28 October, 2010

Physicists - Testers in disguise?

My background is in science. I have spent 11 years (a third of my life, believe it or not) studying mathematics, statistics and most importantly - physics, experimental astroparticle physics to be specific.

I have been trained
  • to be sceptical
  • to question
  • to think analytically
  • to think logically
  • to be curious 
  • to try to understand how things work rather than accepting stated facts
  • to explore
All of these things I think make very good qualities for a tester too.

My research consisted of searching for a signal in a data set made up mainly of background noise. Feel free to read my thesis. In order to do my research I had to write my own software. Since the results of using my software to process the data were going into my thesis I had to test that the software was behaving as I expected it to in an attempt (futile maybe) to minimize the risk of making a complete fool of myself.

I claim that testing in a wider meaning of the word comes naturally to experimental physicists, even when talking about software testing. The life of any experimental physicist consists of
  • data acqusition
  • data analysis, more often than not using some homemade software
  • publishing results from data analysis
Publishing (preferably interesting) results is the basis of your career, if you do not publish you do not exist. Imagine what would happen (and does happen) if you publish results you later have to retract because your software is found to have severe defects. Physicists are aware of what is at stake - and unlike what is generally the case in the software industry, every mistake is going to hurt the physicist personally.

Hence physicists - and all other scientists with integrity - test their software tools meticulously to make sure they understand how they work and that  they work as expected. It is not a strict, structured testing that ISTQB would approve of, but the physicists have their hearts in the right place. They want things to work and be reliable, and is that not really just what we all want?


  1. Perhaps education of testers could learn something from the pedagogics used in education of physicists?

  2. Reply to Cosmo:

    I do not know much about test education, but my general (and maybe faulty) impression is that it is too much about methodology and not enough about mind-set.