The golden age of software testing in China

That China Computer Market Forecast Report 2008 was recently released. It showed that the software industry in China recorded revenue of US$50 billion in the first three quarters of 2007, 23.6% more than PCP, accounting for 10.95% of the total revenue of electronics and information industry. As the software market matures, people have higher and higher expectations for software features, quality, and reliability. In October 2005, the Department of Labor and Social Security officially listed computer software product tester (software testing engineer) as one of the new professions. In just two years, software testing has become a powerful dark horse in the software industry.

Ever increasing status

“In the early 1990s, the software industry in China was still in its infancy. Most software projects were very simple, the entire code writing and development process could be done by one person. As competition in the industry intensified, software companies gradually evolved from one-man tape stores to software engineering collaborations. Although the division of labor could improve software development efficiency and functionality, it also leads to an increasing number of errors between modules and deteriorated quality,” said Mr. Wang Yazhi of CONCEPT Information Technology Ltd, a large software development company in Beijing. Quality degradation would not only affect a software company’s ability to compete, but could also lead to massive economic losses for software users or even personal injury, such as medical accidents.

As China’s software companies continue to thrive, the importance of software testing is also increasingly recognized by software companies. Many large and medium-sized software companies have started hiring professional staff to take care of software testing. Ms. Ran Chunjuan, a former test manager at Wuhan Superidea Technology Ltd, said, “At Superidea, the ratio between software testers and developers is 1:4. While this is still well short of international best practice of 1:1, it’s still such a big improvement from 1:8 a few years ago.”

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Industry experience appreciated

In addition to increasing the software testing staff, many companies are also demanding higher quality of staff, especially in the areas of professional testing experience and thinking skills. “A tester without professional training can still work out 3-5 test methods, but not necessarily detect bugs. Even if bugs are discovered, he may not be able to express the problems in appropriate languages, which could increase the developers’ workload. Well-trained testers can elaborate 10-20 test methods such as limit value analysis, equivalence classes, and cause-effect diagrams to reveal errors to the maximum. Professional testers can also articulate test documents in standardized languages, thereby improving the recovery rates of software problems,” said Mr. Liu Fei, a former test manager at Qualcomm. Many companies in China have now set up independent testing departments to work with the R&D departments.

As companies become more knowledgeable about software testing, the scope of work for test staff expands from the system testing phase to the unit testing and integration testing phases. “This requires software testers to have in-depth knowledge of the businesses a product is involved in,” said a test manager at Founder Group, one of China’s largest software companies, “For example, when we test software for banking applications, we first have the to understand specific users in the bank Some operators only use keyboards in the office, but if we don’t know this and make it mouse-friendly controls, banks won’t buy no matter how well the software works.” Therefore, it can be predicted that the status of software testers who have technical experience and knowledge of customer requirements will continue to improve.

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A seller’s market

“The software testing industry is in a period of growth,” said Prof. Zheng Renjie, a software testing expert. The current hot market for software testers is mainly due to the rapid development in the software industry itself: “Companies are demanding higher quality software, which in turn has stimulated the demand for software testers. But talent supply and talent training has lagged the dramatic changes in market demand, hence a Telent shortage.”

Currently, the shortage of software testing talent in China has exceeded 200,000 and is rising to the 300,000 threshold. According to statistics, the total supply of software testers from nationwide IT training institutions is less than 10,000 per year, so it is foreseeable that the shortage of testing talent could continue for another 5-10 years. At the same time, the talent shortage has leveraged tester rewards. According to a compensation report by 51Job.com in China, the starting salary for software testing engineers ranges from $400-$650 per month and could rise to $1200-$1650 for engineers with 2-3 years of experience, which is higher than the compensation for many Developers with similar years of service. As the talent shortage continues into 2008, software tester pay is looking for further increases.

education and training

The shortage of software testers in China has not only raised pay levels, but also triggered a boom in education and training institutions. Already two years ago, several prominent IT professional education institutions had recognized the importance of software testing positions and organized some national and international software testing experts to jointly develop training courses, which have successfully nurtured many software testing talents in the past two years. At present, in China, in addition to overseas recruitment and in-company training, external professional training is also an important channel for producing software testers, accounting for 12% of the total talent supply. As companies pay more attention to labor cost control, more professional talent is expected to come from external training institutions.

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While professional IT education is booming, tertiary education institutions have also started to put themselves to the test. In August 2007, the first Shanghai Software Testing Education Forum was held by various government agencies and universities, explicitly identifying “software testing” as a core area in software development courses in China. But dr Chen Honggang, who has been involved in the development and testing of projects such as Windows95, Internet Explorer 4.0/5.0 and SQL Server 2000, commented that while universities can ease the pressure on software testing, talent training is based on overseas experience and professional training will continue to be the main channel for supplying software testing talent.

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