Skip to main content

Writing About Testing wrapup

On May 20 and 21 some of the brightest people in the field of software testing met in Durango Colorado for the first ever Writing About Testing conference. We participated in a diverse set of activities: formal presentations, ad-hoc demonstrations, collaborative exercises, lightning talks, and informal discussions of topics of interest that ranged from the role of media, to finding the time to write.

I started my software testing career in the bad old days of the mid-1990s. Both Open Source software tools and agile methods were highly controversial at the time. And while many of us were doing amazing and innovative work, the entrenched culture of software development was highly skeptical that what we were accomplishing was valid, or even sane. I think there is a real danger of a return to those days, and I wanted to create a community where people working out on the edges of software creation could hone their ideas in a supportive community, and from what I saw at w-a-t, that community now exists.

Open Source and Agile both succeeded for three reasons: they fostered a laser focus on the technical aspects of software tools; created general support for communities of dedicated practitioners; and provided philosophical/theoretical frameworks within which to accomplish the work. And the information coming out of the Open Source and Agile communities was so valuable that the institutional trade media was forced first to pay attention, and then to participate actively in the promotion of those cultures.

At the Writing About Testing conference we discussed REST architectures and wiki-based test frameworks like Selenesse. (All three principals of the open source wiki-based test framework Selenesse were in the same room.) We discussed data visualization and the challenge of managing enormous datasets.

We discussed new ways of working being discovered and propagated from places like Agilistry and from within particular companies like Socialtext, 42lines, and others.

We discussed new ways to consider software users and consumers, and the implications of the increasingly common phenomenon of near-real-time interaction with those who enjoy and depend on our software.

We discussed what it means to actually do the work of software testing today, in the real world.

We discussed a lot of other stuff, too.

The most important thing I learned is that as software becomes more ubiquitous in the world, the work of software development is becoming radically diverse, as are software business models, as are the skills necessary to be successful in creating software. This has particular implications for software testing. Both the practice of software testing itself and the hiring of software testers are undergoing significant changes, with no end to the evolution in sight.

The software tester of the future will no longer do one thing in one way. The software tester of the future will be expert in some aspects of software creation. Testers will seek out teams that need someone with their particular set of skills and expertise, and teams will seek out people with particular sets of skills and experience to maximize the benefit to the users of their software. Some of the areas of expertise represented in the room at w-a-t:

  • deep database knowledge, framework programming, and exploratory testing
  • API and architecture expertise, user experience testing, and process knowledge
  • system administrator skill, scripting/development ability, and multibyte character processing knowledge
  • management experience, programming and architecture expertise
  • software security and software performance
  • data wrangling, visualization knowledge and deep experience in online communities
  • business expertise and business communication skills
  • Quality Assurance. As I've noted before in a number of places, QA is not evil.

Software testers of the future will invest in a range of skills and experience, and the teams that hire them will audition software testers based on their ability to use those skills and that experience to further the goals of those teams. Software testers who do only one thing in only one way will be relegated to the sidelines, doing an increasingly limited sort of work for a diminishing number of jobs.

It would not surprise me to see the term "software tester" itself gradually disappear over time. Instead, those of us who call ourselves "testers" will more and more say instead "I am an expert in X, Y, and Z, and I have a deep interest in A, B, and C. If that mix of skill and experience is what your team needs, then you need me to work on your team."

Those of us writing about testing face some interesting challenges. In the 90s the major communication channels were the trade publications and the research consultancies. Those organizations still swing a very big stick, but two trends seem very clear: for one thing, the cutting edge has moved away from the big institutional publications, out onto blogs, social networks, and loosely-organized communities of practice; at the same time, the major media have become more conservative, and are generally less likely to publish controversial or cutting-edge work. But that means that major media are caught in a bind, because as it becomes more attractive to publish highly original work outside the major media channels, the major media channels find themselves hungry for content. The entire situation is very fluid right now, and that provides remarkable opportunities for new voices in software to be recognized quickly.

It is an interesting question whether or not there will be a second Writing About Testing conference. Right now enthusiasm is high, but I wonder if a second conference would have as much impact as the first one did. For now I am postponing a decision on whether to pursue a second conference next year. I have not abandoned the project; over the next six months or so I will be talking with the original participants and with potential future participants to see if a second conference next year would be valuable to those of us working in software testing in the public arena. In hindsight, there are a few things I would do differently the second time around, and I suspect that I will get a lot of ideas from others as well.

