Category Archives: Consulting

A year has gone…

Almost unbelievably, it’s now been a year since I left my long stint at Quest Software. It’s been a very different year for me than any of the previous 25-or-so spent in full-time employment in the IT industry. The continuing impact of COVID-19 on day-to-day life in my part of the world has also made for an unusual 12 months in many ways.

While I haven’t missed working at Quest as much as I expected, I’ve missed the people I had the chance to work with for so long in Melbourne and I’ve also missed my opportunities to spend time with the teams in China that I’d built up such a strong relationship with over the last few years (and who, sadly, have all since departed Quest as well as their operations there were closed down this year).

I’ve deliberately stayed fairly engaged with the testing community during this time, including giving a talk at at meetup, publishing my first testing book, launching my own testing consultancy business, and blogging regularly (including a ten-part blog series answering the most common search engine questions around testing).

Starting to work with my first clients in a consulting capacity is an interesting experience with a lot of learning opportunities. I plan to blog on some of my lessons learned from these early engagements later in the year.

Another fun and testing-related project kicked off in May, working with my good friends from the industry, Paul Seaman and Toby Thompson, to start The 3 Amigos of Testing podcast. We’ve always caught up regularly to chat about testing and life in general over a cold one or two, and this new podcast has given us plenty of opportunities to talk testing again, albeit virtually. A new episode of this podcast should drop very soon after this blog post.

On more personal notes, I’ve certainly been finding more time for myself since ending full-time employment. There are some non-negotiables, such as daily one-hour (or more) walks and meditation practice, and I’ve also been prioritizing bike riding and yoga practice. I’ve been reading a lot too – more than a book a week – on a wide variety of different topics. These valuable times away from technology are foundational in helping me to live with much more ease than in the past.

I’ve continued to do volunteer work with The Vegan Society (UK). I started off performing proofreading tasks and have also now joined their web volunteers’ team where I’ve been leading research projects on how to reduce the carbon footprint of the Society’s website and also to improve its accessibility. These web research projects have given me the welcome opportunity to learn about areas that I was not very familiar with before, the “green website” work being particularly interesting and it has inspired me to pursue other opportunities in this area (watch this space!). A massive proofreading task led to the recent publication of the awesome Planting Value in the Food System reports, with some deep research and great ideas for transitioning UK farming away from animal-based agriculture.

Looking to the rest of 2021, the only firm commitment I have in the testing space – outside of consulting work – is an in-person conference talk at Testing Talks 2021 in Melbourne. I’ll be continuing with my considerable volunteering commitment with the Vegan Society and I have a big Status Quo project in the works too! With little to no prospect of long-distance travel in Australia or overseas in this timeframe, we will enjoy short breaks locally between lockdowns and also press on with various renovation projects on our little beach house.

(Given the title of this blog, I can’t waste this opportunity to include a link to one of my favourite Status Quo songs, “A Year” – this powerful ballad morphs into a heavier piece towards the end, providing some light amongst the heaviness of its parent album, “Piledriver”. Enjoy!)

Common search engine questions about testing #10: “What will software testing look like in 2021?”

This is the final part of a ten-part blog series in which I’ve answered some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this last post, I ponder the open question of “What will software testing look like in 2021?” (note: updated the year from 2020 in my original dataset from Answer The Public to 2021).

The reality for most people involved in the software testing business is that testing will look pretty much the same in 2021 as it did in 2020 – and probably as it did for many of the years before that too. Incremental improvements take time in organisations and the scope & impact of such changes will vary wildly between different organisations and even within different parts of the same organisation.

I fully expect 2021 to yield a number of reports about trends in software testing and quality, akin to Capgemini’s annual World Quality Report (which I critiqued again last year). There will probably be a lot of noise around the application of AI and machine learning to testing, especially from tool vendors and the big consultancies.

I feel certain that automation (especially of the “codeless” variety) will continue to be one of the main threads around testing with companies continuing to recruit on the basis of “automated testing” prowess over exploratory testing skills.

I think a small but dedicated community of people genuinely interested in advancing the craft of software testing will continue to publish their ideas and look to inject some reality into the various places that testing gets discussed online.

My daily meditation practice has applications here too. In the same way that the practice helps me to recognise when thoughts are happening without getting caught up in their storyline, I think you should make an effort to observe the inevitable commentary on trends in the testing industry through 2021 without going out of your way to follow them. These trends are likely to change again next year and expending effort trying to keep “on trend” is likely effort better spent elsewhere. Instead, I would recommend focusing on the fundamentals of good software testing, while continuing to demonstrate the value of good testing and advancing the practice as best you can in the context of your organisation.

