Schedule and Events

March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Two Schools of Macro Economics

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the Schools Concept for Software Testing, generally based on Brett Pettichord's 2003 presentation at the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference. Cem Kaner has a good blog post on the subject, and Brett has continually revised and re-presented his talk.

One of the things I hear often is that the schools concept is divisive. My typical response is that those divisions already exist; the schools concept just abstracts those differences down to labels. Now labels can be helpful or insulting; it's all in how you handle it.

Consider, for example, the austrian school of economics vs. the Keynesian Schools. Oh, I'm not going to bore you or put you to sleep, I promise. To try to summarize: The Keynesians see the economy as the result of a series of dials. By controlling interest rates, creating stimulus, government spending, and so on, the Keynesians believe they can manipulate the markets. Keynesians tend to have formulas, equations, and metrics, just like physics, to make arguments and draw conclusions about economics.

The austrians think differently. They see the economy as organic -- as people doing things. They also see that bailouts reward the wrong thing and that dial-twisting distorts markets. An austrian economist my argue that those statistics don't mean anything. In other words, you can't add the money spent to dig ditches along with money spent do to things that genuinely benefit society, like farming or manufacturing, and reduce the total to one number. Likewise, that ideas like 'stimulus', printing money and spending it, have unintended consequences like inflation.

Whew. See how it's easier to label those instead of the full description?

Seriously, the way we see the world will influence the solutions we turn to. This, debate, and dialogue on how we see the world is important. It turns out the Macro-Economists are having the debate, and doing it well:

It starts a little slow, with a few in-jokes, but by two minutes in, you'll see the basic arguments of the two schools described well in a rap-video style. (No, really, it's a rap video. It can actually hold your attention, which is kind of hard for this subject.)

If you enjoy the video, you might want to check out the Reason behind the scenes interview. Notice towards 4:14 in the discussion turns to a discussion of emergent order to solve problems vs. central planning, about the use of mathematical models, trying to make the discipline more like physics, verses the idea that the mathematical models are naive and overly simplistic, that we need a more humanistic, systems-thinking approach. The author even uses terms like "scientism not science."

These folks are having the same debates as we are!

I'm not opposed to the school concept. I think it can be done in an insulting, crude way, or it can be used to advance the debate.

I'm for the latter.

I'll be at CAST 2011 August 8-10, where we have an emerging topics track, and also at STPCon in October.

The emerging topics track is not full yet, and because the theme of the conference is context-driven testing, I'm personally interested in proposals, panels, discussions, and debates on the schools concept, aspects of it, and it's impact on context-driven testing. (Did I mention I am co-organizing the track? *hint*)

Let's take this to the next level ... together.

I hope to see you in Seattle in August.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Article on TechWell - "Software Testing Enters the Cloud"

The folks at TechWell have just published my new article "Software Testing Enters the Cloud: Opportunities and Challenges."

It's my first article with TechWell -- I'm not even sure if I should have a space in between or capitalize the W. The website comes from the folks at SQE and, so it has a fair bit of reputation behind it.

In this article, I focus more on the capabilities that cloud computing can bring to make testers more effective, regardless of the development strategy. There is a little bit of discussion around the risks for cloud based apps, but the "How to Test Cloud Based Applications", well, that article or short series of articles is still in the works.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Past Through Tomorrow

(With apologies to Robert A. Heinlein)

Strictly speaking, predicting the future isn't just hard -- it is impossible.

Yet predicting the future is something testers are called on to every day, with so simple a question as "will the customer be happy with this version of the product?"

For that matter, is something project managers do every time they create a product plan, something management does every time it produces an annual plan.

We could joke around all day about the impossibility of fortune-telling or the fantasyland that many project plans reside in, but the reality is that we do have to plan for tomorrow.

Likewise, I can't say for certain if you'll get up next monday and go to work; with a few thousand readers, it's likely that some will be sick or on vacation or something ... but I might be certain enough to bet on it.

I don't have a problem with this sort of analysis and educating guessing. We have to do it, and, if you do it well, over time, you can have better results than your peers.

