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Managing Testing Teams in the Agile & DevOps Era: Q&A with Test Architect Gerie Owens

Gerie Owen is a Test Architect at Eversource Energy where she consults on Quality Assurance processes and methodology and is currently building a Test Center of Excellence.  She specializes in developing and managing test teams.  She is a certified Scrum Master and has also presented at many testing and technology conferences and authored articles on testing and quality assurance.

QASymphony: Part of your work involves managing test teams. Can you describe the goals and challenges here and how that has changed as the roles of testers, developers and IT operations people have evolved?

GO: Managing distributed teams is a lot about communications and making sure that everybody understands the requirements. When you have new testers on the team you’ve got to make sure that they are engaged and focused on the testing goals. Things have changed a bit with Agile and DevOps; now, testers have more of a QA role. So much automation has now taken the place of manual testing. The role of testers is around ensuring that quality testing processes are being followed, so it’s more about oversight than conducting the actual test. What’s great about this is that testers now can become involved in the development side. A wonderful development is the pairing of testing and developers. This gives a new perspective for development and with test-driven development (TDD) it also speeds up delivery. Developers as well need to be more involved in testing, through creating test automation cases.

QAS: Are these blended roles difficult for people who have had more distinct roles in the past?

GO: Some people struggle here. If you can point out the benefits to the team in terms of creating better product and make available DevOps collaboration tools, it can help ease the process. It is also important to speak each other’s language. Operations people want adherence to process, while developers want freedom. There needs to be a balance.

QAS: Is testing the unsung hero of software development? Do product VPs and executives today understand the importance of what you do and if not, is that a barrier to your job?

GO: I do spend time working up the ladder helping people understand the importance of what we do. But if the company is focused only on metrics for schedule and budget, it can get difficult to produce a quality product. Stakeholders don’t always see the value in QA until it’s too late. Then they wonder, why we didn’t test more earlier?

QAS: What tactics have worked for you to influence senior execs?

GO:  Getting the right metrics. People want numbers to understand what is required. If we can show that we are 50% behind schedule, we are likely to get more testers. If we have evidence of a large number of critical defects, it points to a problem in development that needs fixing. Yet test leads can’t get bogged down collecting that data, so tools are necessary to produce those reports.

QAS: User experience aspect of testing is one of your areas of interest. Can you describe your current work here?

GO:  Customers are getting more impatient especially in mobile apps so load testing is critical. If the app is not usable, people will go elsewhere. You also have to know your customer. I use personas for testing. This is a way to measure feelings, skill levels, and social behaviors of different segment of users. Personas are especially important when testing wearables. If you have a smart sportswatch and it doesn’t work during a race, you’ll never trust it again. This area is only going to become more important. You can see wearables being used at a utility in the future. When crews are working in the field, they could get data hands-free to help them on a job. Line workers in manufacturing could be receiving instructions as they work, or dictate a question to the boss. There are so many possibilities. And that will make the jobs of testers so much more challenging and exciting.

QAS: How have user expectations and needs for software design/interface changed over the past few years?

GO:  Users don’t want apps that force them to take a lot of steps. If you logon to a site to pay your bill you just want to do that and fast. I was ordering a sweater on a site recently and I was being forced to set up an account to buy. I really don’t want to do that, so I left the transaction. Speed and simplicity are the rules. Sometimes though, you don’t even realize what is most important. In a previous job, I tested a work management app for our field personnel which was testing out great on all the performance metrics. There was a side function, however, called street locater which wasn’t working right, but the business made the decision to release the app anyway. I was on storm duty sometime later, something all employees must do periodically, and the meter readers told me that the app doesn’t work. They were basing their opinion on the fact that the street locator feature didn’t work, because that was what they really found to be valuable. That speaks to how important it is to be in touch with user opinions.

QAS: Can you describe how the job of the tester has become more complex lately?

GO:  There are many challenging areas that are exploding right now. Mobile testing is of course huge, as there are so many platforms and browsers. Testing for cloud applications is an area that is still new and perplexing. How do you test for that environment? Then there is big data, which requires a whole new skill set. Testers need significantly greater technical skills to understand the whole concept of data marts and how do you test the sheer volumes of data that can load an application. It’s a whole different world and while there are challenges, there are so many opportunities as well for testers.

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