Is Software Testing an art or an science?

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    Ronan Healy

    I didn’t realise this was a common argument in testing until I started Goggling it.

    As many people get involved in software testing but come from various fields, I thought it might be good to discuss this topic.

    Some here have a strong scientific background while others less so.

    In some regards the main difference between art and science can be reduced to process.

    Science is the creation of precise steps, vigorous analysis and evidence while for art the process and analysis is less important than the result.

    I am aware that there are some aspects of testing that you could almost treat like art. There are some that you could definitley treat like science. So which category testing falls into? Or is it a mixture of both?


    I think is a mixture of both, analysis, reports and creativity

    John Stevenson

    As we started to discuss on twitter Ronan.

    Your definition of sciene to me is incorrect.. Many great scientific advancements were ‘discovered by accident’ rather than by following ‘precise steps or vigorous analysis.’ Some examples of these include 3M Post-it notes, Bakerlite, Saccharin, Dynamite, Penicillin and many more. Now the follow-up research and experimentation may follow what you described above as science.

    Let us look at the scientific method as an example: –

    You first form a theory (This could be based on innovation or an eureka moment. Something that you want to prove or disprove. The creation of these theories to me is part ‘art’ in that it could be creative.

    You make observations, based on experiments to test your theory,These experiments are used to prove or disprove your theory , this requires some elements of creativity. You then think of questions to ‘explain what you obverse (again creative), you then ponder to think of reasons why you see what you see or not see what you thought you would see and adjust your theory. You create ‘testable’ predictions, you test these predictions and gather the data. Then develop a more general theory and start the cycle again.

    Heck this sounds like testing to me!

    Science is a mixture of what you described for both science and art. Art has some process and rules. Think if you are painting in the style of Rembrandt, Constable or Banksy. Each has certain process and rules that makes you align with that style of art.

    Therefore I feel your original premise: ” the main difference between art and science can be reduced to process.” is incorrect. Science and Art are intertwined in much the same way that software testers utilize both of these skills sets and interchanging without realizing.

    For me science is about attempting to prove or disprove what you think you know by using experimentation and observation. To do this you have to have a fair amount of creative thought and think beyond what you currently think is correct. Art allows you to expand your thinking without the limitations of process. Much in the same way testing is not about proving it works but uncovering information within the software that we currently do not know.

    Ronan Healy

    @steveo1967 Thanks for the comment. I see what you saying about the process so maybe simplifying the difference down to this might be a bit much.

    Still I think that process does feed into the approach of science much more than art. Yes I would agree if you were painting in the style of Rembrandt etc you would follow a certain approach but if you were Rembrandt, you might have a style but I think the process would have to be different to produce different works of art.

    As for testing, I suppose it depends on what type of testing you are doing. Exploratory corresponds a lot more easily to art than autmation. So maybe, as with a lot of things, it’s a mix of both?


    Hello Ronan,

    I reckon Testing is an Art. Science is more about experimenting things and realizing different things while Art is more of about particular rules to be followed to achieve the objectives. However, more often an art evolves only through experimenting things and understanding science behind it. As a Tester, you might only need to follow rules and identify defects. Inventing a brand new type of testing which helps in boosting productivity might be possible only through applying Science.


    For me, it is a mixture of both art and science. It does involve following of proven scientific methods and techniques. But it also involves art and creativity


    I would rather say that software testing is a craft. Good testers are skilled craftsmen who possess several different skills, that put together or utilized propperly makes them good or great at their craft.

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