Tag Archives | Google

Testing the Limits with James Whittaker – Part I

It was one year ago (June ’09) that James Whittaker helped us christen our ‘Testing The Limits’ interview series by being our first guest. And for much of the year, he held the distinction of generating the most page views… and then some guy named Patrick Copeland came along and took the lead a few months back.

Well, in honor of our one-year anniversary, James has accepted our invite to be our first-ever return guest – and this marks the start of a new trend. In our 2nd year of Testing the Limits, we’re going to be revisiting some of the past legends and leaders to see what’s changed since they last spoke with us. Of course, we’ll also be blending in some voices we haven’t heard from yet (we’re looking at you, Cem Kaner and Elizabeth Hendrickson) so stay tuned!

In this interview, James discusses his present role at Google; the emergence of Web Test Framework (aka WTF); the next decade of testing innovations; cloud computing and much more. When you’re done with this one, go read Part II.

uTest: A year ago, the big news was about your move from Microsoft to Google. Now that you’re no longer a Noogler, how has this year changed your perspective on testing and the testing industry? What has surprised you most?  Can you share any favorite stories?

JW: Four years ago I made the decision to leave the comfy confines of academe and consultancy and do something more real. It seems there is a steady supply of ex-industry folks going into consulting and not much of a flow the other way. I thought it would challenge me more than anything else I could do. Unfortunately, Microsoft just wasn’t the place to pull that off, ship schedules in the client-server domain simply didn’t allow a fast enough pace to suit me. I’ve been part of more software development in the past year at Google than I had my entire time at Microsoft and my consulting career combined. Things I didn’t think possible like shipping a product from concept to production in a matter of weeks, doing software development in a way that makes testing mostly invisible and creating completely new uses for test techniques that I had dismissed as amateur earlier in my career (e.g., record and playback) have not only surprised me but also now make my days a lot more interesting.

Another perspective that has changed is my appreciation of automated testing has grown. I’ve written extensively about manual testing and the importance of having a brain in-the-loop and I haven’t given it enough credit to automation in the past. Automation is really important and I think the detractors to it, simply don’t know how to do it right or simply don’t have enough experience with it. At the same time my appreciation for manual testing has grown as well, but I no longer advocate doing it without a lot of automated assistance. I’ll explain more about that later.

uTest: In the spirit of “WTF”, can you tell us more about the new, appropriately named, Web Test Framework and the unique control that Chrome and Chrome OS will offer web apps, browsers and the operating systems they are running on?

JW: I work with a developer who believes that WTF (the real meaning of the acronym) is the only appropriate response to a tester who creates yet another test framework. I have to admit, it is a response I often employ as well. Does the world really need another test framework? What the —-?

Well the world needs this one.

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And The BBJ Best Places To Work In Boston Are…

No, not us.  So don’t worry, this isn’t a “look how cool we are” post.  Actually, at Friday’s Boston Business Journal ‘best places to work‘ awards ceremony, we came in 9th out of the 20 finalists in the ‘small company’ category — and we’re very proud to have even been on the list in only our 2nd year of operations.  The finalists included some outstanding Massachusetts companies in the large, mid-sized and small biz categories, including Google, Microsoft, LogMeIn, Intuit and Carbonite.

Setting that aside, the whole experience of getting nominated, making the finals and being around such great companies this morning got me thinking about the importance of company culture — particularly in startups.  As resource-constrained startups, how do you create a culture or a DNA in which people love coming to work, feel passion for what they do, and believe they’re part of something bigger than themselves? In short, how do YOU create a “great place to work”?

As we emerge from the global recession in 2010, this will be imperative for companies of all sizes — but most notably for startups, where our people are our business. So what are you doing to give your company — and your employees — a sense of shared mission and purpose? How will you keep your best people engaged and challenged to conquer the world?

Back to Friday’s award ceremonies, special congrats to the three companies who won 1st place in their categories:

  • Small company category: fama PR (websitetwitter)
  • Mid-sized company category: HubSpot (website | twitter) — way to go, Brian, Dharmesh, Mike, Mark & co!!!
  • Large company category: William Raveis Real Estate (website | twitter)

And in case you think we’re hanging our heads over not bringing home the gold, think again.  We can’t wait to see where we are in 2011. But in the meantime, we’re working on our dance routine in case there’s a talent show at next year’s BBJ event. Would love to hear from other entrepreneurs, founders and startups about what you’re doing to compete for the ultra-scarce resource of talent.

