Never Demo Your Software Without Meaningful Sample Data

Your team worked hard and the very first version of your software is ready. It's a big moment, to finally have something "clickable" to show for all the effort spent. Your client is equally enthusiastic, and you set up a demonstration for next week. But there is a problem.

Your database is basically empty.

Yes there is test data the developers used. But now you realize it's five different names and addresses, copied over and over again. With most of the other fields either empty. Or containing values like 'aaa' or '123'. Maybe it is ok for development, but for real world users and their bosses?

No way.

It doesn't communicate that your software is 'almost there'. Neither that you understand your client and his business. Such data both looks ugly and communicates nothing. At best. Chances are you were in that situation before.

And you all too well remember what happened that last time.

That time you were in real hurry to finish software for the demo. And banged your head afterwards. You couldn't even show half functions of your system property. Because you had only couple of rows of data developers entered for their own testing. Clients kept stony faces for the whole demonstration. They simply couldn't experience what the system will be like, no matter how hard you tried.

You need realistic sample data.

Maybe you could simply try copying a part of production data. Populating your database with live data, basically. The problem is that any such data is about real people. So it's highly sensitive as a whole. And to comply with privacy legislations you would need to hide or scramble critical data anyway. Not to mention transformation headaches if your product is built to replace another system. If production data exists, that is. Which isn't the case when your system is completely new.

No data exists you can readily use.

Which means you need to create fake data that looks real. Data that makes sense. You could try entering your sample data manually, but you shudder at the thought. It's tedious work and prone to human error. Even for entering few dozen records. And to showcase some functions of your system, for example those fancy statistical reports, you might need hundreds. Or more.

You need a way to generate large amount of data.

If you have programming knowledge, you can create database scripts yourself. To generate quantity of sample data. But it's very time consuming. It would take days of your time. You would need to make sure all the formats were correct. And all foreign key relationships resolved. That all foreign keys had actual values in primary tables, and exact order of script execution is defined.

It's neither quick nor simple.

You would run the scripts and monitor script results. Every now and then a script would fail. And you would need to find what went wrong. And empty the detabase to run the script again. Sounds like many late working hours, for days. Sure you can make it. But what happens in a few weeks for the next demonstration, when the database model changes?

You will have to do most of the work all over again.

Generate Large Quantity of Test Data Automatically

So if copying live data is a bad idea and generating data yourself means countless hours of tedious work, what remains?

Use a specialized test data generator tool.