BusinessDay: Software quality is imperative in the age of AI

About 5,000 software testers work with SA firms, too many from offshore locations such as India.


By Johan Steyn, 1 November 2022

Published by BusinessDay: https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-11-01-johan-steyn-software-quality-is-imperative-in-the-age-of-ai/


The progress of artificial intelligence (AI) has been a major factor in the evolution of the technological landscape. Its usefulness is growing as it is implemented in more and more areas of software development.


Over time, our reliance on AI-driven software systems will increase. Our smartphones run on this technology. It is now used in the vast majority of business applications, from banking to insurance, and in a growing number of medical devices.


Every aspect of our lives seems to be becoming increasingly affected by autonomous algorithms and automated decision-making systems. Dependability, security, and efficiency in software algorithms will become increasingly important as our reliance on AI and the network of smart devices that supports it grows.


I have spent a large part of my career in software quality engineering. I worked for two of the largest global consulting firms and I was responsible for managing vendor relationships at a large local bank. I have seen first-hand how the role of software test professionals has grown. In the past, testers were seen as the stepchildren of the software development life cycle (SDLC). It was a career often frowned upon by their peers, and many looked at testers as those who were not skilled enough to become system developers.


As the role of software in our lives and businesses grows, given the advances in smart technologies, enterprises are looking for quality engineers who can predict and find the problems often embedded in software applications. The risk of things going wrong, of reputational damage — and given the powerful effect of this technology — on harm to humans, is increasing continually.


Ensuring the quality of AI-infused platforms, and even using AI to test software systems is what the SDLC community is called on to perform. Given the high risks of faulty software these days, and our reliance on these platforms, one may ask about the state of software quality engineering in the local market.


In my experience, there are about 5,000 software testers working with SA firms. Some of these are onshore, in the offices of local businesses, but many work from offshore locations such as India. It is justified to wonder why we need so many of these people, and especially why many are working from outside our country. Do we not have enough suitably skilled people locally?


Most local businesses reluctantly invest in sufficient software quality engineering. They see it as a grudge purchase, as a type of unsolicited insurance. Many therefore look for the least pricey individuals or consulting firms. The result is that most of the demand is met by people who are from outside our country.


These people are paid a pittance, are often junior, and are stashed in living conditions where 40 people live in one house. Local businesses end up spending time training these people who are not used to working in large corporations and whose skills are questionable at best. The main problem is therefore the way local business leaders procure these services.


I call on business leaders in the local market to focus on the many world-class software quality engineering firms in our country. Allow them to solve critical problems in win-win, risk-sharing consultative engagements. Please move away from rate card discussions or engaging with foreign firms who contribute little to local upskilling or our economy in general.


• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of AIforBusiness.net