I would also encourage you to make 2021 the year that you tell your testing stories for the benefit of the wider community – your stories are unique, valuable and a great way for others to learn what’s really going on in our industry. There are many avenues to share your first-person experiences – blog about them, share them as LinkedIn articles, talk about them at meetups or present them at a conference (many of which seem destined to remain as virtual events through 2021, which I see as a positive in terms of widening the opportunity for more diverse stories to be heard).

For some alternative opinions on what 2021 might look like, check out the responses to the recent question “What trends do you think will emerge for testing in 2021?” posed by Ministry of Testing on LinkedIn.

You can find the previous nine parts of this blog series at:

I’ve provided the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

I’m grateful to Paul Seaman and Ky who acted as reviewers for every part of this blog series; I couldn’t have completed the series without their help, guidance and encouragement along the way, thank you!

Thanks also to all those who’ve amplified the posts in this series via their blogs, lists and social media posts – it’s been much appreciated. And, last but not least, thanks to Terry Rice for the underlying idea for the content of this series.

Common search engine questions about testing #9: “Which software testing certification is the best?”

This is the penultimate part of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “Which software testing certification is the best?“.

There has been much controversy around certification in our industry for a very long time. The certification market is dominated by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB), which they describe as “the world’s most successful scheme for certifying software testers”. The scheme arose out of the British Computer Society’s ISEB testing certification in the late 1990s and has grown to become the de facto testing certification scheme. With a million-or-so exams administered and 700,000+ certifications issued, the scheme has certainly been successful in dishing out certifications across its ever-increasing range of offerings (broadly grouped into Agile, Core and Specialist areas).

In the interests of disclosure, I am Foundation certified by the ANZTB and I encouraged all of the testers at Quest in the early-mid 2000s to get certified too. At the time, it felt to me like this was the only certification that gave a stamp of professionalism to testers. After I received education from Michael Bolton during Rapid Software Testing in 2007, I soon realised the errors in my thinking – and then put many of the same testers through RST with James Bach a few years later!

Although the ISTQB scheme has issued many certifications, the value of these certifications is less clear. The lower level certifications, particularly Foundation, are very easy to obtain and require little to no practical knowledge or experience in software testing. It’s been disappointing to witness how this de facto simple certification became a pre-requisite for hiring testers all over the world. The requirement to be ISQTB-certified doesn’t seem to crop up very often on job ads in the Australian market now, though, so maybe its perceived value is falling over time.

If your desire is to become an excellent tester, then I would encourage you to adopt some of the approaches to learning outlined in the previous post in this series. Following a path of serious self-learning about the craft (and maybe challenging yourself with one of the more credible training courses such as BBST or RST) is likely to provide you with much more value in the long-term than ticking the ISTQB certification box. If you’re concerned about your resume “making the cut” when applying for jobs without having ISTQB certification, consider taking Michael Bolton’s advice in No Certification, No Problem!

Coming back to the original question. Imagine what the best software testing certification might be if you happen to be a for-profit training provider for ISTQB certifications. Then think about what the best software testing certification might be if you’re a tester with a few years of experience in the industry looking to take your skills to the next level. I don’t think it makes sense to ask which (of anything) is the “best” as there are so many context-specific factors to consider.

The de facto standard for certification in our industry, viz. ISTQB, is not a requirement for you to become an excellent and credible software tester, in my opinion.

If you’re interested in a much fuller treatment of the issues with testing certifications, I think James Bach has covered all the major arguments in his blog post, Against Certification. Ilari Henrik Aegerter’s short Super Single Slide Sessions #6 – On Certifications video is also worth a look and, for some light relief around this controversial topic, see the IQSTD website!

You can find the first eight parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post, their considerable effort and input as this series comes towards an end has been instrumental in producing posts that I’m proud of.

Common search engine questions about testing #8: “Can I learn software testing on my own?”

This is the eighth of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “Can I learn software testing on my own?” (and the related questions, “Can I learn software testing online?” and “Can anybody learn software testing?”).

The skills needed to be an excellent tester can be learned. How you choose to undertake that learning is a personal choice, but there’s really no need to tackle this substantial task as a solo effort – and I would strongly encourage you not to go it alone. The testing community is strong and, in my experience, exceptionally willing to help people on their journey to becoming better testers so utilizing this vast resource should be part of your strategy. There is so much great content online for free and engaging with great testers is straightforward via, most notably in my opinion, Twitter and LinkedIn.

