Testing the Limits With Rex Black – Part II

In part II of our Testing the Limits interview with Rex Black, we get his thoughts on the supply and demand of tester skill sets; the benefits of risk-based testing; QA around the world; the greatest tech movie of all-time; his “real” name and more. Enjoy! If you missed the first part of our discussion, you can find it here.

uTest: In one of your recent blog posts, you mentioned that in the future, testing managers will have to learn to deal with the “skills shortages” cause by a glut of entry level testers, especially in developing regions. What’s the best way software companies can prepare themselves for this sort of environment now?

RB: Actually, in that posting I talked about both skills shortages and skills gluts.  The skills glut comes from the tremendous number of people, with lots of enthusiasm but no experience, entering testing.  The skills shortage comes from the lack of sufficient, seasoned people to mentor, manage, and lead this cadre of entry-level folks, so the shortages are at the upper echelons.

I recommend two paths of action. One, be sure that, no matter what the source of entry-level testing resources, there are minimum qualifications for temporary testers and a career path for the testers an organization will keep. That includes training and certification, but it also includes good work assignments and mentoring. Second, since in many cases the problem will be exacerbated by outsourcing and distribution—with senior people in one place and entry-level people in another location—make sure to have effective ways of dealing with distributed projects and testing work (for example, see this excerpt from Managing the Testing Process, 3e.

uTest: True or false: The narrowing gap between hardware and software is a problem for IT, not QA.

RB: I’d say false.  Anything that challenges IT tends to challenge QA—and by this I mean all forms of QA, not just testing.

uTest: Software companies are up to their necks in data. What advice do you have for them as to the best way to prioritize?

RB: In terms of prioritization in general, I’m a huge fan of risk based testing as a way of selecting the smartest set of test cases and test data from the huge sea of cases and data we could use. We’ve seen many of our clients succeed in using risk based testing to solve this and many of the other selection and prioritization challenges of testing.

However, we’ve also seen people have trouble translating risk based testing as a strategy into the specific tasks and tactics that put the strategy into action and deliver its benefits. That’s been a real focus for our consulting work over the last couple years. To help our clients and the testing community as a whole, in addition to our range of consulting services in this area, we’ve posted a series of short videos on risk based testing on our Digital Library.

Another particular, ongoing challenge with test data, especially as outsourcing and distribution of testing proceed and even accelerate, is the use of production data for testing.  The challenge is not only the volume, but also the issue of privacy of the data. Data anonymization tools have yet to catch up with the problem, especially given the complex, inter-related, but disparate data stores common in many real-world environments.

uTest: You are a frequent speaker on the “software testing circuit.” Where have your travels taken you lately, what have you been discussing, and where can our readers find you next?

RB: In the last twelve months, I’ve been in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Poland, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the UK, and various spots around the United States. I’ve been doing a lot of consulting on risk based testing, as I mentioned above. We’ve also introduced our new Advanced Technical Test Analyst course around the world, and that’s proving hugely successful. I’ve done the usual keynoting and conference speaking, though not in the US this year, which is a shame. If your US readers—or people anywhere around the world—would like to see me (or see more of me), contact conference organizers and tell them to invite me.

What I’ve been talking about conferences includes quite a range of testing and test management topics.  Risk based testing figures big in my consulting, training, and speaking lately. So does an increasing focus on technical aspects of test engineering, brought on, I expect, by the greater technical skills required of testers on agile projects. Testing return on investment is a major topic, as is defining testing and quality metrics in general. Lots of work on metrics lately.

uTest: On a similar note, what have your travels taught you about the state of testing in other countries? Are some countries more ahead of the curve than others?

RB: I did a video blog post on this topic, too. I’m interested in hearing from people about this. We certainly can talk about the overall level of skills and experience, including in testing, differing in different regions, as I discussed in my webinar on the future of test management. However, I’m not convinced we can generalize that to say that testing is more mature in some regions than in others. My mind remains open on this fact, especially since I’ve observed people in regions denigrating the state of testing in their own region, when my work in those regions tells me that they are in better shape than they think.

uTest: Aside from the uTest blog, what other sites websites and publications do you read to stay on top of the latest testing trends?

RB: Actually, I probably spend as much time reading about the business of IT as I do the testing of IT. It goes back to something I mentioned earlier, the need to understand the stakeholders, their objectives for quality and testing, how to relate to them, and how to effectively serve them. I’d encourage testers to spend at least half of their reading time (online and paper) on topics relevant to technology, the use of technology in their business, and their business itself.

uTest: What does Rex Black do when he’s not immersed in the testing universe?

RB: Other than spending way too much time at airports, in hotels, and on airplanes? I spend time with my wife Laurel, my daughters Emma and Charlotte, and my dogs Cosmo and Hank. I train for marathons and triathlons. I read lots of books. I watch movies. I keep up with current events.

uTest:“Rex Black” is way too cool a name to be real… so what’s the story here – witness protection, stage name, outlaw, or other?

RB: I hate to disappoint, but I came by the name honestly, given at birth, named after my father.  So, Rex Black I am; accept no imitations.

uTest: It’s Rapid fire question time:

  • Last book read: A novel, given to me by a Turkish colleague, called The Forty Rules of Love, about the Sufi cleric Rumi, by Turkish author Elif Shafak.
  • Favorite tech movie: Tough question. Minority Report and Blade Runner are classic and thrilling dystopics, but us techies will have given mankind a dark future if it turns out like Philipp K. Dick imagined it.
  • Mobile device: An iphone.
  • Have you bought a tablet yet? Nope.
  • Mac or PC: Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 running Windows XP.  It’s indestructible.
  • Leno or Letterman: Neither; since I don’t watch commercial TV, I have more time to write books and articles.
  • Back-up career: Some tell me that, after running the ISTQB for the term-limited maximum of four years, I am qualified to be Secretary General of the United Nations, but I’ll stick with running RBCS.

Editor’s note: And there you have it. We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest installment of Testing the Limits. The start-studded lineup continues next month with…..well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

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