“Big names” in software testing (ummm… I mean consulting)?


Recently, I was talking to one of Microsoft’s Technical Fellows about senior engineering roles. He talked about the fact that senior engineers should know of the “big names” of the industry in their field, and that he knew of (or directly knew) the most senior developers at Oracle, IBM, and other big software companies. He asked me about “big names” in software testing, and I realized something obvious that had never struck me before. The big names in software development – names like Grady Booch, Jim Gray, or Alan Kay are big names because of their achievements in software engineering for significant software application or research project. The most well known names in test, on the other hand, are primarily consultants.

Why is that?

Sure, there is an employee of MS who, from time to time is popular in the testing community, but why is it that inevitably, if there’s a tester that everybody in the room knows about, that they are a consultant? And these aren’t usually people who were highly successful changing testing at a particular company who recently became consultants. The most well known names in test are people who have been consulting for years and years.

I’ve got to think about this, as I’m sure there’s a viable solution. I think it has something to do with the immaturity of testing as a profession, the general lack of commitment to quality, and probably a few other things. If you’re reading this and have an idea or two, please take time to share.

Comments (9)
  1. Keith Stobie says:

    There are several reasons, but some of them are:

    1) "for significant software application or research project."

    can you think of testers that have done significant testing applications or testing research projects?

    There isn’t that much research done in testing unfortunately.  

    2) Of the 3 you name, most are in the industrial research side of their companies:

    "Jim Gray is a researcher and manager of Microsoft Research" http://research.microsoft.com/~Gray/

    (Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkley)

    Alan Kay "Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard until HP disbanded the Advanced Software Research Team"

    ( Ph.D. from the University of Utah)

    How many PhDs in software testing are working in industrial research labs and publishing papers?

    3)  There are also well known consultants in software engineering like

    Martin Fowler <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Fowler&gt; and Kent Beck <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Beck&gt;

  2. Shrini says:

    Have you considered following names ?

    Gerald Weinberg  (http://www.geraldmweinberg.com/)

    Cem Kaner (www.kaner.com)

    James Bach (www.satisfice.com)

    Bret Pettichord

    James Whitteker

    Brian Merrick

    Rex Black

    would love to hear your views  – mail me at

    Shrinik@gmail.com.

    Do check out my Blog

    Shrinik.blogspot.com

    — Shrini Kulkarni

  3. Alan Page says:

    The above list (excluding Whittaker, who is now a Microsoft employee) are indeed all well known consultants.

    Weinberg (who I like) isn’t really a test consultant, so I’ll exclude comments on him.

    I’m not much of a fan of Kaner or Bach – I think they are both very smart people who focus on bug finding techniques rather than holistic testing.

    I have read some of Pettichord’s research, and find it interesting, but (excluding that lessons learned fiasco), I haven’t read nor near enough of him to have a fully supported answer.

    Brian Marick isn’t focused that much on testing these days, but I wish he were, as he has great, forward thinking ideas on what can be done in testing.

    I’ve read books by Rex Black, and like what he has to say, but as with Pettichord, I haven’t followed him enough to make a fully supported decision.

  4. Michael Bolton says:

    "I’m not much of a fan of Kaner or Bach – I think they are both very smart people who focus on bug finding techniques rather than holistic testing."

    I don’t understand this comment.   The material at http://www.satisfice.com and http://www.kaner.com focuses on things like tester skills, the roles of testing and testers, testing philosophy, epistemology, metrics, etc., etc.   Perhaps the problem is that I don’t understand what you mean by "holistic testing".  Could you help me understand?

    "I have read some of Pettichord’s research, and find it interesting, but (excluding that lessons learned fiasco)"

    I don’t understand this comment either.  Help?

    "The most well known names in test, on the other hand, are primarily consultants.

    Why is that?

    I’ve got to think about this, as I’m sure there’s a viable solution."

    What’s the problem?

    —Michael B.

  5. Alan Page says:

    Thanks for the comments Michael. I don’t do a good job of tracking comments on older posts, so I missed this for a week or two.

    My comments about Bach, Kaner, and Pettichord were simply an example of bad writing on my part. Both Kaner and Bach have many great ideas about testing, but they both can also drive me crazy at times wit their thoughts on testing. I attacked the person instead of the points I disagree with which is bad writing – even for a blog comment – thanks for calling me to task on this.

    A case in point would be the lessons learned book by the gang of three above. I recommend this book to all of my students. I like it because it makes you think about software testing – half of the "lessons" are insightful and valuable – but many of the others cause me to scrunch up my face and claim out loud "what were they thinking?". I think, however, that this is the point of the book, so it was wrong of me to attack it in that way. I don’t remember the context when I wrote the reply above, but I bet I had just referred someone to a few of the wtf examples from the book. Before you ask for specifics, this seems to be good fodder for a future blog post, so I’ll save the specifics for that.

    As for "solution" – there is no problem. I meant to type "explanation", and Keith summed up an answer to that quite well.

    Thanks again for taking the time to reply – hope you continue to stop by to read this once in a while.

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