While it’s great to learn the various techniques and approaches to testing, it’s also worth looking more broadly into fields such as psychology and sociology. Becoming an excellent tester requires more than just great testing and technical skills so broadening your learning should be helpful. While I don’t recommend most of the testing books from “experts”, I’ve made a few recommendations in the Resources section of my consultancy website (and you can find a bunch of blogs, articles, etc. as starting points for further reading there too).

The next part of this blog series will cover the topic of certifications, so I won’t discuss this in depth here – but I don’t believe it’s necessary to undertake the most common certifications in our industry, viz. those offered by the ISTQB. The only formal courses around testing that I choose to recommend are Rapid Software Testing (which I’ve personally attended twice, with Michael Bolton and then James Bach) and the great value Black Box Software Testing courses from the Association for Software Testing.

You can certainly learn the skills required to be an excellent tester and there’s simply no need to go it alone in doing so. There is no need to attend expensive training courses or go through certification schemes on your way to becoming excellent, but you will need persistence, a growth mindset and a keen interest in continuous learning. I recommend leveraging the large, strong and helpful testing community in your journey of learning the craft – engaging with this community has helped me tremendously over many years and I try to give back to it in whatever ways I can, hopefully inspiring and helping more people to experience the awesomeness of the craft of software testing.

You might find the following blog posts useful too in terms of guiding your learning process:

You can find the first seven parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my awesome review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #7: “Is software testing a good career?”

This is the seventh of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “Is software testing a good career?” (and the related questions, “How is software testing a career?” and “Why choose software testing as a career?”).

Reflecting first on my own experience, software testing ended up being an awesome career. I didn’t set out to become a career software tester, though. After a few years as a developer in the UK, I moved to Australia and started looking for work in the IT industry. Within a couple of weeks of arriving in the country, I landed an interview at Quest Software (then in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne) for a technical writer position. After interviewing for that position, they mentioned that the “QA Manager” was also looking for people and asked whether I’d be interested in chatting with her also. Long story short, I didn’t land the technical writing job but was offered a “Senior Tester” position – and I accepted it without hesitation! I was simply happy to have secured my first job in a new country, never intending it to be a long-term proposition with Quest or the start of a new career in the field of software testing. As it turned out, I stayed with Quest for 21 years in testing/quality related roles from start to finish!

So, there was some luck involved in finding a good company to work for and a job that I found interesting. I’m not sure I’d have stayed in testing, though, had it not been for the revelation that was attending Rapid Software Testing with Michael Bolton in 2007 – that really gave me the motivation to treat software testing more seriously as a long-term career prospect and also marked the time, in my opinion, that I really started to add much more value to Quest as well. The company appreciated the value that good testers were adding to their development teams and I was fortunate to mentor, train, coach and work alongside some great testers, not only in Australia but all over the world. Looking back on my Quest journey, I think it was the clear demonstration of value from testing that led to more and more opportunities for me (and other testers), as predicted by Steve Martin when he said “be so good they can’t ignore you”!

The landscape has changed considerably in the testing industry over the last twenty years, of course. It has to be acknowledged that it’s becoming very difficult to secure testing roles in which you can expect to perform exploratory testing as the mainstay of your working day (and especially so in higher cost locations). I’ve rarely seen an advertisement for such a role in Australia in the last few years, with most employers now also demanding some “automated testing” skills as part of the job. Whether the reality post-employment is that nearly all testers are now performing a mix of testing (be it scripted, exploratory or a combination of both) and automation development, I’m not so sure. If your desire is to become an excellent (exploratory) tester without having some coding knowledge/experience, then I think there are still some limited opportunities out there but seeking them out will most likely require you to be in the network of people in similar positions in companies that understand the value that testing of this kind can bring.

Making the effort to learn some coding skills is likely to be beneficial in terms of getting your resume over the line. I’d recommend not worrying too much about which language(s)/framework(s) you choose to learn, but rather focusing on the fundamentals of good programming. I would also suggest building an understanding of the “why” and “what” in terms of automation (over the “how”, i.e. which language and framework to leverage in a particular context) as this understanding will allow you to quickly add value and not be so vulnerable to the inevitable changes in language and framework preferences over time.