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Time Warp Alert: Browser Wars Are Back

Apparently once just wasn’t enough.  In the spirit of skinny jeans, New Kids on the Block, Pez dispensers and the VW Bug, the browser wars are baaaack.

Yes, the storm clouds are gathering.  Off in the distance, we can see Safari 5, IE9, Chrome 5 and Firefox 4 in various stages of envisioning, development or launch.  And just like the good ole days, the combatants aren’t wasting any time in taking aim at the competition.  MG Siegler over at TechCrunch outlines the initial skirmish in what figures to be a protracted battle among 800 lb. heavyweights.

For those who haven’t yet waded in and taken a side in this looming battle, here are a few product reviews (or previews) from some well-respected sources:

We’re just beginning to experiment with the betas here in the uTest offices, but I’m curious to hear if any testers or devs have started using these new versions yet.  If so, drop us a comment and share your thoughts. What’s clear is that the latest round of browser wars will be fought along the lines of speed, tab management & placement, extension management and HTML5 support.

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Pac-Man is Like Crack, Man – Google Brings Back a Classic

Worldwide productivity surely took a nose-dive today, as thousands of worker bees (like me) discovered that Google was featuring the classic Pac-Man arcade game on its ever-changing homepage. What began as a scholarly search for “regression testing tips” quickly devolved into “five” minutes of ghost-chomping fun – but don’t tell my boss.

In honor of Pac-Man’s 30th birthday, Google developed the application (in what we presume is HTML5) to look, sound and behave just like the original version from 1980. [UPDATE: Here’s how to download the Pac-Man game for free] We’re not yet sure if this includes the infamous Pac-Man kill-screen bug, but I am determined to find out. I’ll work nights and weekends if that’s what it takes. That’s just the kind of dedicated employee I am.

Anyway, since we’re a software testing company, many of us in the office were curious to see how the application would perform on the various mobile devices we have in-house. Here’s a quick run-down of our findings for each device, including whether or not it worked, along with a few notes:

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uTest Makes BBJ’s List of Best Places to Work In 2010

Boston Business Journal just announced their list of Best Places To Work. And with nearly 450 nominees and only 20 companies making the cut in the Small Company category (20-100 employees), it’s a tough list to get on. But we’ve never shied away from a tough competition, so we threw our hat in the ring. And lo and behold, we’re proud to report that uTest has joined this prestigious list of  the best places to work in Massachusetts!

We’re stoked to be on a list alongside global heavyweights like Google, Microsoft, Ritz-Carlton, Comcast, as well as local startup legends like Carbonite and HubSpot. So, how did we do it? Well, from our open bullpen layout to our always-stocked kitchen to tweeting from the slopes,  to a company outing that consists of climbing Mount Monadnock, uTest is not your typical company… even by startup standards.

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Testing the Limits With Jon Bach – Part I

After Twitter-stalking him, making some harassing phone calls and sending threatening letters, Jon Bach (@jbtestpilot) cheerily agreed to take part in our Testing the Limits series. Much like his brother, Jon has a remarkable understanding of software testing – both in theory and in practice. Having worked for companies like Quardev, LexisNexis, HP and Microsoft, Jon is also a blogger, author and software testing consultant. An expert, in the truest sense of the term.

In the first installment of our two-part interview, we get Jon’s thoughts on sibling rivalry; the blame spiral of software development; the emergence of “agile-fall”;  testing at a startup vs. testing in the enterprise; John Schneider as Jon Bach and more.

uTest: A few months back, we asked your buddy Andy Muns who’d win a fight between you and your brother (this was a big debate in the uTest office). He said you would win hands down. Would he be right? And since you and your brother seem to share the same testing philosophy, what would do you think the fight would be about?

