A Rose By Any Other Name

There was an interesting conversation about test terminology a few weeks back on the Agile Testing list. It started with Chris McMahon forwarding an amusing post looking for a Non-Functional Tester…and led to an interesting conversation about variation amongst test terminology, and whether we should be trying to standardize it. I’m feeling the urge to sum up and synthesize what I’m

First, let me go on record stating that I think trying to hire a “non-functional tester” is an painful miss-use of language. It reminds me of a white fellow I knew in college who commented after being at a black event that “It was interesting to be the only majority in the room”.

Regarding what language to use – There are no meaningful standard definitions for testing terms of which I am aware. There was an interesting conversation about this on the software-testing yahoo group a few weeks back. Matt posted a bit about it here: http://xndev.blogspot.com/2007/02/non-functional-testing.html

When folks talk of non-functional or parafunctional testing, I think they tend to mean “all forms of testing other than testing a particular function of the software.” This tends to include some combination of: performance/load/stress, scalability, integration, usability, and security testing…and probably a good deal more.

Someone on the Agile Testing list suggested we find a way to name it positively rather than negatively. It’s a good challenge. For a term that’s used as a catch-all for “everything other than ____”, can there be a way to state it positively, other than to use a list? I tend to think that the only thing that ties these classes of tests together is that they aren’t functional tests. That in turn makes me wonder if it’s a concept with much value, whatever name we give it.

I think the real issue is that, like many terms for “everything other than ____”, it’s a funny bucket to try to define. People seem to want the bucket though, and given that I think that using a term that describes it as accurately as possible is a good thing. “Para-” can mean “beside” or “in addition to” (as in paramedic). For that reason, plus the fact that I have yet to hear a more descriptive term suggested for it, and because it’s starting to get (at least a bit of) acceptance amongst testers, parafunctional works for me.

If we go back to the description above, Parafunctional is (to me) at least as clear as non-functional, and has the additional virtue of not sounding foolish.


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