I think customers of the software we build expect that the software has undergone some critical evaluation by humans before they acquire it, so it both intrigues and concerns me that so many big tech companies publicly express their lack of “testers” as some kind of badge of honour. I simply don’t understand why this is seen as a good thing and it seems to me that this trend is likely to come full (or full-ish) circle at some point when the downsides of removing specialists in testing from the development, release and deployment process outweigh the perceived benefits (not that I’m sure what these are, apart from reduced headcount and cost?).

I still believe that software testing is a good career choice. It can be intellectually challenging, varied and stimulating in the right organization. It’s certainly not getting any easier to secure roles in which you’ll spend all of your time performing exploratory testing, though, so broadening your arsenal to include some coding skills and building a good understanding of why and what makes sense to automate are likely to help you along the way to gaining meaningful employment in this industry.

You can find the first six parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my erstwhile review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #6: “Is software testing easy?”

This is the sixth of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “Is software testing easy?” (and the related question, “Why is software testing so hard?”).

There exists a perception that “anyone can test” and, since testing is really just “playing with the software”, it’s therefore easy. By contrast, it seems that programming is universally viewed as being difficult. This reasoning leads people to believe that a good place to start their career in IT is as a tester, with a view to moving “up” to the more hallowed ranks of developers.

My experience suggests that many people often have no issue with trying to tell testers how to do their job, in a way that those same people wouldn’t dream of doing towards developers. This generally seems to be based on some past experience from their career when they considered themselves a tester, even if that experience is now significantly outdated and they didn’t engage in any serious work to advance themselves as testers. Such interactions are a red flag that many in the IT industry view testing as the easy part of the software development process.

The perception that testing is easy is also not helped by the existence and prevalence of the simple and easy to achieve ISTQB Foundation certification. The certification has been achieved by several hundred thousand people worldwide (the ISTQB had issued 721000+ certifications as of May 2020, with the vast majority of those likely to be at Foundation level), so it’s clearly not difficult to obtain (even without study) and has flooded the market with “testers” who have little but this certification behind them.

Thanks to Michael Bolton (via this very recent tweet) for identifying another reason why this perception exists. “Testing” is often conflated with “finding bugs” and we all know how easy it is to find bugs in the software we use every day:

There’s a reason that many people think testing is easy, due to an asymmetry. No one ever fired up a computer and stumbled into creating a slick UI or a sophisticated algorithm, but people stumble into bugs every day. Finding bugs is easy, they think. So testing must be easy.

Another unfortunate side effect of the idea that testing is easy is that testers are viewed as fungible, i.e. any tester can simply be replaced by another one since there’s not much skill required to perform the role. The move to outsource testing capability to lower cost locations then becomes an attractive proposition. I’m not going to discuss test outsourcing and offshoring in any depth here, but I’ve seen a lot of great, high value testers around the world lose their jobs due to this process of offshoring based on the misplaced notion of fungibility of testing resources.

Enough about the obvious downsides of mistakenly viewing testing as easy! I don’t believe good software testing is at all easy and hopefully my reasons for saying this will help you to counter any claims that testing (at least, testing as I talk about it) is easy work and can be performed equally well by anyone.

As a good tester, we are tasked with evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration, experimentation, observation and inference. This requires us to adopt a curious, imaginative and critical thinking mindset, while we constantly make decisions about what’s interesting to investigate further and evaluate the opportunity cost of doing so. We look for inconsistencies by referring to descriptions of the product, claims about it and within the product itself. These are not easy things to do.

We study the product and build models of it to help us make conjectures and design useful experiments. We perform risk analysis, taking into account many different factors to generate a wealth of test ideas. This modelling and risk analysis work is far from easy.

We ask questions and provide information to help our stakeholders understand the product we’ve built so that they can decide if it’s the product they wanted. We identify important problems and inform our stakeholders about them – and this is information they sometimes don’t want to hear. Revealing problems (or what might be problems) in an environment generally focused on proving we built the right thing is not easy and requires emotional intelligence & great communication skills.

We choose, configure and use tools to help us with our work and to question the product in ways we’re incapable of (or inept at) as humans without the assistance of tools. We might also write some code (e.g. code developed specifically for the purpose of exercising other code or implementing algorithmic decision rules against specific observations of the product, “checks”), as well as working closely with developers to help them improve their own test code. Using tooling and test code appropriately is not easy.

(You might want to check out Michael Bolton’s Testing Rap, from which some of the above was inspired, as a fun way to remind people about all the awesome things human testers actually do!)

This heady mix of aspects of art, science, sociology, psychology and more – requiring skills in technology, communication, experiment design, modelling, risk analysis, tooling and more – makes it clear to me why good software testing is hard to do.