On a personal note, I am immensely pleased and proud that the Writing About Testing conference and the community that sprang up around it have been so successful. I have invested a lot of energy in w-a-t over the last six months. After the conference ended, I went on a 5-day backpack trip in the remote canyon country of SE Utah to clear my head and reflect on it. I am fascinated by the ruins and artwork left by the Anasazi in the remote canyons of this part of the world, the most recent of which is about 800 years old, and the oldest of which I just saw is about 7000 years old. There is a mental phenomenon known to people who make such trips called sometimes "re-entry". After spending significant time in a very remote desert region contemplating the remains of a culture that thrived from 5000 BCE to 1300 CE, adjusting again to a world of streets and lights and computers can be jarring.

In the light of re-entry, Writing About Testing was a very good thing.


tushar said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Philk said…
I'm sure there's going to be some great stuff coming out of this - thanks for organising it
Moh said…
Face of tester is changing at a very great pace and we as testers, have to embrace the change with open arms and do not live in the past. Suddenly you are an architecture, business analyst, product owner, developer, automation expert, quality assurance and all these things put together. Big changes are envisaged in our profession and we should be aware of hem. Annual conferences help bridge that gap.
William Echlin said…
Interesting post. Couldn't agree more that things will change and change drastically. The big question for those on the ground is how to keep up with it all.

As a software tester you could gain a broad understanding of most technologies and hope that this sees you through. Like you say though specialisation would make your position much stronger. However, the age old question of what to specialise in is a tough one. The last thing you want is to specialise in an area that dies off after a few years.

I think as testers we're better off focusing on becoming adaptable rather than genralists or specialists.

Just a thought

William Echlin
Shan said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular posts from this blog

Reviewing "Context Driven Approach to Automation in Testing"

I recently had occasion to read the "Context Driven Approach to Automation in Testing". As a professional software tester with extensive experience in test automation at the user interface (both UI and API) for the last decade or more for organizations such as Thoughtworks, Wikipedia, Salesforce, and others, I found it a nostalgic mixture of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), propaganda, ignorance and obfuscation. 

It was weirdly nostalgic for me: take away the obfuscatory modern propaganda terminology and it could be an artifact directly out of the test automation landscape circa 1998 when vendors, in the absence of any competition, foisted broken tools like WinRunner and SilkTest on gullible customers, when Open Source was exotic, when the World Wide Web was novel. Times have changed since 1998, but the CDT approach to test automation has not changed with it. I'd like to point out the deficiencies in this document as a warning to people who might be tempted to take it se…

Watir is What You Use Instead When Local Conditions Make Automated Browser Testing Otherwise Difficult.

I spent last weekend in Toronto talking to Titus Fortner, Jeff "Cheezy" Morgan, Bret Pettichord, and a number of other experts involved with the Watir project. There are a few things you should know:

The primary audience and target user group for Watir is people who use programming languages other than Ruby, and also people who do little or no programming at all. Let's say that again:

The most important audience for Watir is not Ruby programmers 
Let's talk about "local conditions":

it may be that the language in which you work does not support Selenium
I have been involved with Watir since the very beginning, but I started using modern Watir with the Wikimedia Foundation to test Wikipedia software. The main language of Wikipedia is PHP, in which Selenium is not fully supported, and in which automated testing in general is difficult. Watir/Ruby was a great choice to do browser testing.  At the time we started the project, there were no selenium bindings for …

Open letter to the Association for Software Testing

To the Association for Software Testing:

Considering the discussion in the software testing community with regard to my blog post "Test is a Ghetto", I ask the Board of the AST  to release a statement regarding the relationship of the AST with Keith Klain and Per Scholas, particularly in regard to the lawsuit for fraud filed by Doran Jones (PDF download link) .

The AST has a Code of Ethics  and I also ask the AST Board to release a public statement on whether the AST would consider creating an Ethics Committee similar to, or as a part of the recently created Committee on Standards and Professional Practices.

The yearly election for the Board of the AST happens in just a few weeks, and I hope that the candidates for the Board and the voting members of the Association for Software Testing will consider these requests with the gravity they deserve.