Observations from EuroSTAR 2011: Looking to the Future


I intend to write a few blog posts over the coming weeks following on from my experiences at EuroSTAR 2011 in Manchester. I want to start with a post addressing the general theme from the keynotes and my own thoughts on the matters raised.

The Speakers’ Views on The Future of Software Testing (with a few comments from me)

A recurring topic of conversation was the ‘death of software testing’. I do not think that software testing is dead at all – if anything it is growing in importance. Speedy information dissemination will become more important as project teams become better at agile practices.

This is where skilled Exploratory Testing comes into play. Note that word – skilled – testing is a highly skilled craft and not everyone has the mindset to apply those skills.

The first keynote on Tuesday, from Richard Sykes, told us that ‘quality assurance’ is all about giving management confidence in the product or service being produced. I dislike the term ‘quality assurance’ because I do not believe we ‘assure’ anything – that is the programmers’ job. To me testing is all about finding information and passing that on to the relevant decision makers for them to draw their own conclusions.

Gojko Adzic, in his keynote on Tuesday afternoon, made a very important point: he said that we run the risk of losing a very good tester and gaining a very poor coder if we insist on testers coding.

In his keynote on Wednesday morning, James Whittaker, from Google, disagreed and told us that at Google ‘Tester’ has disappeared from people’s job titles. People who were ‘testers’ are now ‘developers’ and are expected to code regularly. I feel this is a dangerous path to go down: developers and testers think about things differently. In my experience developers find different problems to testers and both are needed.

Wednesday afternoon’s keynote told the story of Deutsche Bank’s use of communities. Daryl Elfield explained how groups were formed in various parts of the world for the various divisions within the company. It had nothing to do with testing and was all about people making changes in a centralised way: people could not go off and build their own communities – they were joined to a community by management.

Ben Waters from Microsoft talked to us on Thursday morning about how Microsoft creates customer value through testing and it started off as a very inspirational talk. Unfortunately it degenerated into testing being a phase.

Isabel Evans talked to us about the work she has been doing at Dolphin Computer Access where she has sought to improve quality processes throughout the organisation to enable better testing. I think we need to be careful not to make testing a ‘process’. Testing is a set of skills; it should happen naturally and not be something that is seen as a nuisance that has to be got through at some stage of the project.

My View of the Future of Software Testing

I see a bright future for software testing which is centred on people, skills, adaptability and passion.

Just as there are many aspects to a project – e.g. the product owner sees some, the developers see others, the infrastructure architects see some and the business users see yet more – so testing within a project has many aspects. We should be using techniques and tools appropriate to the individual project we are working on – and that will change from company to company. We have to adapt to the changing needs of our businesses.

I see different expertise being needed to test comprehensively which is why everybody needs to be involved. Testing is a hard job, though, and requires a lot of skill which needs to be honed and practiced. We need to use those skills to shed light on areas of the project nobody else has seen the significance of. We need to use the rest of the team’s knowledge to help our investigations.

We need to keep enhancing our skills and take responsibility for our own education. Having a network of people we can learn new skills from helps in this. Outside work I have been privileged to work alongside Rosie Sherry, Rob Lambert and Phil Kirkham at the Software Testing Club and the community that has been built up there is incredible.

We need to be passionate about our craft. We should seek out the skills that we need to best serve the projects we are working on. We need to have an interest in making the projects we work on great; do not ignore something you have noticed thinking it is someone else’s problem – bring it to their attention.

I am going to discuss some of the other things I learned at the conference in future posts. Specifically I want to write about automation and performance testing. I hope this generates some comment and discussion from the community!

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6 Responses to “Observations from EuroSTAR 2011: Looking to the Future”

  1. Darren McMillan Says:

    Very good write up Stephen. I myself, much like you, see testers as holistic information providers.

    I’ll give an example. In a recent job interview I commented on how when I had emailed their office using the email address they listed on their website, that I got an automated response, from someone who was unavailable (on maternity leave, which I didn’t know at that time), telling me to phone their office if it was important, or try a provided alternative email address.

    I went on to say that while this might not seem like a huge issue, it is the silly little things like this that have a negative impact on company image. They were extremely surprised by this, with one commenting “You would do that? To details like this which are not part of your role?”. I explained that a testers role is to provide information and improve awareness. That doesn’t stop at testing the product, it involves all aspects of the business. So off course I would look at all areas which may have a negative impact on the business.

    I feel if you get bogged down on ensuring your testers are referred to and looked upon as developers, you begin to loose the special aspects that make good testers key assets to your company. Not that automation specialist can’t be key assets as well, but they’ll narrow their view by thinking this is their main concern, when a holistic view point can make a company hugely successful.

    I got that job as you know, but I wonder seriously if the mixed messages in our profession are having a detrimental effect on those just learning the trade.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Darren.

  2. Del Dewar Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Now’s the time I get to read all the reviews of EuroSTAR 2011 and get even more jealous at not being able to make it. Sounds like it was a somewhat depressing affair with talks about the ‘death’ of testing?

    One thing you said that I must contest:

    “I dislike the term ‘quality assurance’ because I do not believe we ‘assure’ anything – that is the programmers’ job.”

    Really? I don’t believe the programmer is any more capable of ‘assuring’ quality than we (testers) are. I would rephrase that slightly and say that we are ALL responsible for quality but we cannot under any circumstances ‘assure’ it.

    I mean, the term ‘quality assurance’ is sadly ubiquitous when you peruse the job boards, and they’d be the positions I’d give a massive body swerve if the description in any way re-enforced the title. Wouldn’t you?

    Heard there were some good meets at the conference though – sad to have missed those and a chance to meet your good self in the flesh. Besides, I usually have to translate for Darren when he speaks to non-Glaswegians.

    Kind Regards
    Del.

    • Stephen Hill Says:

      Hi Del,

      Thanks for commenting. You are absolutely correct; what I had at the back of my mind was the thought that the programmers are the people doing the implementation work and by their coding have a direct impact on quality. ‘Assure’ was perhaps a bit strong.

      It would have been nice to have met you – and we could have shared the task of translating from Glaswegian to English! Sadly I don’t get up to Scotland as often these days but I’ll let you know next time I’m up.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      All the best,

      Stephen

  3. Neil Thompson Says:

    Stephen:
    Many thanks for this, a useful commentary for people like myself who were not there. One thing that isn’t yet crystallising for me (from the tweets & blogs I’ve so far seen) is: how the “pursuit of quality” theme made it different from a “usual” testing conference. Could you maybe include some thoughts on that in your remaining posts? The obvious candidates are xxx-driven development and specification “by” (or “using”??) examples. And obviously claims that testing is dead must count as extra-testrial quality? But was there much about “better requirements”, reviews, xxx-aided design…, “flow”?

  4. Aurelie Says:

    Interesting post. I am not sure James W. would say that testers are now developers. After all, he is one of the founders of the Exploratory movement.

    With the emergence of Behavior Driven Development, we are probably evolving to a place where test automation belongs to a developer/tester, but the true tester is now acting as a product stakeholder focused on acceptance tests on one end and exploratory testing on the other end.

    Might be the end of the GUI test automation after all!

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