempting to make its source code error-free. It’s typically conducted by a developer with intimate knowledge of how the software is built, who can write specific test cases that cover things like flows and pathways. If the source code is buttoned-up, it’s less likely to cause hidden errors later on. White-box testing can happen during various phases, from unit testing to regression testing.
Black box testing is different in that it involves testing the functionality of an app without looking into (or understanding) the inner workings of the code—hence its name. It’s often used in penetration testing, an arm of security engineering that involves attempting to (safely) hack into software to find potential vulnerabilities with the end goal of patching them up.
Beyond Bugs: Performance and Stability Testing
Most software needs to be able to grow, evolve, and scale up to meet new business demands, or integrate with new applications. Performance testing is a specific arm that puts your app through real-world situations like traffic spikes to see how it will perform. Performance testing includes load testing, which simulates traffic to your app to see if it can stand up to the everyday demands of users, and stress testing, which takes that a step further by putting large amounts of traffic and demand on an app to see at what point it breaks.
How Much Does Testing Generally Cost?
Testing will depend on the size of the application, your timing and deadline, what type of testing you elect to run (automated vs. manual), and the number of people you need on your QA team. The location of your QA team is also a factor.
On a platform like Upwork, QA testers typically charge between $15 and $35 per hour.* The best way to identify costs associated with QA is to draft up a project description (what your app entails, the number of pages, how data-heavy it is, how quickly you need it done, etc.) then contact several freelancers and ask them for an estimate based on those specs. They might ask you to specify if you prefer manual or automated testing, but most QA people will use some kind of automated testing in addition to manual testing to catch bugs before deployment.
You might think it would be harmless to skip testing because developers should test their code, this is one of the major downfalls in software engineering. The best practice is to always include testing outside of your development team to ensure that your code is as bugless as it can be before you unleash it on your customers.
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