This interview with Ajay Balamurugadas is part of the Hexawise “Testing Smarter with…” software testing interview series. Our goal with these interviews is to highlight insights and experiences as told by many of the software testing field’s leading thinkers.
Ajay considers being inducted into the 'Bach Brothers' Testing Legion of Merit, presenting his keynote at CAST 2015 and attending Problem Solving Leadership workshop by Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby to be his biggest achievements to this date.
His contributions to the software testing community include co-founding Weekend Testing and Test Maniac. His short books are popular with many testers for the practical, ready to use tips.
Hexawise: I like the Weekend Testing concept that you helped bring into existence. What gave you the idea to do so? What were you trying to accomplish? How is it working?
Ajay: Thank you. I wanted to practice software testing and had the first online paired testing session with Parimala Hariprasad (@Curioustester). It was fun learning about a new tool. Next weekend, Sharath Byregowda (@Sharathb), Manoj Nair and myself tested for two hours. That night, we decided that this could be even more fun and enriching if more folks joined us. We then opened the forum to the public on August 15th (Indian Independence Day), 2009. Regarding the aspirations, I never knew that this would grow as big as it has grown today.
With more than 300 sessions spread over India, Americas, Europe, Australia/New Zealand, the forum seems to have connected many testers and helped them hone their skills across different approaches, techniques, tools and products. Thanks to so many volunteers and facilitators who have jumped in at various stages of this journey and helped Weekend Testing evolve over the years.
We are still having the sessions during the weekends, the frequency has reduced to one or two per month. To be honest, testers need not wait for a session to participate in a weekend testing session. They can pickup any session report, timebox their testing activity for an hour and then compare their report with other testers' reports.
Hexawise: If you could write a letter and send it back in time to yourself when you were first getting into software testing, what advice would you include in it?
- Focus on the basics
- Spend money on learning
- Take care of health
Hexawise: What kinds of activities do you enjoy when you’re not at work?
Ajay: I love playing and watching cricket other than reading books. I and my wife (@AbiTheTester) enjoy going to the mall, watch a movie, eat ice cream and play a video game of bike racing.
I have come to the realization that agile teams are one of the ideal places for a skilled software tester. With so little time, emphasis on finding critical information early and in a crisp manner is necessary. Who, other than a skilled tester can switch contexts, interact with multiple stakeholders, think critically and add value to the teams?
Hexawise: What one or two software testing-related experiences have you found to be most personally satisfying in your career?
Ajay: I am thankful to many software testing mentors who have helped me grow personally and professionally. Knowing so many testers at a professional and personal level is in itself a satisfying moment for me.
Attending Problem Solving Leadership with Jerry Weinberg, Esther Derby and so many testers from different countries, presenting a keynote at CAST 2015, receiving the "Bach Brothers Testing Legion of Merit" award, helping Fiberlink (now acquired by IBM) adopt mind maps are some of the moments that make me think that I must have done something right in my testing career.
I certainly celebrate every small moment that has taught me - for example I cherish the moment when parents of a tester called me and thanked me for helping their son get a job in software testing.
Views on Software Testing
Hexawise: Can you describe a view or opinion about software testing that you have changed your mind about in the last few years? What caused you to change your mind?
Ajay: My immaturity at the start of my career made me repel automation. I always thought that it was the skill of the testers that is more important than the tools. Later, I realized that there are many activities that would be done better if they were automated. So, I started to shift my focus on learning to automate and here I am evangelising Sahi Pro - The Tester's Web Automation Tool.
Hexawise: What testing practice(s) do you most wish the software testing community would embrace?
Ajay: These are a few practices that I would like the whole software testing community to think about, not necessarily embrace:
- Spend more time interacting with the application under test than with documents, processes that have little value for the customer.
- Learning to test well is a long journey. Do not accept shortcuts like 2 days workshops as __the__ solution to your learning. They accelerate your learning, highlight the probable mistakes you can do and give you a learning path.
- Trying to get everyone on the team to learn everything is a sure recipe for killing motivation. Get people with complementary skills as part of one team and see how they create magic.
To be convincing, you might have to work on your reputation first. Work on it. People most of the times say "No" until they are convinced. Once you highlight the benefits of pairing and collaboration, people will listen.
Industry Observations / Industry Trends
Hexawise: Do you have specific suggestions for testers working within an organization using agile software development methods?