That takes me to the annual futures study produced by the American Society for Quality.

As some of you readers know, I was invited to be a member in the ASQ "influential voices" program, which involves writing blog responses to their own monthly blog post. This month's entry is about that annual futures study.

The ideas behind the study make sense -- to observe the changing landscape of industry that impacts the quality professional, and provide you information about those changes so you can react. This year the study identified eight issues, which I will (briefly) summarize below:

1) Social Responsibility. Government and popular pressures are causing companies to take the environment, sustainability of the business, and how they treat everyone in their supply chain a lot more seriously. The ASQ analysis indicates this is not about philanthropy, but about better business and profit.

2) Consumer Awareness. This blends with #1; people are using new tools to do more research on the companies they purchase from. Get on the bus, or people will purchase around you.

3) Globalization. Not a whole lot of meat here. The study says globalization is coming (check it out; I wrote that in 2003!), which will bring new opportunities, new markets, and new potential suppliers, but also transportation and oversight challenges. They do point out that consumers (I really dislike that term) are more and more interested in locally-sourced products. That's a fancy term to say "I'd like to buy vegetables grown by a neighbor, not ones shipped from a different continent."

4) Increased pace of change. Nanotechnology, reduced product cycles, and within our grasp is the potential to solve some of these enduring problems of our age like HIV, hunger, etc. It's a truism, but I'm not sure what to do with it. In his book, The Management Myth, author Matthew Stewart points out that the management literature has been talking about these problems for at least the past thirty years, going back to "In Search of Excellence" in 1982.

5) The Workforce of the future. Okay, I have real concerns over this one. Here's what they wrote:

The Workforce of the Future will challenge our notions of talent, work, workplace, and learning. While hard to fathom we’re being told unemployment, as we think of it, will become a thing of the past. The number of jobs will soon exceed the number of people available to fill them. Demographers predict organizations will find themselves competing for talent and that competition will move jobs around the globe. High tech companies already report this reality. This search for talent, along with technological advances will change the nature and place where work is done and organizations will grow increasingly flexible in their definitions of work engagements. Those who of retirement age will be re‐attracted to work with flexible hour arrangements and work that can be done without commuting.

I'm not sure if these authors are incompetent and full of happy-talk, or scarily competent and using very specific words for a specific reason, to convey one feeling but actually mean another.

Take for example the term "While hard to fathom we're being told unemployment, as we think of it, will become a thing of the past." On it's face, that's crazy. This is a guide written for members of an America Society with historical roots in manufacturing. They've seen their jobs systematically outsourced, offshored, and just plain eliminated for the past three decades. The trend is exactly in the opposite direction of the implications here!

Or is it? One trend I see with employment in the USA is a move away from lifetime employment with pension, toward project-at-a-time contract work. If that's the case, "unemployment" stops being a safety net for people temporarily out of work, and becomes a regular part of the freelance/contract lifestyle. If that is the case, well, I guess unemployment doesn't mean what it used to -- but that's certainly not what I got from a cursory reading of the study!

Yet the next claim is that the number of jobs will exceed the number of people. Yes, we do have an aging population (more about that below), and yes, certain high-skilled folks may be called back from retirement to keep the machine running. What I haven't seen yet are any statistics or data to back up this happy-talk.

This is a public study, done on behalf of the members of a professional society for the benefit of it's members. I originally wrote "somebody should get fired over this one." Perhaps that's a bit harsh. I understand the demographic data the team pulled to come to those conclusions ... but I wonder if the authors of the study would care to make it interesting ...

6) An Aging Population. The baby boomers are going to retire, and that will create both a crunch in the workforce (#5) and a need for elder-care services. From healthcare to in-home nursing to that cell phone with the big buttons, demand for services will increase. (One trend the study didn't note is that when these people retire, they will start to sell off their 401(K) and stocks, instead of accruing them. That will change the supply/demand ratio for the entire stock market. Now that is a trend to consider.)

