The Challenges of Testing the Internet of Things: STARWEST 2015 Interview with Paul Gerrard


In this interview, TechWell speaks with Paul Gerrard, a consultant, teacher, author, webmaster, programmer, tester, conference speaker, rowing coach, and publisher. At STARWEST 2015, he gave a keynote titled "Testing the Internet of Everything."

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with our virtual interviews, and we have a treat. I didn't know if we'd get to talk to Paul. Paul, if you watched him, obviously, he was the keynote yesterday and was losing his voice. We missed him yesterday, but we get him today, so we're kind of lucky that Paul is with us. Paul, thanks for being here.

Paul Gerrard: Thanks for having me. It's getting there, but it's not quite right.

Jennifer Bonine: You sound good though. I mean, better than what ...

Paul Gerrard: I feel okay, I'm just a bit “eh.”

Jennifer Bonine: Right, exactly. You made the long trip here, and obviously maybe people watched the keynote yesterday that you gave. There's a lot of really positive response to that. What kind of ... When you were thinking about doing the keynote, how did that come about, where you said, this might be a really good thing to talk about with people? What inspired you?

Paul Gerrard: Well, some years ago, maybe about twenty years, the way I kind of behaved in business was to try and figure what the next big thing was going to be. Then on the back of that, it was like, well, we know testing is going to be a bit late coming, and understanding these things. Going back to client serving in 2000, into that, stuff like that, I always try to be first to market with training. In a way, I'm kind of doing that, but I'm not sure training is going to be the big deal. But I'm trying to be an expert in it. Maybe there's business there, I don't know, but I think it's a fascinating thing to do. It's fascinating, exciting, and terrifying.

Jennifer Bonine: All at the same time.

Paul Gerrard: All at the same time. It seemed like an interesting thing to do at the time. I'm enjoying it, I have to say. I've given a lot towards it, on variations two or three times now.

Jennifer Bonine: Great.

Paul Gerrard: I know it goes down a while, and people say I never realize, I never knew. It's like, go and look it up, go and read.

Jennifer Bonine: It's interesting, too, I was talking to Jason this morning about AppDiv and the app he's created to test on mobile stuff. He was talking about your Internet of Things, and we talked about how today we think of labs—test labs, as kind of like out here, right where we have some computers, we have some devices, we have some robots. We have some various things that we use and interact with. He was saying with the Internet of Things, what if the labs now are apartments, and they have TVs in them, and they have Nests in them, and they have the real devices that everyone is using, and you're actually testing like that's your lab. Right?

Paul Gerrard: Sure.

Jennifer Bonine: It's a real live setting of, what does this look like in a real home, or a real apartment, or whatever.

Paul Gerrard: I've no doubt, they'll be some applications where the people are building and testing these things, or taking their work home. You know?

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: Whether it's a connected TV, or a fridge, or the icon, or the burglar alarm, or security, or humidity, or that kind of stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: The car, or the garden gate, or the pets, or children, and it never ends.

Jennifer Bonine: It never ends, and it's everything. That's why you need all that stuff in one space, and how it interacts in one space.

Paul Gerrard: Yeah, and I think just seeing the lab, is going to be only half the story. I mean half, three quarters, a quarter, I don't know, it's not the whole thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, it's only going to be a part.

Paul Gerrard: It's not everything anymore. Testing in the field, and I mentioned the bus alone, that kind of small city kind of idea. They're setting aside part of that infrastructure, to test new ideas in the field.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Paul Gerrard: It's not dangerous, it's unofficial to society, and so on and so forth.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Gerrard: There's some criteria, I think, that's happening in other places, too. I've not really researched that, but I don't doubt it’s one example of many that are coming.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that we'll see more and more of that, and a new way of thinking about things, and how they interact, and talk to each other, and communicate. It's kind of exciting, but like you said, scary at the same time.

Paul Gerrard: The same time.

Jennifer Bonine: When you start to grasp what it is, so for folks out there, that haven't started looking into it, it's something to look into right, because it's coming.

Paul Gerrard: I think so. I think so. It's kind of how I was talking to a couple people at lunch, and they said, how do you get started? I said, well get on the Internet, look at a few projects, over the components, and there's handbooks and guides and stuff like that, and just have a play. It might cost you a hundred dollars, you know, but you’re like, okay. Just treat it like you're buying a kind of toy. For a few months you'll play with it, learn some stuff, have some fun, and maybe give it to your kids. I don't know.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: That will give you some insight. It's just a bigger and more professional job, at a much greater scale, but I'm just reminded, just right now, I'm reminded of a story I heard in the year 2000 kind of days.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Gerrard: When people said the year 2000 is like putting up a deck chair. Anyone can put up a deck chair.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: The challenge is putting up a million deck chairs.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: I mean, that's kind of okay, it's a logistical, scalable, sustainable kind of thing. That's the real problem.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: It's like, how do I make all of this stuff work and still trust that we're not in real trouble with it?

