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Software Quality Group of New England celebrates twentieth season

The Software Quality Group of New England (SQGNE) is celebrating its twentieth season of getting Boston area software quality professionals together to talk about what’s important to the greater software quality community. Steven Rakitin, the group’s president, is pleased with the group’s progress – especially in light of the scant funding the organization receives.

Once each month (excepting August when the group breaks for summer vacation) SQGNE facilitates bright, motivated discussions about the issues that matter to testing and project management practitioners. On October 9, 2013, Harish Narayan led a group discussion on the changing roles of the quality assurance profession.

In September, the group hosted a software testing tools bakeoff. Zeenyx and Smart Bear went head to head giving live demonstrations and then taking questions from the audience. The bakeoff is one of SQGNE’s few annual traditions. Rakitin said the bakeoff always draws a bigger crowd than other sessions.

Still, some of the lesser attended meetings sometimes have more interesting outcomes. Rakitin reminisced about a night in particular when the speaker was forced to cancel last minute and so the group did their own impromptu workshop. They broke into groups to work out solutions to regular interview questions and then joined back together to debate the merits of the various groups’ solutions.

Other memorable meetings have included a mock debate that set Agile evangelists against the anti-Agile. The idea there was to help the group examine where they really stand on Agile and evaluate the actual benefits of Agile methods without the hype. That discussion followed a year in which they debated the pros and cons of outsourcing. A panel of senior software quality engineers from organizations such as the Bank of Boston gave their own opinions on the topic and told stories to illustrate the good and bad of outsourcing in their real-life experiences.

Another annual tradition at SQGNE is their July hot topics roundup. This is a session where, instead of listening to a speaker explain some particular topic, participants bring the questions they’d like to hear answered in the following year. It’s a chance for the group members to call attention to the issues that really matter to them and helps the leadership at SQGNE provide topics that will really help practitioners in the weeks following their meeting.

This past July, most of the groups concerns have centered on Agile, mobile applications, and test automation. Rakitin said these are popular topics because they’re driving significant changes from what QA engineers are used to. Automated tests are very different than their manual counterparts and often require testers to pick up at least some small amount of proficiency with a scripting language (or two).

Mobile devices look and feel much different than desktop PCs or even laptops. “There are real concerns about testing on these new mobile devices,” said Rakitin, “whereas something like cloud – that’s just another name for client-server applications and we already know how to handle those.”

Agile development is also very disruptive for many QA organizations. “Lots of organizations claim to be doing Agile,” Rakitin pointed out, “But that can mean very different things from one organization to another.” He said many software testers are left scratching their heads wondering how to handle a workplace that’s only half Agile. Rakitin sees a lot of organizations trying to buy into Agile a la carte, but “Agile isn’t like a Chinese food menu where you can pick one from column A and two from column B.”

“What these organizations are really looking for is not Agile (with a big A), but agile (with a little a) – meaning more nimble.” Taking on Agile development can make the organization more agile, but it’s not likely to work if they take half measures. Rakitin said there are good books written about how to do Agile – he noted Kent Beck’s books on XP and TDD – but also said that these books should be implemented as a whole, not chapter by chapter. So until next time remember that two is company, three’s a crowd, and a dozen developers could be the start of a long-lived user group.

A little SQGNE history

SQGNE grew out of what once was the Boston Computer Society. According to, the software testers’ group was started as a special interest group or the more general parent organization in 1994. When that group closed in 1996, it left a core group of software testers wondering where to go from here.

Rakitin said they literally came to a meeting to find the doors locked and a piece of paper explaining that the group had been shut down due to lack of funding. John Putsaver then built the SQGNE “out of the ashes of the Computer Society,” as Rakitin put it.

The organization now meets on the Oracle/Sun campuses in Burlington, Mass. As of March 1, 2010 they became a non-profit organization and have begun using the money they get from sponsors (they take no money at all from group members) to attract ever better speakers for their monthly meetings.

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