What's In Your Toolbox?

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Summary:

There are a lot of tools available to testers. Some good, some not so good. As we use and gain experience with the various test tools, the set of tools in our tool box becomes larger. Having a large set of tools in your toolbox allows you to better adapt to any test situation.

Tools!

When I was in the Air Force fixing airplanes, there was one tool that was sure to be found in everybody's tool box–safety wire pliers! When repairing aircraft, every nut and bolt, every fastener, every connection, had to be wired to a fixed surface to prevent it from vibrating loose during flight. Did we need safety wire pliers? No, not really. But when you’re hanging upside down in the cockpit of an F-4E, from an armed ejection seat, trying to safety wire a component in place, they were nice to have. There were two reasons we all carried safety wire pliers. First, we all had to safety wire stuff and they made the job easy. Second, they were a wonder tool! As close to a single, universal tool that you could find. You could use them to cut and strip wires, break off striped or broken fasteners, use them as rudimentary clamps, etc. Since I’ve been retired from the Air Force, and I am now a dedicated software tester, I've been in search of a similar wonder tool. So far, no luck. Instead, I've found it important to have a well stocked toolbox with a lot of different tools.

Any good craftsman has a lot of tools. If you consider software testing a craft (and I do) then it is important to have a well stocked tool box. I like to think of myself as the Norm Abram of software testin–without the flannel shirt. Tropical shirt? Guilty.

For software testers, our experience with various testing methodologies may be considered tools. Test process methodologies, test development methodologies, defect management methodologies, etc., are all tools. If you are doing any kind of consulting work, it helps to have a pretty big, well stocked tool box. I;m a tool collector.

Will we use every tool on every project? I doubt it. Some tools are better than others. Over time we tend to develop a comfort level, a relationship even, with our favorite ones. Some tools aren’t so good. Since all tools have their good and bad points, a combination of tools usually works best. I have a favorite Test Management tool, Defect Management tool, etc. Some tools work great in very well defined situations, others, not so much. Some tools will work great doing tasks that they were not originally designed to do–like safety wire pliers. Is there one perfect tool? No, I don't think so. The important thing is to have a lot of tools, know the advantages and disadvantages of each, and know when to pull them out. The bigger, and more well stocked your toolbox, the more valuable you become.

One of the most valuable tools you can stock in your toolbox is knowledge of various test processes or methodologies, such as Waterfall, Iterative, Agile, etc., and how to apply each. I have found that one tool alone, is rarely enough to do the job! As a consultant, one of my favorite parts of the consulting process was the initial client meeting. The client would typically espouse how they had implemented the latest test methodology, yada, yada, yada–typically Agile. That was usually the first bubble I burst–sometimes tactfully, sometimes not.

I've seen and used most of the current and some not-so-current test methodologies. In fact, one of my responsibilities when working as a staff consultant was to evaluate and recommend tools, such as test methodologies, for client companies. As a result, I have used or evaluated a wide variety of popular test methodologies. What I’ve found consistently is:

  • No one uses just one tool or methodology. Most use a

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