TL;DR

  • Alpha testing is when a closed group takes a stab at your software
  • Beta testing is when a group from the general public uses an early version of your app
  • Both are useful in software development and serve different purposes
  • A brief foray into empirical philosophy can improve your tests.

One of the biggest mistakes an app developer can make is not allocating enough time and resources to testing. This is not the rant of a angry perfectionist, research shows that 88% of people stop using buggy apps.

From a business perspective, I can think of few worse nightmares than losing almost 9 out of 10 early adopters of an app or SaaS product. These customers tend to have a high acquisition cost and losing them can make or a break a bootstrapped startup.

From xkcd

As the CEO at eTeam, I stress the business importance of testing to each client and am emphatic that quality shouldn't be sacrificed. While moving fast and breaking things makes a catchy slogan, more sober research shows that innovators don’t move fast and break things.

Let’s take a look at how the Greek alphabet invaded the testing scene and cut through the buzzwords.

What is alpha testing?

No, alpha testing isn't about deciding how macho and cool your code is. And please don’t let any ‘alpha’ programmers get away with taking this approach to testing:


via SIZZLE

Alpha testing is when you test your product in a closed group, often on-site and in very controlled conditions. This gives you a ton of control over what happens, avoids leaks and lets you collect a serious trove of data. The obvious downside is that the logistics of alpha testing usually limit the group size that you can run a test on.

In the real world alpha tests usually go down like this: people in the office who aren't involved in the production of an app are asked to try it out. It’s really important to find testers who aren’t familiar with the app, as this could bias them. The production team watches how the testers go through the app, log in and do whatever they need to do.

The logic of this is pretty obvious, if an alpha tester has trouble doing something (where’s the button to do that?!?), potential users are going to have the exact same issue. This phase is important for developers since they get direct feedback from the testers and can ask questions, clarify issues and see results instantly.

Alpha testing can be done iteratively if a lot of bugs and issues come up during testing. However much pizza and beer it takes to bribe other coworkers into your tests is your main limiting factor—and, of course, time.

It pretty much goes without saying that every app needs alpha testing. This doesn’t have to be something ominous and foreboding, most of the time alpha testing is a (friendly!) second pair of eyes.

Beta testing: sticking your toe in the water

When you have a working version of your MVP—a few rough spots are ok, but it needs to actually work, you’re ready for a beta test. In short, this is a non-public, limited release of your app.

Organizing a good beta test requires getting a sample of your target audience to install the app and go about using it. Your focus as a testing engineer takes a subtle shift during this round of testing. You can’t watch eyeballs and listen to muttered profanity like you did during alpha testing. Analytics play a much more important role here.

During a beta test, make sure that analytics show both the functionality of the app (things like uptime, how quickly it loads, etc.) and how users interact with the app. Are they using all the features, do they navigate around easily or do you notice bottlenecks?

User feedback is the other key way to get information. Try to encourage beta testers to submit bug reports. As vexing as unearthing a bug feels, it’s better to fix it now rather than after launching your MVP!

And of course, there’s alway the feeling when your beta test is successful and you're ready for your app to go live:

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BTW, anybody can be a beta tester

Did you know that basically anyone can be a beta tester, even if you’re not a tech nerd> Let’s say you love Apple, you can get the latest iOS months before your friends by joining their beta tester program. Almost every tech company has a similar program, and this is a fun way to help developers build better products.

A nod to philosophy

Getting the best results when you test software requires wearing the right philosophical hat. Some of the best backend coders are hardcore rationalists that live in a world of abstractions. Testers have to be radical empiricists. Even if something is a brilliant idea and works out logically, it has to survive testing. That's why I recommend that good programmers study both rationalism and empiricism.

This is why alpha and beta testing are so critical, not just in order to launch a bug-free app, but also to creating a sustainable business. Ideas and theories are great, but things have to work in the real world. That’s why we have a culture of rigorous testing at eTeam, we’re entrepreneurs ourselves and understand that testing isn’t the place to skimp when building your app.

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