; How Google Tests Software - Part Three | Google Operating System News

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

How Google Tests Software - Part Three

How Google Tests Software - Part Three

By James Whittaker

Lots of questions in the comments to the last two posts. I am not ignoring them. Hopefully many of them will be answered here and in following posts. I am just getting started on this topic.

At Google, quality is not equal to test. Yes I am sure that is true elsewhere too. “Quality cannot be tested in” is so cliché it has to be true. From automobiles to software if it isn’t built right in the first place then it is never going to be right. Ask any car company that has ever had to do a mass recall how expensive it is to bolt on quality after-the-fact.

However, this is neither as simple nor as accurate as it sounds. While it is true that quality cannot be tested in, it is equally evident that without testing it is impossible to develop anything of quality. How does one decide if what you built is high quality without testing it?

The simple solution to this conundrum is to stop treating development and test as separate disciplines. Testing and development go hand in hand. Code a little and test what you built. Then code some more and test some more. Better yet, plan the tests while you code or even before. Test isn’t a separate practice, it’s part and parcel of the development process itself. Quality is not equal to test; it is achieved by putting development and testing into a blender and mixing them until one is indistinguishable from the other.

At Google this is exactly our goal: to merge development and testing so that you cannot do one without the other. Build a little and then test it. Build some more and test some more. The key here is who is doing the testing. Since the number of actual dedicated testers at Google is so disproportionately low, the only possible answer has to be the developer. Who better to do all that testing than the people doing the actual coding? Who better to find the bug than the person who wrote it? Who is more incentivized to avoid writing the bug in the first place? The reason Google can get by with so few dedicated testers is because developers own quality. In fact, teams that insist on having a large testing presence are generally assumed to be doing something wrong. Having too large a test team is a very strong sign that the code/test mix is out of balance. Adding more testers is not going to solve anything.

This means that quality is more an act of prevention than it is detection. Quality is a development issue, not a testing issue. To the extent that we are able to embed testing practice inside development, we have created a process that is hyper incremental where mistakes can be rolled back if any one increment turns out to be too buggy. We’ve not only prevented a lot of customer issues, we have greatly reduced the number of testers necessary to ensure the absence of recall-class bugs. At Google, testing is aimed at determining how well this prevention method is working. TEs are constantly on the lookout for evidence that the SWE-SET combination of bug writers/preventers are screwed toward the latter and TEs raise alarms when that process seems out of whack.

Manifestations of this blending of development and testing are all over the place from code review notes asking ‘where are your tests?’ to posters in the bathrooms reminding developers about best testing practices, our infamous Testing On The Toilet guides. Testing must be an unavoidable aspect of development and the marriage of development and testing is where quality is achieved. SWEs are testers, SETs are testers and TEs are testers.

If your organization is also doing this blending, please share your successes and challenges with the rest of us. If not, then here is a change you can help your organization make: get developers fully vested in the quality equation. You know the old saying that chickens are happy to contribute to a bacon and egg breakfast but the pig is fully committed? Well, it's true...go oink at one of your developer and see if they oink back. If they start clucking, you have a problem.

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