It’s the last day down here at STPCon 2012, but the show is far from over. Rather than posting another live blog (as we did on Tuesday and Wednesday) we’re happy to share our latest Testing the Limits interview with Karen N. Johnson, who is on stage as I write this discussing the Discipline Aspect of Testing. Karen is an independent software test consultant and a frequent speaker at conferences. Karen is a contributing author to the book, Beautiful Testing released by O’Reilly publishers. She is also the co-founder of the WREST workshop and has published numerous articles and blogs about her experiences with software testing. To learn more about Karen, check out her site or follow her on Twitter.
In this interview, we get Karen’s thoughts on mobile app testing; the latest testing trends; data warehousing and other topics. Enjoy!
uTest: You’ve been in the testing/QA industry for awhile now, but you’ve recently become very well-known as a mobile testing expert. First off, how did you get interested in mobile testing and what do you like most about working in the space?
KNJ: Mobile testing captured my interest nearly three years ago. One reason was having a client with a need and a request for my help, and the second reason was that the mobile environment was the biggest technology change I’d experienced in awhile. It is not mobile per se that captured my interest but the change, the chance to work on something new and to solve new problems. Being in the mobile space early on coupled with the fact that I am a writer, public speaker, and teach software testing including mobile testing, I quickly became seen as a mobile testing expert.
But I test in other areas and technologies as well. I’ve been in testing a long time. I’ve seen technologies come and go over the years. Currently, I don’t only work on mobile projects and I wouldn’t want to be exclusively focused on mobile. It’s the variety that I’ve most enjoyed in my career, so expect to see me continually change and evolve. For example, I’m also interested in data warehouse projects and working with remote testers and distributed Agile teams.
uTest: As a testing consultant, what is the number one mobile testing challenge you are asked to help your clients with?
KNJ: The top questions I hear are: What devices should we test with? How do we acquire those devices? Can we use and trust emulators?
Those are the most common questions. Those are challenging questions to resolve. One solution that I recommend is – know your usage statistics. Planning based on statistics is a pragmatic way to pick and choose device coverage. That suggestion might sound improbable – since not all companies have usage information yet, so my advice if you don’t have usage information yet is to follow the general market trends and plan coverage based on the market as a whole, then fine-tune your coverage based on usage information as soon as you have that information. The mobile market shifts but product usage doesn’t usually shift as rapidly and by focusing on what your specific users are actually using you can narrow down the testing needs for operating systems, devices and/or mobile browsers.
uTest: In your experience, what type of mobile testing is given the least amount of attention and why? Functionality? Usability? Security? Or something else?
KNJ: Functional mobile testing doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We should never lose sight of what solution a product provides and our need to test from that perspective. I think because there are so many devices, operating systems and a large array of configurations to test, we seem particularly eager to automate mobile testing but if you don’t know what you need to test manually, you’re not ready to build automation.
What’s interesting about mobile and usability is that for the past decade, we’ve learned about web testing and have stabilized and matured the web market and now mobile comes along and introduces another market to figure out. What’s usable and makes sense on a desktop is not the same as what’s usable on mobile. Usability needs to be reconsidered and as testers, we have an opportunity to find not just functional issues and defects but to highlight usability concerns.
And you are correct about security. I suspect as our usage and experience with mobile matures, we’ll become more security-focused. Right now, I think the market and development and testing is more focused on figuring out some of the more basic aspects of mobile product solutions.
uTest: You’ve said that anything written in print about mobile testing is probably already out of date. That said, how do you stay current on the latest mobile testing trends?
KNJ: Twitter, watch who I follow; it’s how I keep up on mobile news. The mobile space has been, is and will continue to change at a rapid pace. I predict within the next year to two years we will continue to experience chaos, a sense of not knowing how or what to test, an immature test tool market but within 3-5 years the mobile testing space will be sorted out.
uTest: You spoke at QUEST on the subject of testing for data warehousing clients. For those who couldn’t attend, could you explain why this is such a unique testing challenge?
KNJ: Data warehouses are a unique challenge because pretty much all of the testing is non-visual; there is no GUI to test. So any tester used to having a visual app such as a website to test, doesn’t have a visual front-end to approach. You have to be able to think through testing about non-visual factors like stored procedures, triggers, permissions and views to data and that makes the testing possibly more cerebral, less obvious, and less visual. It’s fun, it’s testing that pulls harder on me to think through and find issues. I like that challenge. I find some testers are just not that interested in that type of testing and it occurs to me that not all testers, not all people are interested in having so much variety in their work. Some testers might find a particular area – say a vertical market like financial applications or medical devices or a technology – say mobile and focus in that one area and certainly there could be enough variety and work in that one direction but I’ve pursued more variety. So I have personally tested software in these different areas: manufacturing software, banking applications, contact management, e-commerce, medical devices, mobile, data warehousing, web services, ERP and more – that’s an amazing variety.
uTest: What’s next for Karen Johnson? Care to give our readers a heads up on where you’ll be speaking and what the topic(s) might be?
KNJ: Thanks for asking; I have several topics that are of keen interest. In terms of specific testing challenges: mobile, data warehouses, and testing on Agile teams. In terms of more general testing thinking: heuristics, exploratory testing, and creativity. But I remain interested in fundamentals such as data analysis, reporting our findings, data visualization, SQL, and several topics around data.
I’ll be at StarWest teaching my new class Brainstorming for Testers and also a half-day refresher class on SQL. I’m also presenting a track session on Testing in a Data Warehouse.
It’s been a busy conference year. If you look at all the topics I’m speaking on heuristics, creativity, discipline, job titles, SQL in addition to mobile and data warehousing you’ll notice that some topics are technology-focused but some topics are more fundamentals. It’s the mix of topics and continual exposure to new ground to learn that keeps software testing a fascinating career for me.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Karen for the interview and thanks to you for reading and sharing via social media. Until next time!