Test engineering

Working at IBM UK laboratories both at Hursley several times and for a long spell at Havant, I had to become very thorough at software system test engineering. In moments when one tried to relax, a few verses sometimes emerged from the imagination.

In my 30+ year IT career, by far the longest time I stayed continuously in any one workplace was when I worked for Dave Milward, an absolutely excellent manager of his team in a company that was in 1993 part of IBM Data Storage Systems divison, based in labs and offices at the plant that at that time housed the IBM hard disk drive factory at Havant, Hampshire, England. As it turned out, by 1998, when I decided not to accept another renewal but to have a change of jobs (I worked on contracts which in that case were renewed annually around New Year), the entire place had become the premises of a new company, Xyratex, formed as a result of a management buyout during a time of worldwide business crisis for the IBM corporation.

All that is incidental. We in the department were specialists in test engineering. What is more, after the split of Xyratex from the IBM core business, one important product category for the new company was specialist test systems, particularly systems for testing new products in the area of high performance data storage devices (hardware) and systems (hardware and software). So the job of Dave Milward’s department also included the testing of new models of test equipment, these test systems, and then the use of those systems to test new models of disk drives, disk drive enclosures (containing multiple disk drives, within schemes including — for anyone interested who reads this — RAID arrays of the full range of categories), and so on.

After the manner of the saying — the archetypal rhetorical question — Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? we were testing the test systems, and seeing to it that the developers of those test systems eliminated any errors in their design or function, before we then used those perfected test systems to test new disk drives, systems of multiple drives, machinery for exercising batches of disk drives in the disk drive factories (after they came off the operating-theatre-perfect-clean-room production lines) of the world's hard disk drive manufacturers. Quite leading edge work.

Nevertheless, as I said above, 5 years in one place was a long time for me, though many at Havant were people who had been with IBM all their working lives. So after that I moved away. But, while there, I became (as I did with whatever speciality I was involved with throughout my career) an expert in test engineering of that specialized kind; and I wrote some humorous verses about the demands of the job.

A Tester's Lot — Prelude

a Limerick on Professional Hazards

A tester can’t shoot for the moon; he
Has the mission to search for lacunae
And for bugs in the code.
After years in this mode,
He can end up becoming quite loony.

Ian Hudson 29th October 1993

A Tester’s Lot

This is another meditation on professional hazards that, incidentally, recognizes that there are ladies in the programming profession, though still (as in many branches of engineering, lamentably) all too few.

It was envisaged, as should be apparent in its metric form and wording, that this is written somewhat as though it should be sung to a certain well known tune from the oeuvre of that English operatic master Sir Arthur Sullivan. However where there are consecutive lines with no echo, some variation is called for.

When a programmer’s not busy writing programs
(... writing programs),
Or contriving neat solutions to the spec.
(... to the spec.),
She’s attending progress meetings,
Answering her colleagues’ greetings,
Or just wishing she could break some blighter’s neck
(... blighter’s neck),
So when after a hard day as a bug finder
(... a bug finder)
The programmer gets back home and has some leisure
(... has some leisure),
The capacity to leave the job behind her
(... job behind her)
Is important more than anyone can measure
(... one can measure).

So a tester who must thrash that poor soul’s output
(... poor soul’s output),
Who must put that precious program to the test
(... to the test),
Must both be, well, fairly clever
To take up this harsh endeavour
And be heartless some degree above the rest
(... ’bove the rest);
For a bug that the developer has hunted
(... per has hunted),
But which gets in the released build all the same
(... all the same),
May not prove their perspicacity is stunted
(...’ ty is stunted),
But can make them blush and drop their eyes in shame
(... eyes in shame).

There’s no doubt that software quality assurance
(... ’ty assurance)
Means an independent test of all the code
(... all the code);
But the necessary thick skin and endurance
(... and endurance)
Can at certain times impose a heavy load
(... heavy load).
So to take up software test as a profession
(... a profession)
Can at best be called adulterated fun
(... rated fun);
So I say, after another testing session
(... testing session)
Oh, a tester’s lot is not a happy one
(... happy one).

IPH 30 November 1993

© 2011 Ian P. Hudson
Headley, Hampshire