So you want to be a beta tester. Some tips from the trenches from Lagrange Audio
Over the last few years I have engaged in the beta-testing of music tech software products for various people. As someone who does not work professionally in any capacity in the music or music tech industry I have greatly enjoyed doing this from an enthusiasts perspective and have appreciated the faith put in me by the companies concerned. Some of this is due to the fact that I have been mucking around with music technology and synthesizers specifically for 30 years now and as such I would like to think I know a thing or two, a fact that more than one company has recognised and something that I am extremely grateful for. Aside from having a passion for the subject matter, the other key goal for any enthusiast is to build enough knowledge to have a credible dialog with genuine professionals. That part in particular is especially important to me.
One of the things that has appealed to people is also what I do professionally in the IT sector. I have been a programmer and software developer, and more recently a project manager delivering large enterprise data driven systems. While not quite the same thing this background does provide a solid perspective on the delivery of software in general and the rigours and disciplines that testing demands, more on this later. It was this background that originally got me interested in beta-testing to begin with. Since getting started in 2007 on my own initiative I have had the opportunity to get a 'heads-up' on a variety of products, some of which have been truly innovative. With that experience I can probably now pass on some good advice to anyone interested in getting involved:
1) Get to know your company - regardless of the engagement model involved, as a beta-tester you have a stake in helping the company concerned achieve its goals so its really worth knowing what those goals are. Do your research and find out about their operating culture, who the main people are and what drives them, what other products do they offer, where geographically are they located, who they work and collaborate with regularly and so on. Once you are aligned in the same direction you are in a better position to act as a 'partner' and build a relationship based on that. Beta testing is not about critically highlighting the flaws in the product per-se, it's about making a better product in the context of what the vendor wants to achieve with it overall.
2) Understanding what testing is for - this does sound rather obvious but it's worth noting in the context of what I have described above. Technical maturity and stability of the product are obviously key however inevitably you will encounter more subjective issues associated with creative workflow and usability. To summarise, testing can encompass the full range of both technical and subjective areas so be open to all the things you can encounter. As an effective partner you are working together on this.
3) The engagement model - one of the surprising things to me initially was the vast differences in the engagement model with various vendors. Some are very formal and ask for signed NDA's and have tightly controlled access to beta test forums and so on. Others are much less so and are quite happy to engage with you informally. This can take the form of a community based approach where the vendor recognises you can provide some value to them based on your perceived credibility within that community. Be flexible and understanding with whatever method the vendor prefers, remember it's their business decision based on their operating culture so the message is to adhere strictly to how they want things to operate. This is particularly important in the Internet realm where it is unlikely you will meet the people involved and this is a medium where communications can often get misinterpreted or even worse, lost altogether. With substantial risk around commercial-in-confiedence issues the key message here is never assume any aspect of the engagement is taken as read, if in doubt clear any aspects with them first.