Testing the Limits with James Whittaker – Part II

In the second part of our Testing the Limits interview with James Whittaker, we tackle Google vs. Microsoft; dogs vs. cats; why SCRUM is just a name; his advice for college graduates; bad habits of exploratory testing and more. If you missed Part I, you can find it here.

If you want to read more of James’ work, bookmarking the Google Testing Blog would be a good place to start. You can also read his 2009 book Exploratory Software Testing or check out some of his uTest eBooks and webinars.

uTest: The Microsoft vs. Google battle continues to play out very publicly in the media. Just last week, Computerworld wrote this story: “Microsoft: No Matter What Google Says, Windows Is Secure.” Having been at both companies, we think you have a unique perspective on this one. Any thoughts?

JW: Let me say right away that I enjoyed my time at Microsoft and admire the company and the smart people who work there. As a resident of Seattle, it is in my best interest for Microsoft to prosper! But the two companies are vastly different regarding the way their talent is managed and their products are built. Google is an engineering-centric company where innovation comes from individuals who are empowered to do whatever they need to get ideas into production. Much has been made of Google’s game-theory approach to managing people where rewards are given quickly for impactful behavior. It works. Morale is high and people work very hard and take quality very seriously.

Does this mean we produce more secure or more reliable products? We try hard to do so; Microsoft tries equally hard. I think we have the advantage of less legacy and a more modern and reliable platform (the Web as opposed to client operating systems) to work from. But the secret sauce at both companies is the same: hard work and due diligence.

uTest: You shared with us (as the pioneer of Testing the Limits posts) that your first assignment at Google was “To raise the level of testing precision and diligence.” So, how did it go?

JW: It didn’t take long. Google was mostly already there so I can’t really take credit for it. Now I am busy raising the bar further.

uTest: Top tester Glory Leung is curious: What are your views on SCRUM testing in general? Are people doing it properly? What is the ideal situation?

JW: Scrum is just a name. I don’t like names, they feel too confining and people have their own ideas of what they mean. I took a lot of flak for using the name ‘exploratory testing’ for my book. People love to confine you to how they view a specific named idea or technique. Flexibility is required.

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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.

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.

Testing the Limits with Lanette Creamer – Part III

In the third and final installment of our Testing the Limits interview with Lanette Creamer, we cover the Seattle testing scene; why more women don’t enter the profession; mobile testing challenges; test automation; her favorite Nicholas Cage movie and more. In case you missed them, here’s part I and part II.

uTest: The Seattle area has spawned an inordinate number of top testers (Whittaker, Bach, Bach, Creamer, et al) – what’s the deal with that?  Is there something in the water or is just a result of the Microsoft ecosystem being nearby?
LC: If there was no James Bach there would be no interview with a crazy redheaded tester named Creamer, because I would have no testing blog. If James Bach wasn’t in Seattle, I may not have had the chance to see him speak so often. Cast 2007 was in Bellevue, WA, maybe partially because that is close to Microsoft, so I guess in a roundabout way, it could be the Microsoft ecosystem being nearby that made Bellevue the location for Cast at the right time.

I prefer to think of it as something special about Seattle that fosters a unique perspective and resilience. Maybe it’s all of the cloudy weather. The grunge movement started in Seattle, and much like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, there are some innovative contrarians who aren’t afraid to blaze new trails coming out of Seattle to this day – and flannel is in style again.

uTest: Numbers-wise, the software testing profession is clearly dominated by dudes. Why do you think that is? How do we change this trend? Does it matter, or is this topic completely overblown?
LC: When all of the women who have the talent, skills, and desire to be testing are appreciated for the value they offer, and the field is still dominated by dudes, then great! It is about having the opportunity, not about enforcing some gender ratio. Right now things are not equal and fair for female testers and I’d like to see that change in my lifetime. I don’t think male testers are the problem at all. After a few curious looks, once we start actually testing or talking about it, in my experience, most testers are supportive and eager to help each other learn regardless of gender. The problem is higher up in the companies where the value testers bring isn’t well understood and diversity isn’t valued for men or women. The top reason we should care about diversity in our testing teams is because the demographic of a computer user is more diverse than ever before.