7) 21st Century Quality. I read it twice. I still don't really know what this section is trying to say. My best guesses are that how people look at Quality will change, that Quality will be more important in the next century, and that global companies will increasingly need to look to quality across the entire value chain -- from raw supplier to retail sales.

8) Innovation has become a buzzword. (No, really, the study actually says that.) The basic idea here is that innovation is increasingly important to stay competitive, which, yes, reminds me of Matthew Stewart and his argument that we've had some crisis or another in business for thirty years, which sure seems to be a good way to sell books on excellence.

What do we have here?

It seems to be me that the study isn't pointing out trends as much as making predictions. Due to the nature of fortune-telling, I guess the predictions are okay ... as far as they go. I'm still not sure what to make of number seven or number eight; you can read the study yourself and perhaps chime in with your two cents.

As for me, I'm left with mixed emotions. On one hand, change is inevitable and I think it is good to think about what the future might bring. The eight bullet can be a sort of roadmap -- they can tell people what kinds of change might be helpful to think about.

Still, it would have been nice if the study had connected the dots. For example, the stock market predictions I mentioned earlier, and, in the United States, the increasingly precarious position of our Social Security Administration. This means retirement will be increasingly uncomfortable for people; they'll be retiring later and later, and, most likely, more cost-conscious than in the past. That means those products and services for that market had either better help you save money (generic drugs) or else face stiff price competition.

Another example: According to the study, innovation is important. Yet fifteen years ago, ASQ stood up and gave it's complete support to international standards on process, things like ISO 9001, and the whole idea of registrars and certifications for process compliance.

These process standards codify process into procedures. By doing this you create a defined process and defined process actively resists continuous improvement.

Thus we if we split innovation in half: Product Innovation and Process Innovation, we find a significant constituency within ASQ has been actively fighting the second, and not much discussion of the first.

I don't have any easy answer for that, but raising that issue would have been a fascinating outcome for the study.

My bottom line here: These ideas are okay. They are some food for thought; they have some potential. To see real value out of the study, though, we need to move the ideas from theory to action -- to get to practical application for the membership, or at least heated discourse.

How we get there I'm not sure. If the bloggers on this influential voices program can be part of that, well, I'd sure like to try.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


For the past several years, whenever I work with something and things go ... odd ... I remember it. Often I will go to a peer I respect and tell them the story, as a sort of "Gut Check." One of the common responses I get, when I do mention names, is "Well, Matt, you have to remember, Joe is a businessman, after all."

I have no idea what that means.

From what I can tell, it seems to mean that businesspeople are allowed to do scammy/arse-hole-ish things, because, well, their primary interest is making money, so they are going to do what it takes to make money.

Something about that doesn't sit well with me.

Then I read the opening words to John Bogle's new book, Enough:

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Catch-22 over it's whole history. Heller responds "Yes, but I ave something he will never have ... enough."

As you can probably guess, the book has a different feel than most other "business" books.

Instead of writing about getting money and success, Bogel is writing about professionalism. In fact, he goes so far as contrasting the two, saying that the objective of business is to make money, while the objective of the professional is to do work that benefits society -- and provide a nice life in interim. While the businessperson is always grasping for more, the professional is compensated in other ways in addition to money, and it is possible for the professional to have, well, ... enough.

Instead of writing about Business, Bogel writes about character. One of the main thesis of his book is that the financial industry is set up with an inherent conflict of interest; that the industry is designed to benefit the consultants, lawyers, and marketers, not the clients they ostensibly serve.

He also talks about the numeric obsession so common in our society, beginning by quoting Einstein "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

This is a guy who walked around the offices of his building, leaving notes on desks, again and again, year after year, that said:

For God's sake, let's always keep VanGuard a place where judgment has at least a fighting chance to triumph over process.

In other words: This guy is one of us.

One of the strongest points he made in the book, the point that struck me, were the points on professionalism and serving our clients. According to Bogel, this sense of professionalism is being diminished across all aspects of society; even the traditional professions are being slowly undermined. For example, when Arthur Andersen was paid by Enron to audit it's books, the very company that should have been blowing the whistle was actively involved in hiding fraud. Notice that, again, this was fraud by the 'professional management' against the shareholders of the company -- the ostensible owners. (Or, as Bogle named his chapter "Too Much Salesmanship, not Enough Stewardship.")

