In the second and final installment of our Testing the Limits interview with James Whittaker, we get his thoughts on some recent changes to Google’s test philosophy; why certain principles cannot span all types of testing teams; mobile testing challenges; the value of software testing; subject matter for his upcoming book, How Google Tests Software; and much more.
If you missed part I of the interview, you can find it here. Also, be sure to scroll down to the end of the interview for links to more material from James Whittaker. Enjoy!
uTest: You’ve been at Google now for over two years. Looking back, what’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome during this time? And how much have the company’s testing procedures changed over this period?
James: My boss Pat Copeland took me aside a few weeks into my starting at Google and said something like “I know you’ve accomplished a bunch of things outside Google, but that’s all in the past. You’ve got to accomplish something inside Google. If you don’t no one will listen to you.” It was good advice. The message was that my past got me into Google but would get me no further. I took leadership and responsibility for testing of Chrome and Chrome OS, hard problems, important problems that required things I am good at and things I am not good at. That was the hardest part, being pushed outside my comfort zone. I never liked the execution part before, schedules and plans and meetings and disasters. It’s a lot easier as a consultant where you can happily imagine those things without experiencing them firsthand. I can’t believe that I used to advise people on these sorts of things before. I was surprised at how much I was learning and how much I was able to contribute. Now I take every opportunity to work outside my comfort zone. That’s where growth occurs.
As to the second part of this question, Google’s testing procedures have changed a lot. I think the Test Engineer role has been completely reinvented in the past two years.
uTest: We would imagine that a lot of testers and managers at smaller companies that will view your book as interesting, but not necessarily relevant to their daily testing lives. Explain why this is not the case and talk a little about the challenges of writing for an audience that includes teams of all sizes.
James: But it is the case! You can say the same things about my other books too. My books are meant to make you think differently about testing. It’s up to the reader to make it relevant by putting it into practice. There is no way I can write a book relevant to any specific style of testing or the practices of any specific company (except Google of course). All I can do is offer information and ideas and deliver them in, hopefully, an entertaining way. The problem is that too many people work for companies who just want them to keep doing the same old stuff. Change is too hard for them. Even if they wanted to test the way my books suggest, they can’t. I feel sorry for those people. In a better economy I would tell them to get a new employer. In this economy, well, it’s tougher. But there are also a lot of people who do own their destiny and can make changes in the way their company does testing and treats testers.