Ajay: Gel with the team members and at the same time, do not forget your core skill: Testing - Providing information about the quality of the product and project to stakeholders who matter.
I have come to the realization that agile teams are an ideal place for a skilled software tester. With so little time, emphasis on finding critical information early and in a crisp manner is necessary. Who, other than a skilled tester can switch contexts, interact with multiple stakeholders, think critically and add value to the teams?
Hexawise: Do you have suggestions for how testers can be more effective if they are isolated from the software developers (either by practice in the organization or by geography)?
Ajay: If it is by practice, talk to the managers and see why it is the case. To be convincing, you might have to work on your reputation first. Work on it. People most of the times say "No" until they are convinced. Once you highlight the benefits of pairing and collaboration, people will listen. If they still don't listen, maybe its time to change teams or company.
If the distance is because of the location, it is easy to solve. How would you collaborate if your best friend was from a different city? You will find ways to get in touch. Today, there are multiple tools that help you have that seamless experience. Make use of those tools. At the end of the day, everyone is a human being. The moment we consider everyone as a human being and not as someone who has a developer/manager/tester role, most of the problems would just disappear.
Check out my book - 50+ tips to improve tester-programmer relationship which will help your learn how you can improve the relationship.
Hexawise: "Whenever you need to test the best combinations out of all possible combinations, I recommend Hexawise. It can help you create data quickly and in a format that you can directly use. Very cool tool. Use it to see the power of Hexawise." How did you learn about Hexawise. How does it help you?
Ajay: That was quite long back and I think I might not change the statement even now, though maybe I would edit it to say:
"Whenever you need to provide effective test coverage for multiple parameter combinations, I recommend Hexawise. It can help you create test plans quickly and in a format that you can directly use. Very cool tool. Use it to see the power of Hexawise."
Many testers use tools without understanding why they have to use the tool. Someone who understands the technique of combinatorial testing, will appreciate the ease of use Hexawise provides.
I learned about Hexawise through the Twitter world of #testing . There have been multiple instances in my testing career where I have helped the teams reduce the number of test cases with the help of Hexawise.
Staying Current / Learning
Hexawise: You have blogged about your career journey in software testing several times. What tips do you have for those looking to deepen their knowledge of software testing and move forward their careers?
Ajay: Many testers don't seem to have a learning path at all and that is sad. I really appreciate those who take time to get better at their craft. Today, we don't have shortage of sources of knowledge. People just have to spend time and dedicate themselves to learning.
Realize that there is a lot to learn. Pick what you want to learn, carefully. You will face challenges and you need to be motivated throughout the journey to excel in learning the subject. Set time limits, take help of mentors, take it slow if needed.
Each person has their own style of learning - some like it hands-on, some read books, some watch videos. Know your style and keep measuring your learning quotient - are you happy learning the subject. As long as you are happy learning it, continue or else modify the plan to suit your needs.
I am focusing on 1-2 quality criteria per year and have started with Security and Automation for the last few months. I am loving the journey and wish others too good luck in their journey. At this moment, I am reminded of the different pathways Katrina Clokie has blogged about.
Hexawise: What advice do you have for people attending software conferences so that they can get more out of the experience?
Ajay: Make notes, connect with the speakers even after the conference, do not sit with your team members in the conference, make new friends and spend time talking to people rather than spending your whole time inside at the talks. I created a mind map for anyone attending EuroSTAR 2011. It looks like the points apply even today.
Hexawise: What software testing-related books would you recommend should be on a tester’s bookshelf? What blogs would you recommend should be included in a software tester's RSS feed reader?
Ajay considers being inducted into the 'Bach Brothers' Testing Legion of Merit, presenting his keynote at CAST 2015 and attending Problem Solving Leadership workshop by Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby to be his biggest achievements to this date. He is also happy at the number of testers who have been influenced positively in interactions with him.
He started his career as a software tester and he continues to be a hands-on software tester along with training new testers, presenting at conferences, conducting workshops and sharing his thoughts through his blog and tweets.
Ajay started with testing standalone desktop applications and soon moved on to web applications and mobile applications. His journey was boosted by co-founding Weekend Testing, Test Maniac. His short books are popular with many testers for the practical, ready to use tips.
Website: Test With Ajay
Blog: Enjoy Testing
By: John Hunter on May 1, 2017