Overcoming the Challenges of Test Strategy Creation: An Interview with Randy Rice

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Randy Rice, an author, speaker, and consultant in software testing and software quality, explains how you should navigate the nuances of detailed test strategy creation. He covers why a test strategy may seem good at first, but once the testing begins, it can fail.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I'm joined by Randy Rice, an author, speaker, and consultant in software testing and software quality, as well as a keynote speaker at this year's STAREAST conference. Randy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Randy Rice: Hey! It's great to be here, Josiah.

Josiah Renaudin: Before we really get into the meat of your keynote and go through all the different aspects of it, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Randy Rice: Sure. Basically I've been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I think, in terms of computing. But I don't want to bore you of all the details there. Some of us are still hanging around in the industry. I worked with punch cards and all that. The big thing was though I was developer for about a dozen years before I got into software testing. I actually got in like a lot of people do, in kind of an unplanned way.

But I go way back to the late '70s in being a coder. Then I became a test manager in 1998, like I say, in kind of an unplanned way. They chose me, they being the company I went to work for, because I had read a book on software testing. It was Boris Beizer's book on software testing technique. I had actually written a test plan as a developer so they felt like I was uniquely qualified. For the next couple of years I was trying to learn my way into what software testing was, what software quality assurance was. The thing about it was there were only about four books available at the time.

Anyway, with the help of Bill Perry, at QAI, and others, I really learned what testing was. Then in 1990 I decided to go into that as a practice area on its own as a consultant. I've been doing business as a consultant since 1990 focusing mainly on software testing, although I get into areas that touch testing like life cycles and requirements and things like that. I've seen a lot of change obviously in the field of computing and everything since I got into it as a full-time consultant.

Josiah Renaudin: That's a good point. You have seen the industry grow and change, especially software, and that's an industry itself so open for change, so open for complete sweeping differences. In your keynote you highlight how testers are facing a major challenge when designing test strategies. Is that because mobile, the Internet of Things, and other new technologies have created more opportunity for test failure? Or in your mind, as you mentioned you've been doing this for a while, has test strategy creation always been this difficult?

Randy Rice: It's an interesting time that we're going through because yes, we are seeing some really sweeping technological changes that ... the way I describe it is that they're really expanding the scope of what we do enormously. To me, the challenge is that we were able to have the experience and the depth of knowledge to create a strategy. One other thing, too, let me take a step back before I say what I was going to say, is that a lot of people don't understand the difference between the strategy of something and the tactics of something, of how to do it.

The strategy is the big, objective picture. If you're thinking in terms of military strategy or something, this is the thing that the generals create. So it takes people with some pretty good understanding and some pretty good experience to see down the road a bit, to envision the things that you might be coming up against. Any time a new technology comes about, one of the very first things that I do is, I typically write an article on the strategy of testing that thing. Right now the big thing I'm looking at is how the Internet of Things is going to be a total disrupter. Everything we've been doing back when the web came about it was the same thing, that I started looking at what can we take that worked before and either keep it, or toss it, or maybe adapt it. At the strategy level we frame the big picture. Then when we start thinking about, how are we going to test it? Then that becomes more the planning picture and more, as we get down into looking into the details, that becomes the test design part of it.

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