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Testing in New Zealand the 'number-8 fencing wire' approach.
New Zealand’s test industry reflects the culture of the country. It is a country with a land area (268,021 km2) one tenth bigger than the United Kingdom, but it only has 4.4 million inhabitants, with another estimated half a million Kiwis abroad; imagine the UK with the population of Yorkshire.
The world knows all about the mighty All Blacks, the huge agriculture industry and the beautiful landscape where Lord of the Rings was filmed. Last year rugby fans watched the Rugby World Cup as it unfolded in New Zealand but they also saw on their TVs the devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes.
This is a part of what the world sees and knows about New Zealand and New Zealanders, but what type of people make up the New Zealand test industry and what influences the test profession of this pair of small islands in the south Pacific? We interviewed three test professionals, who shared their personal views on the influencing factors behind the testing industry in New Zealand.
People, programming, testing
Clare McLennan is an independent test automation consultant and a native New Zealander. She describes herself: “People, programming, testing – it all interests me. What I basically do is work with teams, listen to what their testing headaches are and help them develop their own process that means they can reliably release quality software on a regular basis.”
Clare McLennan: She describes herself: “People, programming, testing – it all interests me. What I basically do is work with teams, listen to what their testing headaches are and help them develop their own process that means they can reliably release quality software on a regular basis.”
Ian Ross is the principal consultant for the Software Quality Practice at Clarus and is on the board of the ANZTB (Australian and New Zealand Testing Board), he is also a native New Zealander. He describes himself as, “Geeky – that is to say technical – agile, with strong test analysis leanings, motivated by the big picture (that is often bigger than the product). I love the ability to dive into the detail and I’m generally context driven.”
Ian Wells is a test manager for the GIS Data Collection Division of Trimble Navigation and immigrated to New Zealand five and half years ago from Boston (United States). He originally comes from Canada. “I have a passion for testing high tech systems,” he says, “for improving how we test and perhaps paradoxically, developing processes that can reduce the need for testing. I am motivated by the desire to make products that delight customers.”
New Zealand culture – outward looking
New Zealand is a melting pot of different ethnicities: Maori, European, Polynesian, South African, East Asian and others. They have all originally come from somewhere, so as a nation New Zealanders tends to be outward looking. This can clearly be seen in what is known as the New Zealanders’ OE (overseas experience).
Young people often leave New Zealand to explore the world, usually after graduating from university in their early to mid twenties and with some industry work experience behind them. Currently over ten percent of Kiwis are aboard. Most return home over time, bringing with them a range of work and personal overseas experience, and in the process they are redefining the culture of New Zealand.
In 2005 Clare McLennan embarked on her three year OE before returning to New Zealand. During this time, she white-water kayaked (grade 4/5), mountaineered and rock climbed in many different countries. “Some of the biggest professional growth I experienced came from learning to analyse risk better through doing so much outdoor stuff. The outdoors is a particularly challenging place to learn about risk, because whenever you are staring at a hard rapid and deciding whether you’re going to paddle it, you are facing a potentially life and death decision,” she says.
“A tester’s job is to reduce the risk of the software doing something bad in the hands of the customer. Since exhaustive testing is impossible we need to be continually thinking about how likely is it that something will go wrong and any consequences. Assessing such risks accurately is something as people we aren’t naturally very good at, so I would definitely recommend aspiring test professionals work on getting better at it.”
Travelling overseas not only impacted Clare with the consequences of risk, but also highlighted her own cultural self-awareness. “Going to Sweden, learning Swedish and being the ‘dumb foreigner who couldn’t understand’ was a really interesting experience. It has certainly helped me understand the challenges non-native English speakers face. But perhaps my most eye-opening cultural experience was some volunteer work I did in Nepal on a Nepali-Swedish project. As an outsider to both cultures I found it fascinating to observe how easily miscommunication can occur between peoples from different cultures.”
