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Two weeks ago I was asked a question to which, given my occupation, I should have known the answer. The question was: “How many software testers are there?” Being editor of a magazine about software testing, that's a number I should have know cold. At the time, I offered an estimate of about 250,000. A wild guess, really; I had no idea.

As it turns out, it wasn’t all that wild. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2007, the latest year for which data is available, there were 349,140 people in the United States doing that job. The government says these people: “Research, design, develop, and test operating systems-level software, compilers, and network distribution software for medical, industrial, military, communications, aerospace, business, scientific, and general computing applications. Set operational specifications and formulate and analyze software requirements. Apply principles and techniques of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis.”

To all you software testers out there, does that sound anything like what you do? My guess is that it probably does. There are other similar jobs listed under the broad heading of “Computer and Mathematical Occupations,” but none included “software testing” in their description except “computer software engineers, systems software,” the job described above.

Of course, “computer programmers” (of which there were 394,710), and “computer software engineers, applications” (with 495,810 people counted) probably do lots of software testing too. And as agile and test-driven development become more widespread, the number of those people will continue to grow.

That's a good thing, and will lead to better software. “Look at how often projects fail. That data has not moved," said Thomas Murphy, research analyst with Gartner. "Companies get cranky about cost, but don’t do anything to fix it.” But an increase in use of agile methods has changed people’s thinking when it comes to quality. “They have a more quality-focused system, they focus on post-mortums, learn from past mistakes and pick up on best practices and metrics. Now they look back and say ‘how are we going to improve and do a better job?’”

What it comes right down to, he said, is finding the right balance between maximizing the quality of your product (and ROI) while minimizing the risk. And isn’t that the case with most things?

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