Does no-one test IT systems anymore? In chip design or in cyber security, there is a strong discipline of testing. Some of the smartest people I’ve met in the IT community have worked in cyber security.

In these parts of the industry the value and status of testing expertise is well understood. It seems to me that elsewhere the ‘test engineer’ role is effectively the Cinderella part of the profession. Let me explain.

The great problem of silos of information is precisely that they are silos. Organisations end up rekeying data multiple times or face data inconsistencies and contradictions. The strength of silos however is that by isolating systems that they become easier to protect and to ensure reliability. As the systems we build become ever more complex and integrated, testing ‘open systems’ that span multiple processes and organisational boundaries becomes ever more critical.

In an era of ecommerce where the customer experience of an organisation is through a website, the potential for a bad experience is significant.

Also, as agile methods grow in popularity the risk that this fortnight’s features cause problems elsewhere becomes ever more likely.

A recent experience should illustrate this.

I searched on Google for some goods I wanted. I found an alternative to a well-known tax avoider who was offering a better price. With the smug satisfaction of a bit of consumer boycott, I put three items into my shopping basket before heading to the check out.

I was greeted with the familiar choice of being a first time or returning user. So I filled in two pages of forms to register with the site and pressed submit. I was informed by the system that my email was already registered and offered the chance to login as a returning customer.

I had no recollection of buying from them before. However, they were part of a group and I had bought from another company. For this post, I’ll leave aside the legal issue of whether I had given them permission to share my details. I generally don’t.

Anyway, I tried to log in with my usual passwords but none of them worked. So, I clicked on the forgotten password link. This then invited me to enter my email address, which I did. This time I was informed that they had no record of my email address.

A little frustrated but feeling helpful I thought a little feedback was called for. So via contact us, I found the link to web feedback. I pressed submit and was invited to..... login!

Somewhere, there is a marketing team pouring over the analytics to see why people fill their shopping baskets but don’t complete their transactions. Quality and customer services smugly declare that they are not getting negative feedback from customers via the website, so all is well. They’ve lost £150 of my business and I won’t go back.

Looking at syllabuses in HE and FE for ICT professionals suggests that the emphasis on testing is lower than it should be.

For organisations wanting to try cloud-based services, it seems to me that the pay-as-you-go model is ideally suited to functional regression testing. Building a suite of automated tests as part of an agile development should keep costs controlled and lower risks on delivery. As an entry to the cloud model it seems the most sensible and low-risk initial deployment.

It’s all very well talking about the potential of advanced technology and the amazing progress, but if we can’t get basic things like the above experience right, then citizens are correct in being sceptical of the claims of IT professionals.

How do we get the status and training of testing professionals to be fit for purpose? Enjoy your Xmas shopping on the web!

About the author

Chris Yapp is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.