While Ian Ross has not lived overseas, he draws on experiences and material outside the testing industry, particularly with his involvement with Search and Rescue. He draws on “concepts and ideas from operations research, systems modelling, games theory and AI. I think we, as professionals, should be looking outside of our own little patch,” he argues. “Perhaps that’s a New Zealand take on things, we are used to being a small country, used to looking overseas, looking out and bringing ideas in. I think, as a profession testing is still young, we need to be looking at other professions and other ways of problem solving. With my test teams I bring a lot of what I do with the search and rescue teams into what I do in testing. For example if we are talking about exploratory testing, I bring concepts regarding breaking down and searching a problem space like those we would use to search a large park. I like bringing those other things into the profession.”
The modern technological advances for communication and travelling have allowed Ian Wells access to the global test community. “New Zealand is more tightly connected to the rest of the world than its geographic distance may suggest. Increasing ease of communication is a trend that will continue to make it easier to live in such a beautiful country and still be tightly connected to businesses anywhere else in the world,” he says. “That being said, personal contacts and face-to-face meetings are critical to professional development and keeping up with accelerating technological change. Events are important to get to, like testing conferences; from New Zealand, one just has to travel further, making a bigger point to do trips to the US or to Europe, to meet more people doing testing face-to-face.”
New Zealand’s testing culture is varied. Ian Ross comments on it as being “diverse, ranging from, the person who knows the application very well or you are the person who has complained the most, so congratulations you are the ‘company tester’. The range extends from there right through to people who are passionate, about the creation of good software and improving the creation of software and culture, of not just testing but development teams in companies. A lot of testers I run into in New Zealand are people who have tended to come to testing through other means, and it is only now becoming an established industry, that people are starting to go, ‘I want to be a software tester’.
Ian Ross: He describes himself as, “Geeky – that is to say technical – agile, with strong test analysis leanings, motivated by the big picture (that is often bigger than the product). I love the ability to dive into the detail and I’m generally context driven.”
“In some places in New Zealand I think there is definitely a testing culture,” adds Ross, “for example in Wellington, where you have a pool of contractors that move around. These people get exposed to a lot of different companies and because they take this with them, companies all start to become similar. A lot of Wellington work is for the government, so naturally there is a bias to becoming similar anyway. Christchurch seems to be a little bit more company-focused.”
This means in general Wellington has a state service-oriented test culture, compared to the corporation-oriented test culture in the rest of New Zealand. “As Kiwis,” says Ross, “we don’t mind sharing ideas and thoughts on how to get better at doing stuff, we are used to helping each other out. That does not mean to say we can’t keep industrial secrets, we recognise intellectual property, but there is also a community.”
With New Zealand sitting in Asia Pacific, Ian Wells has this to say about the New Zealand test culture. “It depends more on the organisation than the country. It has more to do with company culture, probably the emphasis on testing by the managers of that company. New Zealand is on the interface, along with Australia, of western cultures and Asian cultures. From my perspective, I see in western business cultures an increasing emphasis on exploratory testing. I see a move towards improving the efficiency of testing, because of the need to balance time to market with increasingly complex product and higher customer quality expectations. This has led to growth in exploratory testing; agile development/testing teams and lean approaches in general. The more conventional “check list” style testing, although important in places, is no longer sufficient to get quality products shipped on time. Good testing requires inquisitiveness, excellent powers of observation, clear communication and the ability to question. These are all attributes of the New Zealand culture and the New Zealand test culture. ”
Home grown – inventors in the shed
The attitude of many New Zealanders is ‘you can turn your hand to anything usually inventing something useful in your Kiwi shed’. Ian Ross says, “I think the number-8 fencing wire metaphor is a little tired these days, but to a degree it is still true; I’ve been in departments where we have bolted solutions together, without spending hundreds of thousands on third party product suites. The final result has been better than if we had purchased a solution.”
The number-8 fencing wire mentality relates to a typical Kiwi being a problem solver, lateral-thinking type, with an ability to invent or fix anything with what’s available in their shed; a farmer would typically use number-8 fencing wire to fix a number of his farming problems. For example one Kiwi farmer has patented a bent piece of the wire, with the purpose of holding up plastic containers to feed animals on the farm.
