Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interviews of Thought Leaders - Freddy Gustavsson

Having started his career as a software developer, my dear friend and a key member of the Software Testing Space group, Freddy Gustavsson made the leap into testing in 2001 after realizing that a carefully designed test approach will greatly increase the chance of success in any software project. He is interested in all parts of the test process, and has experience from several international projects. He works as a consultant for System Verification in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he specializes in test strategy, test design, test automation, test process improvement and test education. Freddy is an ISEB/ISTQB certified test analyst who also teaches courses on software testing and serves as a member of the internal Senior Advisory Board.

Here is the interview. Enjoy and learn.

[Inder] Did you start your career with software testing or have you held other software roles as well?
[Freddy] I actually made somewhat of a detour to reach my current position in software testing. At first I had no intention at all to work in the IT industry. Instead, I wanted to pursue a career as a teacher of languages at college level. So I studied German linguistics for two years at the university and prepared for some advanced English studies. However, my passion for web development grew stronger, and I decided to make a shift. In 1999 I started working as a web developer for one of Germany's e-business providers. There I learned tons of good stuff about development, projects, team work and testing. In 2001 I joined the QA team and became a tester. Later, I've finished a 3 year university education and a B.Sc. in Software Engineering because I wanted to understand my profession truly. I've also taken complementary courses in project management, usability, accessibility etc. Additionally, I spent one year teaching programming courses at university level, which was useful.

[Inder] Not all people appreciate software testing as a highly intellectual work; they feel that it is quite easy to test. Can you talk about few technical challenges that you have faced in your career?
[Freddy] It's a known fact that some employers will view testing as an entry point to development. It's as if they told their candidates: "We're sorry, but you're not qualified to play with the developers yet. But let's move you into testing. If you work hard and prove yourself worthy, then some day you might actually be allowed to work in development." Even worse is the situation where employees, who were rejected by other disciplines, are brought into testing, because managers feel that they "do least harm" there. This approach is just so wrong.
Testing is by no means a trivial task. Anyone who has worked as a professional tester knows this. However, not all people coming from other disciplines will understand testing well enough to realize its challenges. They might think of testing as "happy testing" or "randomly clicking around", not realizing that testing requires a controlled process. The presence of structure is vital to our job. At the core of the tester's job is the comparison of actual and expected results. However, this is surrounded by numerous items such as plans, strategies, procedures, methods and tools. Designing and implementing all of this in an effective and efficient way requires excellent business, technical, administrative and social skills.
Common technical challenges include quickly learning new applications and tools, understanding the environment in which each tool operates. Sometimes you also need to learn new protocols, scripting languages, or get an understanding of complex system architectures. This is part of the tester's job. Being curious and eager to learn new things is definitely helpful.

[Inder] Looking back at your software testing career, what have been some of the highlights?
[Freddy] The first highlight would be the recognition of testing as a profession. The second would be the insight that some of my carefully crafted test cases were actually detecting failures. The developers would lovingly refer to me as The Merciless Tester. Their indignation over each found problem would not last long. Instead they asked me to do more testing on their code. Although I have occasionally, and unintentionally, upset a few people through my work, in most cases the work with other disciplines has been both interesting and rewarding. The third highlight would be the move into consulting and a focus on test strategy, which might be the best job ever. Number four is the mentoring and educative role where I get to spread the word and (hopefully) make other people interested in learning more about our craft. Highlight number five would doubtless be this interview. ;-)

[Inder] Do you find testing enjoyable? How can software testing professionals derive more satisfaction from their craft?
[Freddy] Yes. Just like for other professionals there are a number of things that motivate me to do a great job. The most important is probably the feeling of making a valuable contribution to the client. Sometimes also to the community. For instance, a few years ago I was on the system test team for the national Swedish command and control system. The system was built for operation in emergency situations where ambulance, police or fire brigades might be needed. Any failures in the software might possibly have catastrophic (life or death) consequences. In that case every defect found and removed would benefit the whole community. As a tester you knew your work made a difference.
Having a good, respectful working relationship with coworkers and managers also makes it to the top of my list. Another important thing is the possibility to control your job, to be able to suggest ideas and improvements.

[Inder] What are some good resources for people wanting to enter software testing or establish them in this career? What activities can one do in their spare time to enhance their testing skills?
[Freddy] I want to refer to a good seminar on this topic, which I attended at the EuroSTAR 2010 conference in Copenhagen. Markus Gärtner from Germany gave a presentation on alternative paths for self-education in software testing. A number of options were presented:
  • Using social media (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, web sites, forums)
  • Learning to program (e.g. scripting languages, design patterns)
  • Reading books on testing
  • Joining online testing courses
  • Participating in testing challenges
  • Participating in organized problem solving activities like testing dojos, weekend testing or the Miagi-Do school of testing.

[Inder] What are your future career plans?
[Freddy] I look forward to an exciting future in which software testing will undoubtedly play an important role. Personally, while keeping an eye at the entire field of testing, I plan to specialize further into the areas that interest me most: test strategies, test process improvement and test design methodologies. I also plan to extend my teaching assignments in the future, since lecturing is a great way to spread the knowledge about testing while learning a lot myself. As they say: you learn as long as you teach.

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