Of all the ways he explains professionalism in the book, I was most struck by his quote from Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, on it's definition of professionalism:

1. A commitment to the interest of clients in particular, and the welfare of society in general,
2. A body of theory of special knowledge,
3. A specialized set of professional skills, practices, and performances unique to the profession,
4. The developed capacity to render judgments with integrity under conditions of ethical uncertainty,
5. An organized approach to learning from experience, both individually and collectively, and this of growing new knowledge from the context of practice.
6. The development of a professional community responsible for the oversight and monitoring and quality in both practice and professional educators

Bogle goes on to refer to these as "Eighteenth Century Values", using Benjamin Franklin as an example -- a citizen, statesman, inventor and yes, entrepreneur, someone who's long-standing work was of lasting benefit to society. And, as much as I agree that we in testing need should improve our models and methods, I have to share a reluctant concern over our 21st century values.

I'm afraid I don't have the energy nor the vision right now to go into the depths to review this wonderful book reminds. I hope, however, that saying the three things that follow will help:

FIRST. At the end of the book, the 82-year-old Bogle lays a top-ten list, "reasons why I battle." One of those, number three hit me hard in heart:

"Because what I'm battling for - building our nation's financial system anew, in order to give our citizen/investors a fair shake - is right. Mathematically right. Philosophically right. Ethically right. Call it idealism, and it's as strong today - maybe even stronger than - it was when I wrote that idealistic Princeton thesis 57 years ago. How could an idealist fail to fight such a battle?"

We may not have the chance to have influence, or make a difference on the same scale, as John Bogle may in the financial industry, but I hope you agree that we are also engaged in a battle. And it is right. And it is noble.

I think it is worth talking about.

SECOND. Speaking of that fight, I further submit that hose of us that work in testing (and in the greater field of software development) seem to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Clearly we want to be professionals; we hear constant exhortations about professionalism and appeals to "act professionally." We have conferences and websites with names like the Software Test Professionals. Yet, all too often, our models of professionalism are cheapened into becoming about making more money, or protecting our jobs, or some soft of certification scheme.

We can do better.

THIRD. Beyond 'testing' books, I try to find books about testing. Last year, for example, I read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Talib. So far this year, far and away, my pick is Enough by John Bogle. (If you want a second, related book that is directly about our field, consider The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers by Robert C. Martin)

Please, consider getting a copy. It's a quick read, and if money is an issue, I expect that you could likely get it free from you library.

Whether you can find the time to read the book or not, I will make one more request: Let's advance the debate about professionalism in testing.

This doesn't take much; you can do it over lunch with some colleagues, at dinner with you family, or at your one-on-one with the boss.

Let's talk about words we don't hear much these days: Value. Responsibility. Duty.

We may not change the world ... but isn't it time we tried?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

And now ... more articles!

I've been busy writing and interviewing the last several weeks, and the articles are starting to come through the pipeline. Let's see here ...

* 25 Agilists to Follow on Twitter, my stab in the dark at twenty-five people to look into -- and why!

* Building a Better Build System", an interview with Peter Smith

* Cloud Computing Conundrum, an interview with Chris Moyer

* Beyond Process and Tools" with the Authors of the new book Individuals and Interactions: An Agile Guide.

* I interviewed my friend Shmuel Gershon on Fuzzing and Fault Modeling

* And also the folks at Menlo Innovations on establishing and growing a test practice.

Then there's the dead tree editions

* A few months back my colleague, Robert Martin, asked me to contribute the foreward to The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers"; it ships this month and is available now for pre-order from Amazon.

* Speaking of books, our book "How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing" will be out in September, but you can also pre-order it from Amazon. By our I mean, well, our. The book is a contributed work; my role is senior editor and author of one chapter. The list of contributors is a veritable "Who's Who" in software testing, from Jon Bach to Cem Kaner and Selena Delesie.

Don't worry -- plenty more to come.