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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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5 Reasons Flash Is Here to Stay

Apple’s recent changes to their developer agreement have unleashed a torrent of anger, hate, and divisiveness on the Internet (which, to my knowledge, has never happened before).  To summarize, Apple announced that the only languages that can be used to develop applications for the iPhone are Javascript, C, C++, and Objective C.  This change was seen as a slap in the face to Adobe who was developing a Flash-to-iPhone app converter that would have made it easy to migrate a Flash application to the iPhone.

Through all of this bitterness, many have argued that Flash is ready for the deadpool – some even cheering its demise.  I disagree.  Actually, I believe just the opposite is true.  Here are 5 reasons why Flash won’t be going away anytime soon.

1. HTML5 is still very immature.
HTML5 is everyone’s favorite choice as a Flash replacement. Read the comments sections on just about any blog or article about this topic, and HTML5 is often hailed as the greatest thing to happen to computing since Apple “invented” the mouse (with Xerox’s help).  The problem with HTML5 is that it’s still an immature and unfinished platform.  While it’s supported by the very latest versions of Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, it’s not yet fully supported in Internet Explorer (although IE9 will bring support eventually). If most of the browsers on the web don’t yet support HTML5, it’s not a fully supported standard.

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Five Things Microsoft Bob Got Right – Fifteen Years Later

Fifteen years ago, Microsoft introduced one of their most perplexing products – Microsoft Bob.  Today Bob is known mostly as a product failure, but in 1995 it was hailed as the future of PC user interface design.  Released a few months before Windows 95 (which really was the future of PC user interface design), Bob was an audacious alternate interface built for Windows 3.1 that visualized programs on a computer as things found inside a home.

While Bob now looks like a bizarre alternate reality for UI design, in 1995 Microsoft designed Bob to help novice computer users better understand how to use their computer.  Perhaps the best known elements from Bob were the ever-present cartoon character “guides.”  Bob’s interface was primarily wizard driven, and the cartoon guides made the wizard process friendly and inviting. Check out this Youtube video to see a typical Bob session from a user point of view.

Bob flopped not long after it was launched for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was quickly overshadowed by Windows 95.  But Microsoft persevered and kept around the idea of animated guides.  We still celebrate Bob’s offspring: Clippy from Microsoft Office and Rover from Windows XP.  Oh wait, I mean the opposite of celebrate…denigrate.  Yeah, Bob’s memory is now pretty tarnished, but I think that’s short-sighted.

Today I come to truly celebrate Bob.  Keep reading for five things Microsoft Bob got right.

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IE6 — The Zombie Browser That Can’t Be Killed

Developers have long awaited the death of Internet Explorer 6; web heavyweight like Google, Facebook, Reddit, Justin.tv and Digg have all announced the expiration date for their support of IE6; Microsoft has been steering users away from IE6 for more than a year.  And last week, a funeral was held for the outdated browser which was two parts wake and one part wish.  Even Microsoft joined in the fun, sending a card to the festivities services.

So what will it take to kill the undead browser once and for all?  Well, it’s worth noting — and shocking — that IE6 still drives nearly 20 percent of all web access from beyond the grave.

How is this possible?  What outdated luddite segment of web users is still stuck in 2001?  Well, the prime culprit is large enterprises like Intel who bemoan the cost and complexity of upgrading thousands of employees and legacy apps that were built specifically for IE6.  So while the web citizenry has moved on and is ready to pull the plug, developers (and testers), IE6 will continue to be part of the web app testing matrix for much longer than any of us would like to believe.

Just to further illustrate the insanity of IE6’s continued survival, here are a few other things that were going on in 2001:

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Old Bug Up To New Tricks

SCMagazine reported this week that researchers in Malta have discovered a decade-old vulnerability, present in all versions of Windows since 2000.  This bug can cause PCs to crash instantaneously and without warning, as well as reeling the compromised machine into a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.  This exploit is only dangerous if the user is duped into running an app with the malicious code (according to Paul Gafa, CTO of 2X Software).


The bug was discovered while Gafa was writing a software testing app:

“You can be the least privileged user on the system and still crash it,” Gafa said. “I believe it is very easy for Microsoft to sort it out. They just need to validate arguments passed to Windows APIs.” (source: SC Magazine)

Microsoft is currently aware of the defect and responded with this insight:

“Our initial assessment of the report is that malicious code would have to already be running or a user would have to be able to run a specially crafted application to cause the system to crash. In either case, the system has already been compromised or the user has rights to logon to the system.”

I’m curious to hear if anyone has other stories of old bugs causing new problems or vulnerabilities?