Follow Up: Should Software Testing be Military?

In a commissioned follow up to "Should Software Testing be Military?" Kim Gillus of Sharp Decisions responds to some of the comments.

On 21st August 2013 Kathryn Cave published an interview with Karen Ross of Sharp Decision about the company’s V.E.T.S program (Vocations, Education, and Training for Service members).This looked at using ex-military personal to test software.. and the feedback ranged from vitriolic to patriotic. In a commissioned follow up piece, Kim Gillus of Sharp Decisions responds to some of the comments. 

First off, a little bit about us. We are an IT Strategies firm that was founded in 1990 by Karen Ross, our CEO. Karen has no military background. Neither does any of our staff outside of the veteran trainees (and myself, who was brought in at the launch of the program). There is no nepotism here, no desire to set veterans higher than civilian workers in the food chain. For anyone who has been paying attention, tech-minded civilian jobseekers—in America these are usually middle-to-upper-middle class, college educated individuals—have a tremendous edge as it pertains to employment in the tech realm. Not only do service members have difficulty translating their time in service to job skills in the civilian world;  many of them are simply not aware of the diverse opportunities in technology, specifically in software and quality assurance.

According to federal statistics, the unemployment rate for American veterans is bordering 10%, while unemployment for the U.S. civilian population hovers around 7.9%. A large portion of military men and women do not yet have advanced degrees or secondary education, due to time constraints and their commitments. Factor all of this in, and for us it was a no-brainer: the veteran labor force is an underserved community. Veterans need more than a pat on the back on their return. They need training and opportunities. And we are prepared to give it to them, because it’s the right thing to do.

When my team and I reviewed the comments on “Should Software Testing Be Military?”, we were surprised at the tone of some of the feedback. Employment is a significant component of military transition. To imply that veterans, because of their individual choice to serve their country, do not deserve the chance to advance their careers is cruel and thoughtless. It doesn’t matter what people think of military men and women and their time in service: ultimately, the problem of having thousands of people out of work supersedes political mantra.

There were some responses that were more critical than insulting. One commenter on the initial article stated: “…There are language and cultural barriers, to say nothing of the fact that many executives have minimal interest in funding [quality assurance.] How is this going to impact that in any way?”

Another commenter, Dennis Frailey, also expressed concern about who was fitting the bill for veteran-based software testing: “Who will pay for it? Yes, it costs our economy a lot, but the costs are not incurred by the people who develop the slipshod software. So they have no economic incentive to hire those people to do the testing. Only when customers demand higher quality (as we did with automobiles in the 1970's and 1980's) will anything change.”

This is actually where government legislation works in our favor. New regulatory standards (in healthcare, for example) force corporations to restructure their software to be compliant with different applications and coding. Also, companies want their customers to know they are engaged in socially responsible activities. If our program allows veterans to find work, for end-users to have more reliable products, and for companies to put a feather in their cap from a social good standpoint, then it’s all the better.

It’s important to note that V.E.T.S. does not rely on government funds to operate. We are a privately-funded hiring initiative. Nor does our trainees’ veteran status give them priority for employment. Our clients have the option to say no: They just believe that we have a superior product.

Commenter C Carter felt that IT firms are too busy worrying about the bottom line to care about fixing bugs and ensuring quality software: “…In the civilian world things tend to get thrown together, and [contractors] move on the next consult, not one thought given toward the grunt that gets struck maintaining the stuff.”

Outside of the government compliance aspect, more and more companies are starting to recognize the importance of testing software. Whether or not the development teams are efficient at finding bugs and resolving them is irrelevant: for consumer-facing applications, functionality must be immediate. For the vast majority of private industry, the market decides the fate of companies who don’t put their end-users first. In this case, customers have too many options in the market to be left dealing with products that don’t work properly. Those customers decide with their wallets who thrives and who flounders.

V.E.T.S. is not advertising itself as a solution to a problem as big as military transition. We are just a case study — an experiment. There is a sea of non-profit organizations and groups looking to help veterans find jobs. But if it were just a matter of public policy and government intervention, the problem would be solved, right? In America, hundreds of thousands of people will be separating from active duty in the next five years. There are increasing numbers of veterans who are having difficulty finding work post-deployment in other countries, too: Canada has identified the problem of veteran unemployment within their own borders. Yet a recent survey found that only 16% of Canadian companies are seeking candidates with military backgrounds.

Leaving veterans, people who have sacrificed so much, in such a state of isolation is not an option. Our world governments need a two-pronged strategy. Both the public and private sectors must work to put these people in stable jobs. Someone needs to step up and offer solutions. With our program, we believe we have one answer among many.


By Kim Gillus, PR, Sharp Decisions V.E.T.S.™ Program