Jennifer Bonine: That it's all going to work. Exactly. At the end of the day, that it will connect, and we won't have big bad things happen, when it's all connected, right?

Paul Gerrard: Well, yeah, exactly. I think it's kind of, I really don't know ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Gerrard: ... what's going on, except I've got these kind of questions in my head, like, what are the government and the military doing with this stuff?

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: They're years ahead.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, yeah.

Paul Gerrard: I've watched the public. I think what's being sold visibly in the market today, I think that's just the tip of the iceberg. You know it really is early days.

Jennifer Bonine: It is. Well, and you know, right, with anything, there's a lot of technology. I'll give another example of what I heard about with pacemakers and embedded devices, implanted devices that you have. They have the technology already where they can remotely control those items.

Paul Gerrard: Which is a bit scary.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, if you really think about it. That someone could remotely stop or start that device that's inside you, that you rely on to live, you know, and they turn that technology loose, and God forbid, the wrong person gets it in their hands or hacks into it, and bad things happen. Right?

Paul Gerrard: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: They are already trying to figure out how to stop that type of stuff, right, because you almost have to be ahead of it and what's happening. You just think about, where we are with technology is amazing, but at the same time, it gets kind of scary.

Paul Gerrard: The pacemaker would be an example, and that would be very, very close to home. Your car is the same. There was an example of the ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, they hacked ...

Paul Gerrard: Whatever it was being hacked into, yeah. Well, it could be your car, a bus, an airplane, you know, where does it end?

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: These could become a really, just a stammering of questions.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: I really don't know.

Jennifer Bonine: No.

Paul Gerrard: I would like to know whether we are safe.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. As inquisitive people in testing, right? It would be good to know, what happens with all of this? Where does it end, and whose watching out for it? Right? Then you get much more dependent I think on who you’re buying things from, and trusting, there are testers, and the folks out there, and all of us, and everyone, is doing a good job thinking through, those scenarios.

Paul Gerrard: Absolutely. It's at every level, since the days ... there's the mainframe, everything is in one place. IBM kind of solved ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: ... maybe solved every problem.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Gerrard: At one point of contact. When client server distribution systems came along, it was like the matter of trust of saying, well we got all these supplies now. We don't always agree and stuff like that. Then steadily mobile, Internet of Things, it’s just going to be harder to trust, what's going out there. That you don't know what interactions are happening. It's like it's not ... One of the things that I didn't say yesterday, but is in my head right now is something that we have to think about in the future is, we're kind of obsessed with the human computer interface. The UI, and the only thing is well that's going to be like that much.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Gerrard: The machine interface is all sorts of machines to all sorts of machines. Hundreds of thousands of interfaces now. Many of them, will be using standard protocols, and stuff like that. For the next few years, people will be building their own middleware let's say, do you remember what happened when people built their own middleware?

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. No absolutely.

Paul Gerrard: I think the whole nature of testing, is a human interaction with the computer, is dead, of course not, but it's not going to be front and center as much. I don't think people have kind of tweaked that. They haven't understood that yet. It's coming.

Jennifer Bonine: Its coming.

Paul Gerrard: I can't believe it's going to be like it was before.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Gerrard: That is really what I was saying yesterday.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's changing.

Paul Gerrard: Yeah, I think so.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. I can't believe that we've already ran out of time, and we just scratched the surface.

Paul Gerrard: I know.

Jennifer Bonine: That was so fast, right? We could be here for hours.

Paul Gerrard: It was fun, though.

Jennifer Bonine: Be here for days. If they want, Paul, to contact you after, and have more questions on kind of how you did your research—or, we've probably piqued some people's interest and now they're frightened. How do they find you?

Paul Gerrard: How do we find you? Well, I've got a website, Twitter is @Paul_Gerrard.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect.

Paul Gerrard: Send me an email or whatever, or catch me at a conference. I do quite a few.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, he's around. I can tell you, I see him. Perfect, there's the way to find him. Thanks, Paul, for being here. I'm glad we got you here.

Paul Gerrard: My pleasure. Good fun.

Jennifer Bonine: We were able to have the folks get to talk to you more personally.

Paul Gerrard: Yeah, thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: Thank you.

Paul Gerrard: Thank you very much.

Paul GerrardPaul Gerrard is a consultant, teacher, author, webmaster, programmer, tester, conference speaker, rowing coach, and publisher. He has conducted consulting assignments in all aspects of software testing and quality assurance, specializing in test assurance. Paul has presented keynotes and tutorials— occasionally award winning—at testing conferences on four continents. He is a principal of Gerrard Consulting Limited, the host of the UK Test Management Forum, and the Programme Chair for the 2014 EuroSTAR testing conference. In 2010, Paul won the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award. He's been programming since the mid-1970s and loves using the Python programming language.

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