; How Google Tests Software - A Break for Q&A | Google Operating System News

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

How Google Tests Software - A Break for Q&A

How Google Tests Software - A Break for Q&A

By James Whittaker

New material for the this series is coming more slowly. I am beginning to get into areas where I want to start posting screen shots of internal Google tools and describe how our infrastructure works. This is material that takes longer to develop and also requires some scrutiny before being published externally. So in the meantime, I am pausing to answer some of the questions you've posted in the comments.

I am going to start with Lilia (because she likes Neil Young mainly, but also because she can run further than me and those two things combine to impress me to no small end) who asks about SET-SWE conversion and vice-versa and which I have seen the most. There is also the broader question of whether there is a ceiling on the SET career path.

SETs and SWEs are on the same pay scale and virtually the same job ladder. Both roles are essentially 100% coding roles with the former writing test code and the latter doing feature development. From a coding perspective the skill set is a dead match. From a testing perspective we expect a lot more from SETs. But the overlap on coding makes SETs a great fit for SWE positions and vice versa. Personally I think it is a very healthy situation to have conversions. Since I have both roles reporting to me I can speak from first hand experience that many of my best coders are former SETs and some of my best testers are former SWEs. Each is excellent training ground for the other. On my specific team I am even on the conversions from one role to the other. But I suspect that Google-wide there are more SETs who become SWEs.

Why convert in the first place? Well at Google it isn't for the money. It also isn't for the prestige as we have a lot more SWEs than SETs and it is a lot harder to standout. The scarcity of our SETs creates somewhat of a mystique about these folk. Who are these rare creatures who keep our code bases healthy and make our development process run so smoothly? Actually, most SWEs care more about making the SETs happy so they continue doing what they do. Why would any dev team force a conversion of a great developer from SET to SWE when finding a suitable SET replacement is so much harder than adding another feature developer? SWEs ain't that stupid.

Now pausing before I take another hit of the corp kool-aid, let me be honest and say that there are far more senior SWEs than SETs. Percentage wise we test folk are more outnumbered at the top of the org than at the middle and bottom. But keep in mind that developers have had a large head start on us. We have developers who have been at Google since our founding and testers ... well ... less time than that.

Where do TEs fit into this mix? TE is an even newer role than SET but already we have a number climbing to the Staff ranks and pushing on the senior most positions in the company. There is no ceiling, but the journey to the top takes some time.

Raghev among others has asked about the career path and whether remaining an IC (individual contributor) is an option over becoming a manager. I have mixed feelings about answering this. As a manager myself, I see the role as one with much honor and yet I hear in your collective voices a hint of why do I have to become a manager? Ok, I admit, Dilbert is funny.

For me, being a manager is a chance to impart some of my experience and old-guy judgement on less experienced but more technically gifted ICs. The combination of an experienced manager's vision and an ICs technical skill can be a fighting force of incredible power. And yet, why should someone who does not want to manage be forced to do so in order to continue their career advancement?

Well, fortunately, Google does not make us choose. Our managers are expected to have IC tasks they perform. They are expected to be engaged technically and lead as opposed to just manage. And our ICs are expected to have influence beyond their personal work area. When you get to the senior/staff positions here you are a leader, period. Some leaders lead more than they manage and some leaders manage more than they lead.

But either way, the view from the top means that a lot of people are looking to you for direction ... whether you manage them or not.

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