“Kiwis when compared to places overseas that I have had exposure to seem more accepting of testing,” says Ross. “We are used to mucking in and therefore a tester is not there so much to tell the developer he has got it wrong, but you’re a second pair of hands to make sure you’re doing it right. I think that attitude fits well within the New Zealand culture.”
Clare McLennan has similar views on the testing practice in New Zealand. “We do come up with some interesting new stuff in New Zealand as we like to do things our own way,” she says. “We tend to look to world experts for new practices, but then mould their ideas to our current situation. I see quite a few good ideas developed in NZ but many just stay within the company or city where they were developed. Possibly, we are not so good at pushing our ideas back to the world through blogs or conference presentations etc. However, we do have a few people who are world leaders, like in my area of ATDD (Acceptance Test Driven Development), we have Rick Mugridge. He’s quite an expert and wrote one of the first books about it – ‘Fit for Developing Software’.”
Ian Wells has introduced his own invention for tester’s career paths, by accommodating a person’s testing persona. “There are two kinds of people. There are people that are career testers, who are kind of rare and then there are people who see testing as an avenue into working somewhere else. It is good to recognise these two different kinds and treat their aspirations accordingly and setup career paths that match. I have career testers, but they are the senior testers; and I have those who come in mainly as interns or temporary people. They come in to get industry experience in a whole broad range of products, like testing, development, product management and to see the whole development cycle. They stay there for a shorter period of time.
“I structured my testing groups differently into two levels,” adds Wells. “Master testers love testing, they are good at it and they have domain knowledge. They can anticipate the customers’ needs because they talk to customers regularly. They hold in their heads an amazing amount of knowledge about the technology under test that is not written down. They are career testers and retention of them is key for the organisation’s success. If they had a lot of repetitive work, the same work for every release, they would get tired of it and want to leave. My goal is to keep them concentrated on strategy, planning, talking with customers and organising, as well as hands-on testing. Staff-wise, I complement them with interns, they may or may not become master testers – they may end up being senior people in other roles. They are working in testing for a different reason – they are there to learn first-hand all the basics of the R&D process and to find out what good testing is all about. I have found interns bring fresh ideas and vitality to the testing group, to prevent the testing mindset getting stale.”
Clare McLennan sees the sharing of ideas as helping to develop the test community. “Talking and sharing ideas with others is something that’s important to me, so I attend a lot of local meetings; TPN (Tester Processional Network), APN (Agile Processional Network), and the Canterbury Software Cluster. I talk a lot about what I do (ATDD) as I am very passionate about it. I also write a blog on software quality, regularly add features to FitNesse, and have spoken at conferences, including the Australia New Zealand Testing Board Conference in Auckland in 2011. But I think most of my best ideas come when I collaborate with people in real life, so I am glad there is a strong IT community in Christchurch.”
Developing the test community is also on the minds of both Ian Ross and Ian Wells, with Wells saying, “The majority of impact is directly with people that I work with, in particular the testers working for me, also the people that I am working with, product and project managers. The point is to make sure ideas are promoted that reduce the amount of testing that we have to do by building in quality early on in the product lifecycle.”
The New Zealand testing industry is diversely made up of native New Zealanders and immigrants. Lifestyle seems to be the primary reason test professionals are drawn to New Zealand.
Ian Wells: “I have a passion for testing high tech systems,” he says, “for improving how we test and perhaps paradoxically, developing processes that can reduce the need for testing. I am motivated by the desire to make products that delight customers.”
Ian Wells immigrated to New Zealand five and half years ago. “For a long time we thought about immigrating to New Zealand, for the lifestyle. The time came right with our family and our children for us to make a big move, so we upped and moved and came here. Our whole family is glad we did.”
Extreme outdoor adventurer and tester Clare McLennan has worked with many testers and development teams. “There are definitely quite a few immigrants working here as testers, although you have to ask at what point do they become a Kiwi? I think people mainly come here for the lifestyle, so if they are from Britain maybe they like open spaces, being able to own their own house, being able to get into the mountains and go skiing and also having a short commute. Basically people come here for the lifestyle; if you want to get rich then you probably wouldn’t head here. But there is a much more to life than that!”
