What Mobile and IoT Mean for Your Career: An Interview with Jason Arbon

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Mobile Dev + Test keynote speaker Jason Arbon explains how mobile has claimed victory over PCs and tablets. He also discusses the future of IoT, why it's currently a bit overstated, and what the next big technological revolution might be. 

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today, I am joined by the CEO of AppDiff.com, Jason Arbon, who will be delivering a keynote at our Mobile Dev + Test conference titled “Mobile and IoT Wins! Now What?” Jason, thank you very much for joining us.

Jason Arbon: Thank you.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. First, can you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Jason Arbon: Yes. I've been around the block, I guess. I started back in Microsoft as an intern. I worked in the Windows CE and Bing web search teams, then moved on to Google. I worked on the Chrome browser, Chrome OS, and personalized web search. I like to move around. I moved to uTest and Applause. I think a lot of people in the testing space know those companies. There, I worked on App Store analytics and crowdsourced testing.

Then about a little over a year ago, I left and founded a new company called AppDiff. We're trying to turn the problem upside down and help testers, actually. Automation actually speeds up manual testing. Very simply, AppDiff just finds all the performance and UI changes in your app within thirty minutes after a build, so testers never miss anything important and they can verify changes without days of regression testing.

Josiah Renaudin: One of the main points of your keynote is that, in a sense, mobile has won the race. Can you explain exactly what you mean by that, and maybe even predict whether or not mobile can continue to widen this gap over tablets and PCs?

Jason Arbon: Sure. If we just look back over three years ago, still when you go to a lot of other conferences or you go to, like, a meet on the web, people start talking about web testing. They kind of treat mobile as the side story, or a companion kind of app, or something to their main website but it's changed.

Basically, mobile has won. Baseline one is that if you look at Google, over 50 percent of Google searches are now mobile. Facebook makes a little bit of money. They make 70 percent of their money through mobile—like, literally.

Josiah Renaudin: Wow.

Jason Arbon: Exactly. It's crazy. This just happened over the last three years, right? If you think about it, if you're in a café or something—which I used to hang at Starbucks or something, coding—if you listen to people's conversation next door, like your table next door, you're not surprised you hear them talking about a mobile app or mobile in general. It used to be rare. Now, it's just commonplace.

Frankly, if you're on the bus or even driving around, people are on their phones. They're just staring at their phones, crossing streets and going about their day. People just can't get enough of their mobile phones and their mobile apps.

Really, what I mean by "mobile has won" is that before people realized the race started, mobile is already the most dominant computing platform on the planet today and dominates our interactions.

Josiah Renaudin: It's very clear, like you said, if you're looking around everyday life, that mobile has really started to dominate people's lives. Everyone is looking at their phone. You can't sit still for ten minutes without checking Twitter, Facebook, or something at least once. How much has mobile impacted companywide strategies, and do you think that the Internet of Things can even have a greater impact than mobile, moving forward?

Jason Arbon: The first thing that happened to a company strategy in terms of their IT investments and their go-to-market is mobile is just required now, right? It used to be kind of optional. Maybe you're hip, maybe you're kind of forward-leaning if you do mobile apps. Now it's just required. Every time a new project has started, the question is who wants a mobile story? If you don't have one, you don't look like you're that aware of what's going on in the world. Mobile is just required today.

The under-reported story is that enterprises are a huge source of mobile apps. Everyone is familiar with the App Store. You could download the Angry Birds and the Snapchats and stuff. The real story is that large enterprises are building mobile apps to power their sales team, their researchers, and a lot of internal mechanics, right? Really, enterprises have already gone mobile.

The interesting thing for testers particularly is that there's no one to test any of these apps, right? These teams churn out, like, ten, twenty, thirty apps inside these large corporations, and there's not a lot of testing going on. That's where a lot of the money is. That's where a lot of the need is in terms of QA.

As far as IoT, I think it's actually over-hyped in the near term. If you think about it, like if everything really was instrumented, how did your life change? I don't know if it changes that much, but I do think that mobile’s important here, especially because the interface to most IoT data is actually the mobile phone. If you look at every IoT company, they have their little embedded devices and sensors and things, or even drones. Guess how they're flying the drone. They're flying the drone with a mobile phone, right?

