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STPCon: How SocialText uses Agile, wikis and remote developers

At the Software Test and Performance Conference (STPCon) this week, I had the pleasure of spending time with Matt Heusser, a software tester for a social networking software development company, SocialText, he is also a SearchSoftwareQuality.com contributor and spoke in a few STPCon sessions this year.

Heusser focused on his development work at SocialText in one session. He told me he had been preparing for months on his presentation on developing software that helps remote workers stay in touch with co-workers and up to date on their businesses, work agendas and projects. Also, he had the challenge of describing how SocialText uses the agile development model.

In the session, he described SocialText’s model step by step, showing such things as how the client’s work request is handed down linearly to the appropriate team chapters. He explained what happened in client-SocialText developer kick-off meetings, noting that all team members attend online using their networking and communication tools. The kickoff is an opportunity for client questions can be asked and requirements clarified, he said. After that initial meeting, the business model becomes a staircase of iteration constructing events. But the whole team has the availability to follow the project, even at phases they are not directly involved with.

SocialText’s programming and products are based on a wiki, making them easy to modify and fairly easy to write the first place. “Anyone dedicated enough, could write something similar,” said Heusser, but SocialText got a head start in this area.

In SocialText’s agile model, Iterations are normally completed bi-weekly. Once approved, the next functional addition is begun on the approved code. This process recycles through all of the testing. Testing is done throughout the entire development process, so that when “crunch time” come, the team doesn’t have to run the full train of tests. Most are already completed, and the few that remain can be held off until a more appropriate time can selected.

Heusser admitted that their process probably wouldn’t work every software development company. “One of the rarest things about working SocialText, is that we use our software to create new software,” he said. “This helps us in the usability testing. If a function doesn’t work properly, we notice it very quickly, as we use every feature numerous times in the development of every product.”

Another rare thing about SocialText is its hiring of many remote developers. Generally, quality of applicant aced location everytime. “In the 21st century, it is ridiculous to rely on 18th century hiring models. Those who worked in mines and on railways had to be geographically placed in the vicinity of their work, of course. That just isn’t and shouldn’t have to be the case these days. We have the technology, why not use it?”

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