FedEx seeks improved software testing

Believing that current software testing approaches are antiquated, FedEx is working with the University of Memphis to take testing to its next level.

The package delivery company has commissioned the university to research a number of topics pertaining to the matter, through the FedEx Institute of Technology program at the school. The testing project, called the Systems Testing Excellence Program (STEP), could result in the largest testing organization in the country.

Specifically, FedEx seeks methodologies to make testing processes shorter while ensuring that applications are high quality. Current testing practices are basically the same as they were in the 1980s, said Dave Miller, vice president of IT at FedEx. Code is written and then turned over to unit testing; testers look for defects and send that detail back to the development team, Miller said. Determinations are made on whether an issue actually is a defect or a requirements shortcoming.

"We sort of believe that testing as a discipline has probably not kept up pace" with other areas of IT, Miller said.

FedEx's focus is on testing large, complex, integrated software systems, on both mainframe and distributed systems.

"We want to make sure we're in the forefront of the testing space," Miller said.

Research areas being studied include:

  • A risk-based testing process, featuring risk assessment
  • A multistage system testing model, for fault tolerance and debugging-free software
  • Managing software testing in projects that involve offshore vendors
  • Engaging testers earlier in the life cycle
  • Skills acquisition by testers
  • Gauging employee personality and cultural characteristics as they pertain to software testing projects
  • Development of decision models for the best use of software testing resources
  • A systems testing expert system
  • Improving test benefits through the software development life cycle
  • A knowledge transfer mechanism for skills acquisition in software testing
  • Applying a knowledge management approach to testing
  • A network infrastructure test suite, to automate detection of network vulnerabilities

University students who stand out during the project may even be hired by FedEx. The project has been under way since last summer.

FedEx plans to hold a summit meeting in Memphis in May to discuss findings. Companies and organizations such as Borland Software Corp., the Eclipse Foundation, Mercury Interactive and Microsoft Corp. are expected to be invited, as will participants from academia. Invitations also will be extended to Indian-based companies such as RelQ, which does software testing, Miller said.

FedEx and the university also are developing a systems certification intended to arm graduates with proof that they are experts in the testing field.

This story, "FedEx seeks improved software testing" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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