If you haven’t heard of uTest, a Southborough startup about to celebrate its fifth birthday, there’s a simple explanation: “Nothing could be less glamorous or sexy in the world of technology than software testing,” said Matt Johnston, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Even internally, the developers and engineers are the rockstars. The designers are the cool, hip ones. The testers are an afterthought. They’re the redheaded step-children of the software development world.”
That may be true, but some of the nation’s biggest brands (ESPN, HBO, Google, Netflix) are gaining a new appreciation for ginger step-kids through uTest, which has built a massive network of 90,000 “in-the-wild” software testers, scattered across 200 countries. These independent contractors are trained quality assurance pros who can evaluate developing software under a wide range of conditions that are virtually impossible to simulate in a lab.
Need to know how your new navigation app handles the morning commute of a guy running iOS 6.1.4 in Warsaw, Poland? uTest can hook you up.
Launched in 2008, uTest originally catered to other startups, which often lacked sophisticated testing departments of their own. Companies hire uTest to evaluate software under certain conditions, and uTest contracts with testers who are qualified to do so. At the end of a testing cycle, the company rates the quality of feedback provided by each tester, and uTest pays its contractors according to their utility. The best, most prolific testers earn six-figure annual incomes.
More recently, Johnston said, large companies have begun to recognize the value of crowdsourced testing in ensuring that software works in every location, on every device, every time. The penalty for failure is steeper than ever.
“Seven years ago, if United Airlines’ website crashed while you were trying to buy a ticket, you might tell 10 of your friends and ruin a customer service rep’s day,” Johnston said. “Now, app stores and social media enable you to tell tens of thousands of your friends and followers and millions of their friends and followers how they’ve failed you. The stakes are much, much higher, especially for these big brands, whose users have an expectation of them.”
With demand for its service on the rise, uTest is growing rapidly. The company is adding 1,800 testers every month and is up to 115 employees, 90 of which work at the Southborough headquarters or an engineering office in Kendall Square.
Earlier this year, Forbes ranked uTest as the eighth most promising company in the United States. The honor signaled two things, Johnston suggested: uTest has had a good five years but still has a lot more to do.
“I think that we’ve realized 1 percent of what in-the-wild testing can be,” he said. “I think future generations of uTest employees will look back on us as cavemen.”