In wrapping up, I don’t believe that good software testing is easy. Good testing is challenging to do well, in part due to the broad reach of subject areas it touches on and also the range of different skills required – but this is actually good news. The challenging nature of testing enables a varied and intellectually stimulating job and the skills to do it well can be learned.

It’s not easy, but most worthwhile things in life aren’t!

You can find the first five parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my dedicated review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post. Paul’s blog, Not Everybody Can Test, is worth a read in relation to the subject matter of this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #5: “Can you automate software testing?”

This is the fifth of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

As I reach the halfway point in this series, I come to the question “Can you automate software testing?” (and the related question, “How can software test automation be done?”).

If you spend any time on Twitter and LinkedIn following threads around testing, this question of whether testing can be automated crops up with monotonous regularity and often seems to result in very heated discussion, with strong opinions from both the “yes” and “no” camps.

As a reminder (from part one of this blog series), my preferred definition of testing comes from Michael Bolton and James Bach, viz.

Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through experiencing, exploring, and experimenting, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modelling, observation, inference, etc.

Looking at this definition, testing is clearly a deeply human activity since skills such as learning, exploring, questioning and inferring are not generally those well modelled by machines (even with AI/ML). Humans may or may not be assisted by tools or automated means while exercising these skills, but that doesn’t mean that the performance of testing is itself “automated”.

The distinction drawn between “testing” and “checking” made by James Bach and Michael Bolton has been incredibly helpful for me when talking about automation and countering the idea that testing can be automated (much more so than “validation” and “verification” in my experience). As a refresher, their definition of checking is:

Checking is the process of making evaluations by applying algorithmic decision rules to specific observations of a product.

As Michael says, “We might choose to automate the exercise of some functions in a program, and then automatically compare the output of that program with some value obtained by another program or process. I’d call that a check.” Checking is a valuable component of our overall testing effort and, by this definition, lends itself to be automated. But the binary evaluations resulting from the execution of such checks form only a small part of the testing story and there are many aspects of product quality that are not amenable to such black and white evaluation.

Thinking about checks, there’s a lot that goes into them apart from the actual execution (by a machine or otherwise): someone decided we needed a check (risk analysis), someone designed the check, someone implemented the check (coding), someone decided what to observe and how to observe it, and someone evaluated the results from executing the check. These aspects of the check are testing activities and, importantly, they’re not the aspects that can be given over to a machine, i.e. be automated. There is significant testing skill required in the design, implementation and analysis of the check and its results, the execution (the automated bit) is really the easy part.

To quote Michael again:

A machine producing a bit is not doing the testing; the machine, by performing checks, is accelerating and extending our capacity to perform some action that happens as part of the testing that we humans do. The machinery is invaluable, but it’s important not to be dazzled by it. Instead, pay attention to the purpose that it helps us to fulfill, and to developing the skills required to use tools wisely and effectively.

We also need to be mindful to not conflate automation in testing with “automated checking”. There are many other ways that automation can help us, extending human abilities and enabling testing that humans cannot practically perform. Some examples of applications of automation include test data generation, test environment creation & configuration, software installation & configuration, monitoring & logging, simulating large user loads, repeating actions en masse, etc.

If we make the mistake of allowing ourselves to believe that “automated testing” exists, then we can all too easily fall into the trap of narrowing our thinking about testing to just automated checking, with a resulting focus on the development and execution of more and more automated checks. I’ve seen this problem many times across different teams in different geographies, especially so in terms of regression testing.

I think we are well served to eliminate “automated testing” from our vocabulary, instead talking about “automation in testing” and the valuable role automation can play in both testing & checking. The continued propaganda around “automated testing” as a thing, though, makes this job much harder than it sounds. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of test tool vendors using this term and making all sorts of bold claims about their “automated testing solutions”. It’s no wonder that so many testers remain confused in answering the question about whether testing can be automated when a quick Google search got me to some of these gems within the top few results: What is automated testing? (SmartBear), Automated software testing (Atlassian) and Test Automation vs. Automated Testing: The Difference Matters (Tricentis).

I’ve only really scratched the surface of this big topic in this blog, but it should be obvious by now that I don’t believe you can automate software testing. There is often value to be gained by automating checks and leveraging automation to assist and extend humans in their testing efforts, but the real testing lies with the humans – and always will.

