The Viability of Context-Driven Testing: An Interview with Keith Klain


In this interview, Keith Klain, a software testing and quality management professional, discusses all the lessons he's learned from selling software testing. He also explains why context-driven testing is viable, as well as how to discern between wants and needs.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I am joined by Keith Klain, a software testing and quality management professional, and a keynote speaker at our upcoming STAREAST Conference. Keith, thank you very much for joining us today. 

Keith Klain: Great to be here. Thank you very much. 

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. Before we really dig into the meat of your keynote, can you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry? 

Keith Klain: Sure. I'm going on twenty-plus years experience in software testing and quality management. I've worked at large financial services institutions all over the planet; did a long run in London, Southeast Asia, I've worked all over India, and I've been back in the US for about four and a half years now running large global testing operations and consulting businesses. 

Josiah Renaudin: How difficult was it to leave such a very certain thing to start something on your own? I mean, you look at a title like "head of global test center," that's a big thing. What was the process in your head when you were leaving that? 

Keith Klain: Right. Yeah, it's scary. I think that's one of the things I talk about during my keynote: what you think you know, and then what you really know once you leave a job like that. Those large, I call them, "enterprise IT jobs" are very dulling of the senses because you get used to, and very, I view it in my frank way of putting it, "soft" from your ideas being accepted because it's generally in people's best interests to accept ideas.

I learned a lot about what works, what doesn't work, in the real world by doing that. But to answer your question specifically, yeah, it's a leap of faith. I mean, I've been aligned towards the context-driven testing school of thought for a while now. I really believe that it's got the most commercially viable and best ideas on how to test software, and truly believe that it can be a commercial success, and not a lot of companies in the world have tried to do it that way. So yeah, you try and bank on yourself, but it's a scary venture. 

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, well, it sounds like betting on yourself worked out in this case. You just mentioned context-driven testing. That's a great segue for me because, in your mind, what do you feel are the best methods for turning context-driven testing into a practical commercial approach? And what have you really done recently to move in this direction?

Keith Klain: I think, particularly when it comes to context-driven testing, the context-aware test strategy and context-aware information that aligns your test approach towards relevant information for your business is really the most important thing that comes out of the context-driven testing world. This is kind of paired with the skilled testing movement as well; that testing is a set of skills that can be learned and practiced and developed. Those two things, I view them as related but are different in a way. 

We tend to focus on the context-driven testing world, I think, a lot towards skilled testing. A lot of the people who are founders of the movement are artists and testers. The Michael Boltons, the James Bachs of the world are artists and testers. People who follow them tend to focus on the skill side to it, but there's a lot of information and great stuff that comes out of context-driven testing that's completely relevant to the commercial prospect of helping a business be successful, or at least make great decisions based on great information. 

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