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Software test plan 2013: Keynote speakers cite top trends

At STP 2013, keynote speakers weighed in on software test plans to work towards in the coming year.

At the Software Test Professionals conference in San Diego this week, keynote speakers outlined a software test plan of sorts for 2013. They offered their take on the key trends influencing test professionals today: Agile is a given, automated testing is on the rise, and cloud-based, virtualized test environments and open source software are keeping costs down.  

Speakers included RBCS President Rex Black, Principal Consultant Bob Galen of RGCG and Florida Institute of Technology professor Cem Kaner. Each of these well-known software test experts offered his own slant.

Agile: A trend, or a given?

The keynote speakers agreed and disagreed about Agile as pertains to its newsworthiness. Black noted Agile as the second most important among software quality trends in 2013. He was adamant that many organizations have already adopted Agile practices or have incorporated Agile concepts into their software development process. Still, he was skeptical about Agile to some extent, noting that "silver bullets come and go," but some important and useful aspects of Agile development will be with us for a long time, even if others might be pruned away or replaced by more helpful ideas. "As testers, we have to play the hand we're dealt," Black said. "Today that hand includes Agile, so it's important that we learn how to play that card."

Kaner, on the other hand, said Agile didn't make his list. Not because Agile concepts are not an important part of the software testing ecosystem, but because Agile practices have been around too long to be thought of as a new trend. In Kaner's view, Agile is just a part of the culture now. Some development organizations have adopted it and some haven't, but either way, it's here as a known quantity. "Agile has moved past [the mile marker] of being 'the next big thing,'" Kaner said. "Now it's just 'what is.'" Galen admitted to being an Agile enthusiast and hoped that -- amidst phrases like "silver bullet," "flash in the pan," "the next big thing" and "the way" -- Agile testing methods fall somewhere in the middle.

Software test plan: Tools are the whole story

All three speakers shared similar views on where testing tools will fit into the picture for software testing professionals in 2013 and beyond. "Don't lead with tools," Galen advised. He pointed out that the tools, no matter how sophisticated they are, won't do any of the work on their own. It's the people who push software quality forward, and the tools are just there for support, he said.

Black pointed out that the process of selecting the right tool for any given job is complicated and requires serious consideration. He compared test managers that asked, "What tool is best for x?" -- ["x" stands for any particular aspect of the software quality improvement process] -- with a patient going to any random doctor and saying, "My knee hurts; which medicine should I take?" The answer in both cases is going to require looking at a lot more information and probably involving a change in behaviors rather than a new purchase.

Kaner, meanwhile, is seeing trends toward tooling that supports high volumes of automated testing. One place where high-volume automated testing started was in security testing, where the concept of fuzzing popped up, according to Kaner. Security testers wanted to see if they could force applications to fail in predictable ways by submitting huge batches of data at once, he said. Right now, testers using this approach lack foresight into exactly what the application will do under the strain of all these concurrent tests. That makes it a highly exploratory process. However, Kaner expects that as testers gain experience with the technique they will be able to provide more guidance on how to use high-volume automated testing in a more prescribed manner.

Cost reduction via open source software and cloud hardware

New testing techniques (including high-volume automated testing) are bringing the cost of testing down in 2013, namely open source software and cloud computing hardware resources. Kaner identified these factors and Black and Galen agreed.

In the past, Black explained, "maintaining testing environments had been rather problematic." Testers had to figure out how to replicate the production servers that would serve the application in the real world so they could test the application in a lab. Frequently, the needed testing wouldn't necessarily be backed up with the budget and resources to produce a completely replicated application environment. Now, with cloud resources, it's possible to "just spin up a virtual platform for testing, and when the testing is completed, those resources just disappear," Black said. Other advantages of cloud computing resources, when used wisely, include relatively low compute costs and the fact that those costs can be pushed into the operational, rather than capital, budget.

The open source movement is also providing software tools for application testers at little to no financial cost. Black suggested test managers look into joining the open source movement for some or all of their tooling needs. Open source provides a new option to the old question of "build, buy or borrow?" The use of open source tools may come without financial obligations, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are free. Black made it clear that choosing open source over commercial products means investing time and energy instead of cold hard cash. "You [test managers] have to think about how you're going to give back to the community," Black said.

What do you think of these software-testing trends? Leave us a comment below, send us an email or find us on Twitter.

About the speakers

Rex Black

Rex Black is the president of RBCS. Black leads RBCS with twenty five years of software and systems engineering experience. Black is maybe best known for his prolific writing career. He's written twelve books, including Managing the Testing Process -- which has sold over 40,000 copies worldwide and has translations in Japan, China and India -- as well as over 30 professional articles. Black has also delivered almost 50 speeches, many of them keynotes, at software quality events around the world. He recently served as the president of both the American and the International Software Testing Qualifications Boards, both of which are non-profit organizations focused on training and qualifying new application testers around the world.

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is the principal consultant at RGCG LLC, as well as director of Agile solutions for Zenergy Technologies. Galen is an active member of the Agile Alliance and of the Scrum Alliance. He is a certified Scrum coach (CSC) and a certified Scrum product owner (CSPO). Galen has dedicated his career to helping software testing teams achieve excellence in software quality through Agile development methods, particularly Scrum. He is a regular speaker at software testing conventions and professional events. In 2009, Galen wrote a book for other CSPOs entitled, Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out.

Cem Kaner

Cem Kaner (J.D. & Ph.D.) is professor of software engineering at Florida Institute of Technology and has been so since 2004. Kaner is well-known as an advocate for software quality and testing, especially usability testing. Kaner's career in the software industry began in 1983 in Silicon Valley, where his various titles included tester, programmer, software development manager, tech writer and consultant. He co-authored software testing best-seller, Testing Computer Software, with Jack Falk and Hung Quoc Nguyen. He is also a co-founder and vice president of publications at the Association for Software Testing, a non-profit organization.

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