Some recommended reading related to this question:

  • The Testing and Checking Refined article by James Bach and Michael Bolton, in which the distinction between testing and checking is discussed in depth, as well as the difference between checks performed by humans and those by machines.
  • The Automation in Testing (AiT) site by Richard Bradshaw and Mark Winteringham, their six principles of AiT make a lot of sense to me.
  • Bas Dijkstra’s blog

You can find the first four parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my awesome review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

2020 in review

It’s time to wrap up my blogging for the year again, after a quite remarkable 2020!

I published 22 blog posts during the year, a significant increase in output compared to the last few years (largely enabled by the change in my employment situation, but more on that later). My blog attracted about 50% more views than in 2019 and I’m very grateful for the amplification of my blog posts via their regular inclusion in lists such as 5Blogs, Testing Curator’s Testing Bits and Software Testing Weekly. November 2020 saw my blog receiving twice as many views as any other month since I started blogging back in 2014, mainly due to the popularity of my critique of two industry reports during that month.

I closed out the year with about 1,100 followers on Twitter, up around 10% over the year – this surprises me given the larger number of tweets around veganism I’ve posted during the year, often a cause of unfollowing!

COVID-19

It wouldn’t be a 2020 review blog without some mention of COVID-19, but I’m not going to dwell too much on it here. I count myself lucky in so many ways to have escaped significant impact from the pandemic. Living in regional Australia meant restrictions were never really too onerous (at least compared to metropolitan Melbourne), while I could continue working from home (until my COVID-unrelated retrenchment).

The only major inconvenience caused by the pandemic was somewhat self-inflicted when we made the unwise decision to travel to the UK in mid-March, arriving there just as restrictions kicked in. It was a stressful and expensive time finding a way back to Australia, but I’m very glad we escaped when we did to ride out the pandemic for the rest of the year at home in Australia. (I blogged about these interesting international travels here and here.)

The end of an era

My 21-year stint at Quest Software came to an end in August. It was an amazing journey with the company, the only job I’ve had since moving to Australia back in 1999! I consider myself lucky to have had such a great environment in which to learn and develop my passion for testing. Of course, the closing out of this chapter of my professional life took a while to adjust to but I’ve spent the time since then focusing on decompressing, helping ex-colleagues in their search for new opportunities, looking to new ventures (see below) and staying connected with the testing community – while also enjoying the freedoms that come with not working full-time in a high pressure corporate role.

Conferences and meetups

I started the year with plans to only attend one conference – in the shape of CAST in Austin – but 2020 had other ideas of course! While in-person conferences and meetups all disappeared from our radars, it was great to see the innovation and creativity that flowed from adversity – with existing conferences finding ways to provide virtual offerings, meetups going online and new conferences springing up to make the most of the benefits of virtual events.

Virtual events have certainly opened up opportunities for attendance and presenting to new people in our community. With virtual conferences generally being very affordable compared to in-person events (with lower registration costs and no travel & accommodation expenses), it’s been good to see different names on attendee lists and seeing the excitement and passion expressed by first-time conference attendees after these events. Similarly, there have been a lot of new faces on conference programmes with the opportunity to present now being open to many more people, due to the removal of barriers such as travelling and in-person public speaking. It feels like this new model has increased diversity in both attendees and presenters, so this is at least one positive out of the pandemic. I wonder what the conference landscape will look like in the future as a result of what organisers have learned during 2020. While there’s no doubt in my mind that we lose a lot of the benefits of a conference by not being physically present in the same place, there are also clear benefits and I can imagine a hybrid conference world emerging – I’m excited to see what develops in this area.

I only attended one meetup during the year, the DDD Melbourne By Night event in September during which I also presented a short talk, Testing Is Not Dead, to a largely developer audience. It was fun to present to a non-testing audience and my talk seemed to go down well. (I’m always open to sharing my thoughts around testing at meetups, so please let me know if you’re looking for a talk for your meetup.)

In terms of conferences, I participated in three events during the year. First up, I attended the new Tribal Qonf organised by The Test Tribe and this was my first experience of attending a virtual conference. The registration was ridiculously cheap for the great range of quality presenters on offer over the two-day conference and I enjoyed catching up on the talks via recordings (since the “live” timing didn’t really work for Australia).

In November, I presented a two-minute talk for the “Community Strikes The Soapbox” part of EuroSTAR 2020 Online. I was in my element talking about “Challenging The Status Quo” and you can see my presentation here.

Later in November, I was one of the speakers invited to participate in the inaugural TestFlix conference, again organised by The Test Tribe. This was a big event with over one hundred speakers, all giving talks of around eight minutes in length, with free registration. My talk was Testing Is (Still) Not Dead and I also watched a large number of the other presentations thanks to recordings posted after the live “binge” event.