JB: It’s hard to fight with someone who stayed in their room for most of our childhood.  He was either reading or doing science experiments with a microscope or the chemistry set.  It got worse when we got the TRS-80 in 1980.  In fact, that’s probably the last time we fought — over who got computer time next.  My memory may be fuzzy, but just when it came to blows, he programmed a user name and password dialog? Something clever like that. Now it’s better just to learn from him and do my best to keep up — but that’s true for all younger brothers, I think.

As for modern-day fighting, sponsor me for a testing certification and let’s see what he’d do.

uTest: Say you’re named grand poobah of the QA universe… what’s your first decree?

JB: Effective today, “Quality Assurance” is now “Quality Assistance”.

(Try it.  Watch what happens when you start using it.)

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Mobile App Screen Size Pitfalls

In my recent post with my thoughts on the iPad, I noted that while the iPad will run iPhone apps, they won’t look that great.  Instead, developers will need to create new iPad apps.

“That’s fine!” you exclaim, thinking that you’ll just uprez your widgets and artwork from your iPhone app to the new iPad screen size.  Problem solved, right?  Apparently Apple thought so too and tried creating iPad sized versions of their default iPhone apps.  And apparently that idea sucked.  From Daring Fireball:

It’s not that Apple couldn’t just create bigger versions of these apps and have them run on the iPad. It wasn’t a technical problem, it was a design problem. There were, internally to Apple (of course), versions of these apps (or at least some of them) with upscaled iPad-sized graphics, but otherwise the same UI and layout as the iPhone versions. Ends up that just blowing up iPhone apps to fill the iPad screen looks and feels weird, even if you use higher-resolution graphics so that nothing looks pixelated. So they were scrapped by you-know-who.

Think this is just an Apple problem?  No, it’s a mobile device problem!

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Testing the Limits with Google’s Patrick Copeland – Part II

In Part II of our interview with Google’s Patrick Copeland, we discuss the challenges of managing a global engineering team; rewarding developers with food pellets; the difference between a good tester and a great tester; and why some companies will never launch a high-quality app. By the way, did you miss Part I of our interview?

uTest: What are some of the challenges that come with managing teams in dozen (or more) countries, as you’re currently doing? How difficult is it to maintain control over the people, processes and products? And when do you sleep?

PC: “Maintaining control over people” <smiling and laughing like Dr. Evil>.

But that’s not how it works at Google. The truth is…our team structure is atypical in the industry. For one, we are a flat company with many Nooglers being a few steps below senior executives. The expectation is that people and teams are semi-autonomous. In this model it’s impractical for managers to be controllers. And regardless, I’d rather set up teams that are made of great people who can run their areas themselves. My focus is on helping teams to be effective. Managers at Google are generally judged on their ability to enable smart people to get things done. Many have 15 or more direct reports, introducing some chaos and reducing the time available to micromanage.

One way we get everyone moving in a similar direction is to use OKRs, it came to Google thanks to board member John Doerr back in 2000. John stressed the importance of setting overall company Objectives and Key Results that would help develop departmental objectives; in turn, individual OKRs for every employee would support achievement of team and company wide goals. In Q1 of 2000, we rolled out our first company-wide OKRs, which included “8 million searches/day” and “Select CEO.” We’ve come a long way since then.

uTest: A lot’s been made of the unique and friendly work environment Google offers its employees. Does this also apply to your engineers? Or are they handcuffed to their desks and given food pellets for every line of code written (like we do at uTest)? Seriously though, how does an open atmosphere lend itself to better software?

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Testing the Limits with Google’s Patrick Copeland – Part I

In this month’s Testing the Limits interview, we’ll put Patrick Copeland on the hot seat. Patrick is the Senior Engineering Director for a promising young upstart named Google (we’re not familiar with them ourselves, but we’ve heard good things) where he oversees a global team of about 800 engineers. But this isn’t his first rodeo –  prior to Google, Patrick spent a decade at Microsoft, where he specialized in all things related to software engineering.

So what do you ask someone who’s probably forgotten more about software than we’ll ever know? Well, in this installment, we’re going to get his views on catering to a global base of users; his criteria for evaluating testers based on their “tester DNA”; the recent addition of our good friend James Whittaker; the challenges of launching new products like the Nexus One, as well as other tidbits from inside the GooglePlex. Stay tuned for Parts II and III in the days ahead.

uTest: What are some of the challenges that come with having a global base of customers and users? Are certain products noticeably more popular in some areas rather than others? And how does this affect your future planning?

