The responsibilities of being a beta-tester

“Beta testing” is not a synonym for “early access”. It’s not a badge of honor, like being allowed to cut the line at an exclusive nightclub. Beta testing is a chore. It’s an unpaid job. It’s an actual responsibility.

That said, being a good beta tester is very rewarding if you provide good feedback that results in a better and more stable product for all users of the software. And if you’re the kind of person that requires more incentive than that, some developers will even give you credit in future release notes if they fix a bug that you reported to them!

But if you aren’t willing to provide the software developer with frequent, detailed feedback and bug reports on their beta, then you really should not be using it. In fact, most beta-test programs are limited to a finite number of testers, and if you sign up for a beta program but never provide feedback to the developer, then you are depriving someone else who could be providing good feedback to do so.

And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be using beta versions in client-supervised situations, or in the middle of an important job with a hard deadline, unless you’ve taken enough precautions to be able to quickly revert to the last stable version, or you’ve already been using the beta extensively in a non-client supervised situation and it seems stable enough to use on a real job. 

But no matter what, do not complain that a beta is “buggy” on social media or other public forum. That’s like complaining that you got wet when you went walking in the rain. Of course betas are buggy. That’s the whole point of the beta-test phase. And to be perfectly frank, complaining about beta issues on your public Twitter or Facebook feed kind of makes you look like a jerk, in the eyes of most software developers.

If you want to be a successful beta tester, you need to be diligent about trying to replicate any issues that you discover. Just reporting that a feature “doesn’t work” is of no use to a developer. You need to make the effort of documenting every step that’s required to replicate the bug. Screengrab the crap out of things. Copy and paste any error messages that pop up, verbatim. Keep meticulous log files. Be obsessively specific about every little detail about your hardware and software configuration, even if you think it may be irrelevant.

You might not think that the printer driver update you recently installed has anything to do with your Avid crashing, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that it can