The start of a new era

Starting a testing consultancy business

Following my unexpected departure from Quest, I decided that twenty five years of full-time corporate employment was enough for me and so, on 21st October, I launched my testing consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. I’m looking forward to helping different organisations to improve their testing and quality practices, with a solid foundation of context-driven testing principles. While paid engagements are proving elusive so far, I’m confident that my approach, skills and experience will find a home with the right organisations in the months and years ahead.

Publishing a testing book

As I hinted in my 2019 review post at this time last year, a project I’ve been working on for a while, both in terms of concept and content, finally came to fruition in 2020. I published my first testing book, An Exploration of Testers, on 7th October. The book contains contributions from different testers and a second edition is in the works as more contributions come in. All proceeds from sales of the book will go back into the testing community and I plan to announce how the first tranche of proceeds will be used early in 2021.

Volunteering for the UK Vegan Society

When I saw a call for new volunteers to help out the UK’s Vegan Society, I took the opportunity to offer some of my time and, despite the obvious timezone challenges, I’m now assisting the organisation (as one of their first overseas volunteers) with proofreading of internal and external communications. This is a different role in a different environment and I’m really enjoying working with them as a way to be more active in the vegan community.

Thanks to my readers here and also followers on other platforms, I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy my posts to come through 2021.

I’ll be continuing my ten-part blog series answering common questions around software testing (the first four parts of which are already live) but, please remember, I’m more than happy to take content suggestions so let me know if there are any topics you particularly want me to express opinions on.

Common search engine questions about testing #4: “How is software testing done?”

This is the fourth of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I ponder the question “How is software testing done?” (and the related questions, “What are software testing methodologies?”, “What is the software testing life cycle?” and “What is the software testing process?”).

There are many different ways in which software testing is performed, by different people in different organizations with different ideas about what constitutes “good testing”. Don’t be fooled into believing there is “one way” to do testing! There is certainly no single, approved, credible and official way to perform testing – and this is actually a good thing, in my opinion.

So, the question should perhaps be “How might software testing be done?” and, in answering this question, the idea of context is paramount. James Bach defines “context” (in Context-Driven Methodology) as follows:

When I say “context” I mean the totality of a situation that influences the success or failure of an enterprise.

(and Dictionary.com similarly offers “the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.”) The first principle of Context-Driven Testing says “The value of any practice depends on its context.” The way you would approach the testing of a medical device (where a defect could result in loss of life) is likely quite different to how you would test a website for a local business, for example. The context is different – and the differences are important.

While there may be books or certifications that propose a “testing process” or methodology, you should consider the context of your particular situation to assess whether any of these processes or methodologies have valuable elements to leverage. Remember that testing requires a broad variety of different skills and activities: working with other people, formulating hypotheses, creating & changing strategies, critical thinking & evaluation, finding the right people when you need help, assessing what all this might mean for risk and then finding ways to relate this information in compelling and credible ways. What we need is a way of thinking about testing that is flexible enough to cover such a range of skills and activities across many different contexts.

The following from context-driven-testing.com puts it well, I think:

Context-driven testers choose their testing objectives, techniques, and deliverables (including test documentation) by looking first to the details of the specific situation, including the desires of the stakeholders who commissioned the testing. The essence of context-driven testing is project-appropriate application of skill and judgment. The Context-Driven School of testing places this approach to testing within a humanistic social and ethical framework.

Ultimately, context-driven testing is about doing the best we can with what we get. Rather than trying to apply “best practices,” we accept that very different practices (even different definitions of common testing terms) will work best under different circumstances.

Bearing the above in mind, the only software testing methodology that I feel comfortable to recommend is Rapid Software Testing (RST) developed by James Bach and Michael Bolton. RST isn’t a prescriptive process but rather a way to understand testing with a focus on context and people:

[RST] is a responsible approach to software testing, centered around people who do testing and people who need it done. It is a methodology (in the sense of “a system of methods”) that embraces tools (aka “automation”) but emphasizes the role of skilled technical personnel who guide and drive the process.

