Agile is the Only Thing People Will Admit to Doing: Q&A with Agile VIP Dorothy Graham

Dorothy Graham is a world-renowned consultant, speaker, and author with over forty years of experience in software testing. She holds the European Excellence Award in Software Testing and the ISTQB Excellence Award. Her latest book is Experiences of Test Automation (coauthored with Mark Fewster).  Her latest project is a wiki covering test automation patterns, with colleague Seretta Gamba.Find her on Twitter: @DorothyGraham.

QASymphony: How pervasive is the Agile movement in the UK and Europe?

DG: From what I have seen, it is similar to the situation in the States. Agile is the only thing people will admit to doing – they don’t want to say they are doing Waterfall any longer even though what they might be doing is some watered-down form of Agile. I definitely think that Agile is a good trend. In fact, in the early 90s, my first published paper was about incremental development which was influenced by Tom Gilb, who some have called (the “grandfather of Agile.” (

QASymphony: What are some of the differences in Europe and the US regarding testers – do they work differently, have different philosophies or training paths?

DG: I don’t really see a big difference between Europe and the US. I attended my first testing conference in the 1990s in the States and back then I expected to find that the Americans were more advanced. In fact, I was surprised and reassured that we were all having the same struggles. There are different approaches or philosophies to testing, but they are not country-based. Today, with work being so global, I think there’s even less difference in testing between Western countries.

QASymphony: That’s a good point. How difficult is it to manage testing and QA teams which are distributed around the world? 

DG: If you want good communication, it is always best to co-locate development and QA teams. You really can’t force a team to gel, but one factor that helps is being in the same place.  Having said that, now we have technologies like Skype and FaceTime, which help a lot.  There was a huge swing to outsourcing and offshoring a number of years ago, as companies were looking only at staff costs. Yet there are many other factors to success in developing software.  I think now, organizations are seeing the value of having more face-to-face time, and I am beginning to hear of companies bringing their testing back in-house.

QASymphony: Is it hard to get young people with technology skills interested in testing? 

DG: Testing is perceived as much more attractive today than it was 30 or 40 years ago. People thought I was crazy back then when I said I was getting into the field! Now though, testing is a very respectable profession. Although some see it as a stepping stone to being a developer, many others choose testing as their career path. I think that the recent emphasis in the industry on exploratory testing has helped drive interest. Back in the 90’s, the perceived “wisdom” was that testing should be scripted. Now the effectiveness of exploratory testing is recognized, and that helps to make testing a more exciting career path. Testers are more autonomous and testing is more creative.  If you are a tester, you have to be twice as creative as developers; not only do you need to think about what the developers thought of, but also what they didn’t consider. The tester questions and challenges by asking: ”What could go wrong?” or “What if it isn’t as expected?” Testers also tend to have a broader view, especially looking from a system or user perspective. Testing is a great career, but I may be a bit biased.

QASymphony: Where do you think the testing industry is evolving in terms of best practices or other important trends?

DG: I don’t think there are “best” practices in testing – that implies that one solution is right for everyone, which isn’t true. One encouraging trend is the fact that developers have rediscovered testing as part of the Agile process. Integrating testing into development is becoming more popular, although it’s not necessarily done as much in practice as it might seem from what you hear. Thinking about testing first really helps to reduce the bugs in the software and it’s great to see that developers are doing more testing earlier. Of course there’s still a need for high level system testing as well.

One trend that I’m not as happy about is that people seem to think that all testers need to know how to write code and learn scripting languages. Some testers do want to do this, and that’s great, but my concern is that there are other people who are excellent testers but who don’t want to be forced to learn coding skills. If you tell testers that they’re not good enough unless they can code, that downgrades the importance of testing skills. One other trend is that there is much more tool support for testers, which is good, except for one thing: some people think that tools replace testers, but this is not the case. Tools provide valuable support for testers, not just in running and checking but for many other mundane repetitive tasks. But tools do not think, and testing is a thinking skill.

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