PC: Yes, of course some products and features do better than others. Our approach is to do lots of experimentation and to release and iterate. We push bits to customers early and often, and then we listen and watch usage. Customers help us by “voting with their feet.” Popular features and products are improved, and poorly performing products are deprecated. With a big focus on innovation, we also need to “fail fast” and customer feedback helps us make those decisions.

Not surprising, our global customers have different demands of our products. We want products to “feel local” and we need to support features that may be unique to specific markets. For instance, in Indic based languages using a standard keyboard is difficult, so we develop strategies like virtual keyboards or category browsing for search. As we specialize our products for certain markets, it introduces more challenges for testing (eg. requiring special cultural knowledge). When we can’t find internal talent, community-based testing is an interesting solution to this challenge.

We base staffing and planning decisions on several criteria:

  • Strategic: Maybe a new feature, but in a market with existing competition (like Android).
  • Financial: Obviously Ads and Search, but we have several emerging businesses that are also getting important.
  • Customer usage: For example, popular high-traffic applications like GMail.
  • Legal or Compliance: Certain areas need to be prioritized high for legal reasons. For example, SOX compliance for CheckOut.
  • Ability to Impact: We look at our capability and decide if investing testers in an area would have a significant impact.

uTest: A few years back, you were the keynote speaker at GTAC, where you said something to the effect that “the longer I’ve been in the business, the less I know about it.” How important is it for testers and developers (and those who manage them) to maintain this student-for-life mindset?

PC: Very. When I hire people I look for folks with a “testing DNA.” These are people who are great computer scientists at their core, but also are very curious, love software, and are passionate about test engineering. People who have those characteristics tend to pursue challenges and continue to learn.

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One App Fits All — Future or Fantasy?

Over in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, 24 of the world’s leading wireless carriers and mobile OEMs announced their plans to create the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) — a unified platform which developers can use to build a mobile app once and have it run seamlessly on any handset, OS or carrier.  Among the impressive roster of backers are mobile heavyweights like AT&T, Verizon, Orange, LG and Sony.  Sounds like a utopia for mobile developers, right?  It could be… if it works.

There are more than a few skeptics, including Jason Kincaid (@jasonkincaid) over at TechCrunch.  As Kincaid states (with a bit of help from Google’s Andy Rubin):

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is. Andy Rubin, Google VP of Engineering (and the man in charge of Android) has already shared his skepticism, saying, “There is always a dream that you could write [a program] once and [have it] run anywhere and history has proven that that dream has not been fully realised and I am sceptical that it ever will be“. To put it another way, this is a pipe dream from carriers looking to loosen Apple’s stranglehold over mobile applications and there’s very little chance that it’s going to work.

The reasons Kincaid thinks the WAC won’t work out include:

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Are You Updating IE Today? You Should!

Around 1:00 PM EST today, Microsoft will release an emergency patch for all versions of Internet Explorer.  They’re issuing the patch today instead of on their usual timeline because of the recent security issues involving Google.  It seems that hackers were able to target a previously unknown bug in IE as part of their attack against several accounts with Google.  ZDNet quotes a spokesman from Microsoft saying:

(W)e will be releasing MS10-002  (on) January 21, 2010. We are planning to release the update as close to 10:00 a.m. PST as possible. This is a standard cumulative update, accelerated from our regularly scheduled February release, for Internet Explorer with an aggregate severity rating of Critical. It addresses the vulnerability related to recent attacks against Google and a small subset of corporations, as well as several other vulnerabilities. Once applied, customers are protected against the known attacks that have been widely publicized. We recommend that customers install the update as soon as it is available. For customers using automatic updates, this update will automatically be applied once it is released.”

If you run Internet Explorer (and statistics say that 62% of you do) run Microsoft Update a little after 10:00 AM PST and make sure you grab this update.  And if you run an IT department, you should consider deploying the patch to your users as soon as you can.

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