Rather than being a set of templates and rules, RST is a mindset and a skill set. It is a way to understand testing; it is a set of things a tester knows how to do; and it includes approaches to effective leadership in testing.

https://rapid-software-testing.com/about-rapid-software-testing/

RST is therefore quite different from some of the prevalent processes/methodologies that you might come across in searching for resources to answer the question of how testing is done, such as ISTQB and TMap. These systems are often referred to as “factory-style testing” and an excellent summary of how RST differs from these can be found at https://www.satisfice.com/download/how-rst-is-different-from-factory-style-testing

Given how different your context and testing mission is likely to be on different projects in different organizations at different times for different customers, the way “testing is done” necessarily needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to respect these very different situations. Any formal process or methodology that seeks to prescribe how to test is likely to be sub-optimal in your particular context, so I suggest adopting something like the mindset proposed by RST and adapting your approach to testing to suit your context.

You can find the first three parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my patient and dependable review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #3: “When should software testing activities start?”

This is the third of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “When should software testing activities start?” (and the related question, “When to do software testing?”).

It feels very timely to be answering this question as there is so much noise in the industry at the moment around not only “shifting” testing to the left but also to the right. “Shifting left” is the idea that testing activities should be moved more towards the start of (and then throughout) the development cycle, while shifting right is more about testing “in production” (i.e. testing the software after it’s been deployed and is in use by customers). It seems to me that there is a gap now forming in the middle where much of our testing used to be performed (and, actually, probably still is), viz. testing of a built system by humans before it is deployed.

Let’s start by looking at what we mean by “testing activities” and who might perform these activities.

For teams with dedicated testers, the testers can participate in design meetings and ask questions about how customers really work. They can also review user stories (and other claims of how the software is intended to work) to look for inconsistencies and other issues. Testers might also work with developers to help them generate test ideas for unit and API tests. Testers with coding skills might work with API developers to write stubs or API tests during development. Testers might pair with developers to test some new functionality locally before it even makes it into a more formal build. For teams without dedicated testers, the developers will be covering these – and other – testing activities themselves, perhaps with assistance from a roaming testing/quality coach if the organization is following that kind of model. All of the above activities are performed before a built system is ready for testing in its entirety, so are probably what many would now refer to as “shift left” testing in practice.

The shifting left of testing activities seems to have been heavily influenced by the agile movement. Practitioners such as Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin have written books on “Agile Testing” which cover many of these same themes, without referring to them as “shift left”. The idea that the critical thinking skills of testers can be leveraged from the earliest stages of developing a piece of software seems sound enough to me. The term “agile tester”, though, seems odd – I prefer to think of testing as testing, with “agile” being part of the context here (and this context enables some of these shift-left activities to occur whereas a different development approach might make these activities difficult or impossible).

In more “traditional” approaches to software development (and also in dysfunctional agile teams), testing activities tend to be pushed towards the end of the cycle (or sprint/iteration) when there is a built “test ready” version of the software available for testing. Testing at this point is highly valuable in my opinion and is still required even if all of the “shift left” testing activities are being performed. If testing activities only start at this late stage, though, there is a lot of opportunity for problems to accumulate that could have been detected earlier and resolving these issues so late in the cycle may be much more difficult (e.g. significant architectural changes may not be feasible). To help mitigate risk and learn by evaluating the developing product, testers should look for ways to test incremental integration even in such environments.

The notion that “testing in production” is an acceptable – and potentially useful – thing is really quite new in our industry. Suggesting that we tested in production when I first started in the testing industry was akin to a bad joke, Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista again comes to mind. Of course, a lot has changed since then in terms of the technologies we use and the deployment methods available to us so we shouldn’t be surprised that testing of the deployed software is now a more reasonable thing to do. We can learn a lot from genuine production use that we could never hope to simulate in pre-production environments and automated monitoring and rollback systems present us with scope to “un-deploy” a bad version much more easily than recalling millions of 3.5-inch floppies! This “shift right” approach can add valuable additional testing information but, again, this is in itself not a replacement for other testing we might perform at other times during the development cycle.

In considering when testing activities should start then, it’s useful to broaden your thinking about what a “testing activity” is away from just system testing of the entire solution and also to be clear about your testing mission. Testing activities should start as early as makes sense in your context (e.g. you’ll probably start testing at different times in an agile team than when working on a waterfall project). Different types of testing activities can occur at different times and remember that critical thinking applied to user stories, designs, etc. is all testing. Use information from production deployments to learn about real customer usage and feed this information back into your ongoing testing activities pre-deployment.

And, by way of final word, I encourage you to advocate for opportunities to test your software before deployment using humans (i.e. not just relying on a set of “green” results from your automated checks), whether your team is shifting left, shifting right or not dancing at all.

You can find the first two parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.