Ian Ross echoes this same idea on why immigrants have a desire to come to New Zealand. “Generally I think it is lifestyle. Dollar for dollar you can earn a lot more money overseas. That said the lifestyle that you get in New Zealand, for the dollars you earn stacks up very well. I can finish work and be climbing in the hills, or surfing at the beach an hour later.”
Influence of international experts
Agile software development and is growing in popularity in New Zealand’s software industry. Ian Ross says he is influenced by “almost everything I read and everyone I talk too. It has been an evolving journey, which hopefully is continuing to evolve. Two of the biggest documents to affect me personally, are Agile Manifesto and the ISTQB Glossary. To me Agile makes so much sense and the glossary provides a common set of terms for testers.”
Ian Wells reveals that “because I have seen testing take too long and I have seen bugs discovered after release, I look for better ways to test. Checklists are helpful and management loves the metrics they bring. I look for ways to make testing really reduce the number of problems found by customers and to help make products that delight. For software, I keep abreast of the latest trends in Agile and lean development methodologies, as these seem closest to understanding the nature and complexity of testing software. I network with testers within the Trimble worldwide community. Probably the biggest influence has just been James Bach, a testing consultant and frequent presenter at testing conferences. He has trained my staff in exploratory testing approaches, which has led to a rework, and demonstrable improvement in our test strategies. For exploratory testing to be effective, it is crucial to train managers and the rest of the team in this approach.”
The future of testing in New Zealand
Ian Ross sees New Zealand in the future as a place other countries will outsource too. “New Zealand has been a primary industry-based economy and our IT industry has largely been in a supportive role, but I think times are changing, the world is shrinking. I think that for New Zealand IT outsourcing is an obvious market to focus on. New Zealand is not the cheapest place to outsource to, but we are not the most expensive by a long shot. We offer the ability to develop solutions to hard problems, rather than just providing many ‘cheap’ workers. We have a western business culture and natively speak English. Even the time difference is sometimes an advantage. I think there is a niche here that will be exploited in the years to come. I have already seen small examples; however it has been due to pre-existing relationships as opposed to going out to get work from the international market.”
Ian Wells sees the future where location is immaterial. “In my experience, the best testing is done within a collocated team, where testers have deep technical and domain knowledge and the collocated team follows a self-improving process, such as Agile or lean and testing has the support of upper management. Today, because of the interconnected and distributed nature of technological products, not all testers can be collocated. A clear trend is the improvements in communication and collaboration technologies. I expect that the effectiveness of non-collocated testing teams to improve in the near future which means that testers here in New Zealand will be more and more part of global teams. I would expect that commonality in testing/development cultures will be a greater factor than physical location in future. I also expect that because New Zealand is on the interface between Western and Asian test cultures, that we should expect cross pollination of testing ideas between Asia and the West occurs.”
However Clare McLennan sees the cultural problems of outsourcing testing activities. “I do not believe in splitting testing and development to different locations for projects which will be maintained over a long time period. It is much more effective if developers have a stake in making the system more testable, how the code is written makes a huge difference to how easily tests can be automated. If you are paying someone to do the testing, they can’t easily ask you to write a code hook to allow them to test such and such. And even if they tried, the company-to-company cultural gap means you probably wouldn’t understand what they wanted!”
And finally all three have emphasised that the testing profession is still very young, with Ian Wells’ analogy of the education of testers. “Testers today are challenged by finding possible faults in complex systems. These systems will get increasingly complex. I fully expect that testers will require more training in future to test complex information systems. When I think about other professionals who diagnose and probe complex systems, I think of doctors. Testers are doing the same kind of thing as a doctor; you have some symptoms of dysfunction in a very complicated system and you are trying to figure out what is causing that; it takes the same kind of intellectual power and experience, but doctors have many years formal training in the human body (a very complex system). Let’s make sure future master testers have similar educational depth as doctors do today.”
Written by Chris Saunders & Naomi Saunders.
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