Meet BugFinders, the British company crowdsourcing the art of app testing

In-house validation

BugFinders doesn’t rely purely on the output of its freelance testers. An in-house team will check and collate the bugs identified by the freelance testers, before they’re reported back to the client in a clear and consistent fashion. And testers have to prove their mettle before they’re allowed to work on live projects. “They firstly come in through a vetting process,” said Mudge. “They’ll go on a sample project, they’ll raise some bugs, we’ll adjudicate those.” If they pass that hurdle, the next step is some entry-level live projects. “These will typically be things like e-commerce, which are a little less complex or people would commonly know how they work.”

Those who deliver accurate work on a consistent basis can be promoted through the ranks to the elite team, where the earnings really do become more than pocket money. “Sometimes, they’ll earn £800 a week,” said Mudge. “In different parts of the world, even in the UK, that’s pretty good money for sitting in your pyjamas all day, right?”

As lucrative as the work may be, Mudge insists that around 20% of the testers aren’t in it for the money at all. He cites the example of a tester in London, who works as a contractor “on about £1,000 a day” as the head of testing in a bank. “His wife goes out on a Tuesday and a Thursday and he says, ‘I like to keep my skills fresh, so rather than watching Coronation Street, I  want to do some testing and work on the latest apps’.” Anyone who’s ever sat through an entire episode of Coronation Street can doubtless empathise.

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Strictest confidence

Surely, I put it to Mudge, one of the biggest fears of clients such as banks is that devastating bugs in their software are going to be publicly exposed or sold to hackers? He insists not, likening it to the early days of the internet, where you were told not to enter personal details into websites through fear that everyone was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “Things have changed,” he said. “It just isn’t suitable to say we can test something internally, because you’re going to deliver an app that won’t meet your customers’ needs. You have to get over that problem.”

BugFinders doesn’t rely purely on a leap of faith from clients. Highly confidential launches will be tested only by the elite team of testers who’ve proved their ability and loyalty to the company over a number of years. All testers are also asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, “and thus far, we’ve never had any confidentiality issues at all”, Mudge insisted.

“There’s a professional element within that community that kind of self-polices.”

“Remember: the testers aren’t doing it to get people’s secrets; they’re doing it because they enjoy testing and… they’re professionals. There’s a professional element within that community that kind of self-polices,” he added.

Second chances

Despite that enormous workforce of 55,000 freelance testers, BugFinders has only 21 in-house staff, although there are plans to swell that number to 30 or 35 by the end of the year. About half of the current workforce is dedicated to validating the bugs from the freelance team, which is a big responsibility on the shoulders of less than a dozen staff.

The validation is also such a unique job (BugFinders uses its own bespoke software to collate and report bugs) that staff have to be trained in-house. “Because it’s never a job that anyone has experience of, we bring in people who have been long-term unemployed,” said Mudge, describing the company as a social enterprise. “We give them a trial and, if they’re good at it, we take them on. From a Cheltenham perspective [where BugFinders is based], the Job Centre love us.”

However, there’s no pathway from freelance tester to in-house staff; they’re two different disciplines requiring two different skillsets. “We’re into sending 747s to Australia in two hours, with extra rockets on the wings,” he said, while testers are more likely to go “down to Gloucester Airport and take a Cessna out for half a day”. Either way, it sure beats watching Ken Barlow in the Rovers.

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