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Web application testing: Rob Lambert, 'the Social Tester'

Testing expert Yvette Francino interviews Rob Lambert on how Web application testing differs from testing desktop applications.

Rob LambertRob Lambert

Web application testing is difference from testing a desktop application. The sheer volume of tools, techniques and resources available to the new Web tester can be overwhelming. An excellent resource for Web testers is Rob Lambert's free e-book, 36 Days of Web Testing. In this interview conducted by testing expert Yvette Francino, we hear more about the book and about author Rob Lambert, also known as "the Social Tester."

Tell me a little about yourself and how you got started in Web application testing.

Rob Lambert: I've been in the testing domain for a long time now, starting out on desktop applications for managing school administrations and exams. I then moved through a series of roles, which were taking advantage of the Web as a delivery mechanism for more traditional systems such as accounting software and banking.

I got really interested in Web application testing when I worked on an online voting system that needed to cater to Web users with many different skill levels. It also had to meet high levels of accessibility, as well as be secure. It was a challenge, but it got me hooked on delivering services through the Web.

You refer to yourself as the Social Tester. Can you tell us what that means?

Lambert: The 'social' part of my self-appointed title has three main connections.

The first is to social science, which is my background and the subject of a lifetime learning effort. I'm still studying communications and sociology, and I still have a lot to learn.

It also relates to the fact [that] I enjoy meeting up socially at events and conferences, and focusing on the informal discussions around testing and tech.

Finally, it refers to social media, which I adopted with gusto in the early days and have continued to dive into in great detail throughout my life and career.

Can you tell us how you use social media to enhance your knowledge of Web testing?

The only way to become good at anything is to practice.

Lambert: Much of the Web I interact with and work within is focused around the social aspects of self-narration and interaction on both a personal and business level. Understanding the mechanics of the social Web, and also the human motivation behind its success, has helped tremendously in my work.

It's also allowed me to promote my work and the work of others, grow communities and like-minded user groups, and of course, understand the motivations and technology behind applications and sites that I am testing.

The social Web is a great resource for connecting with experts, seeking out information sources and learning about the mechanisms of the Web. It's a great tool for widening our awareness of the many faces of software testing, as well as opening up more connections for us to build our own personal network. 

Your e-book is called 36 Days of Web Testing, but it looks more like 36 separate lessons. Are these lessons presented in any particular order? What do you think are three of the most important chapters for people who are new to Web testing?

Lambert: It is indeed 36 separate lessons, but I figured each one could be explored for a day.

In reality, many testers are already doing a number of these lessons, but feedback from my readers suggests that they are trying these new ideas and finding bugs and useful information to report to their teams. This is the ultimate feedback: people using the ideas I've collated here and getting value from them.

The lessons are not in any particular order, and I'd encourage people to dip in and out of the book rather than try to consume them all in one go.

I think the three most important chapters for anyone new to Web testing are the chapter on browser extensions, as it highlights some invaluable tools at a tester's disposal; the Web accessibility chapter, as I believe we should all be making the Web a more accessible place; and the client- and server-watching chapter, as this can lead you to some of the most critical bugs in your products.

What are the biggest differences between testing on the Web and testing a desktop application?

Lambert: Many of the approaches are the same. I think the biggest difference is in understanding the technology and the way the applications are delivered, distributed and communicating with each other. There are lots of areas for deep exploration in the architecture of a Web application, which can lead you to interesting information for further testing.

What advice would you offer someone new to Web testing?

Lambert: Practice. The only way to become good at anything is to practice. Set yourself up a website or a free blog, for example. Enable something like Firebug and watch the messages moving between the browser (client) and the server; this will give you a good idea of what is happening when you click on something or load some data. If you join an online community like Weekend Testing and find some good books/resources, you'll soon start to spot ideas, tips and tricks for testing.

What have you learned from writing the eBook?

Lambert: While writing this book, I learned to fine-tune my own understanding of the techniques and approaches I use when Web testing.

This e-book was 12 months in the thinking and one month in the writing; I learned that this is the way I work when creating content for the community. I've now embraced this and have settled into my own writing approach also, which was a great learning.

Will there continue to be revisions?

Lambert: I'm not planning any further revisions to the book right now. I did have to take out around 15 chapters, as I felt they made the book just too long. I may decide in the future to add these back in.

I have two other books coming out this year, which are more focused on test management and remaining relevant in our changing testing world, so I will be focusing more on these.

Are you able to tell how widely it's distributed?

Lambert: It's tricky to work out the exact distribution, as it's been hosted on other sites, and it's also been downloaded by individuals and shared with their team or their entire companies. I'd like to think it's in the region of millions, but I suspect it's more around the 1,000 mark.

Are you able to keep up with communication from the new contacts that it must have generated?

Lambert: There was a flurry of emails and LinkedIn requests after the launch of the book, which was great. It was good to see such an interest in the subject and positive responses. I saw my Twitter followers spike also. After launching new content to the community, I always give myself a little downtime to recover from the writing and give myself time to respond to comments.

About the author
Rob Lambert can be found on Twitter at

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