A Tester’s Tips for Dealing with Developers

Is the tester doing a good job or a bad job when she proves that the program is full of bugs? It’s a bad job from some developers’ points of view. Ridiculous as it seems, there are project managers blaming testers for the late shipment of a product and developers complaining (often jokingly) that “the testers are too tough on the program.” Obviously, there is more to successful testing than bug counts. Here are some tips about how testers can build successful relationships with developers.

When I started my career as a software tester, I was made aware of an ongoing antagonism between developers and testers. And it took me no time or effort to be convinced that this is all too common. I received the kind of unwelcome response from developers that I think all testers experience at some point during their careers.

From indifferent shrugs to downright hostility (sometimes cloaked as sympathetic smiles), a tester has to endure a lot from developers. It can be hard to keep a positive attitude. But it’s up to us to keep our priorities straight, and push toward a quality project.

I picked up a beautiful line from Cem Kaner’s Testing Computer Software: “The best tester is not the one who finds the most bugs or who embarrasses the most developers. The best tester is the one who gets the most bugs fixed.”

So how can we do that?

Be Cordial and Patient As a tester you may find it more difficult to convince a developer about a defect you’ve found. Often, if a tester exposes one bug, the programmer will be ready with ten justifications. It’s sometimes difficult for developers to accept the fact that their code is defective—and someone else has detected it.

Developers need support from the testing team, who can assure them that finding new bugs is desirable, healthy, and important in making the product the best it can be. A humanistic approach will always help the tester know the programmer better. Believe me, in no time the same person could be sitting with you and laughing at mistakes that introduced bugs. Cordiality typically helps in getting the developer to say “yes” to your bug report. An important first step!

Be Diplomatic Try presenting your findings tactfully, and explaining the bug without blame. “I am sure this is a minor bug that you could handle in no time. This is an excellent program so far.” Developers will jump and welcome it.

Take a psychological approach. Praise the developer’s job from time to time. The reason why most developers dislike our bug reports is very simple: They see us as tearing down their hard work. Some testers communicate with developers only when there is a problem. For most developers, the software is their own baby, and you are just an interfering outsider. I tell my developers that because of them I exist in the company and because of me their jobs are saved. It’s a symbiotic and profitable relationship between a tester and a developer.

Don’t Embarrass Nobody likes mistakes to be pointed out. That’s human nature. Try explaining the big-picture need for fixing that particular bug rather than just firing bulky bug reports at developers. A deluge of defects not only irritates the developer, it makes your hard work useless for them.

Just as one can’t test a program completely, developers can’t design programs without mistakes, and they need to understand this before anything else. Errors are expected; they’re a natural part of the process.

You Win Some, You Lose Some I know of testers who make their bug reports as rigid as possible. They won’t even listen to the developer’s explanations for not being able to fix a bug or implement a feature. Try making relaxed rules for yourself. Sit with the developer and analyze the priority and severity of a bug together. If the developer has a valid and sensible explanation behind her reluctance to change something, try to understand her. Just be sure to know where to draw the line in protecting the ultimate quality of your product.

Be Cautious Diplomacy and flexibility do not replace the need to be cautious. Developers often find an excuse to say that they refused to fix a bug because they did not realize (or you did not tell them) how serious the problem was. Design your bug reports and test documents in a way that clearly lays out the risks and seriousness of issues. What’s even better is to conduct a meeting and explain the issues to them.

A smart tester is one who keeps a balance between listening and implementing. If a developer can’t convince you a bug shouldn’t be fixed, it’s your duty to convince him to fix it.

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