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Jason Arbon: Sometimes a tablet. Really, mobile is still the dominant kind of controlling factor for the IoT kind of world. I do think that over the next, like, five to six years, IoT will just be ... It will be a flood of data, but still I think you're going to be using mobile to drive a lot of that.

Josiah Renaudin: We've come such a long way when it comes to mobile. Like you said, just the fact that people are just talking about mobile apps in a café, that's something that we couldn't have really imagined five years ago. Have we really hit our stride with mobile development and testing, or, really, are we only scratching the surface? Can this get even bigger and bigger?

Jason Arbon: All right. Usually I like to disrupt things and be a little bit of "An exciting future is coming!" thing. I actually feel like my iPhone 6 looks kind of like my iPhone 5, right? Android looks a lot like iOS today. Mobile development, and mobile apps, and mobile computing is almost becoming normalized. It's almost boring today.

It came about ... The last eight years, it went from this awesome transformative thing to now it's almost like TVs, right? They have to curve the screen, or they have to do 3D, or something to make it interesting. I actually feel like we're kind of hitting a plateau in terms of a wow factor in mobile. That's really about rollout, deployments, and, again, for testing, it's about quality and making sure that these devices and the software that run and power our lives is high quality.

I think in terms of how we're doing on mobile testing, mobile testing has only now kind of ... If you asked me two years ago, I'd say it's in a pretty horrible state. Today, things are getting a little bit better, particularly with Appium. It's more reliable. Things aren't broken for months on end with a new release of iOS. Appium has really matured a lot.

Mobile animation is something everybody thinks about now but still very expensive and very fragile. It's kind of catching up to where the web ones are.

As far as manual testing, it's frankly the same old thing, right? They've been doing it for ten years. We do a little bit of it in the crowd. We do a little bit of it on specific mobile devices and kind of in production with beta testing. It's still pretty much the same thing from the manual perspective. There's a lot more innovation to happen on the manual testing side, and there's a lot of innovation to come on the automation side.

Development and deployment of mobile is actually kind of becoming normal. If you look back to previous cycles, that's when testing actually finally woke up and caught up with mobile development.

Josiah Renaudin: In your answer, there's a really good transition, actually, for my next question because you're talking about it's kind of plateaued, and there's not a lot of new excitement coming from it. You mentioned in the description for your keynote that we need to be ready for the next mobile-style revolution. Of course, it's so hard to predict that kind of thing. Do you think maybe even outside of mobile we'll be able to see something as big as mobile in the next decade or so? Can we see something come along that really grabs our attention to that degree again?

Jason Arbon: Yeah, I think it's going to be paper and pencil. My kids don't recognize it. They'll think this is an awesome new thing, right?

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, or it’ll be rollerblading. It's all going to spin back around.

Jason Arbon: Exactly. I think it's really here, by the way. Just like when I worked on Windows CE when I was like ... probably fifteen years ago at Microsoft, that was ... We really had mobile devices, right? Your little PDAs and stuff. It was mobile in the kind of early formative stage.

I think if you look around today, we see what's tiny, kind of looks like an odd thing like Windows CE did back then. Today, what looks like a niche thing, like something that's kind of a toy that has a huge potential, are kind of these UI GUI kind of free interfaces, so things like Amazon Echo, Google Now is trying to get there, Facebook's M. These interfaces, they're not necessarily speech or text, but this has ambient computing.

Personalized computing is what's coming next. You don't have to actually think about launching an app. Click into it, click a bunch of buttons, tap a bunch of buttons, enter a bunch of data before it does something for you. The mobile apps, these ambient apps that will transition from your mobile device to your desktop to your phone, to your home telephone, your cable TV. When these things are just cross-platform and kind of ambient is going to be the next thing.

Really, it's going to be a huge challenge for testing because we're used to testing and clicking buttons, right? We're used to typing in data and getting expected output. The problem is when the output is personalized, you don't know what the output is going to be ahead of time. Everyone will have a different interface and a different context. That's kind of the future kind of forward-looking problems, I think, in terms of testing and where this kind of computing is going.

Josiah Renaudin: A lot of people who will be attending your keynote are, of course, professionals in software who want to take something that you said and use it to better themselves in their specific line of work. What tips would you give listeners looking to leverage the mobile win to bolster their careers?

Jason Arbon: To bolster their careers. I guess there's two ways to look at it. One is a career where you're working for somebody else, which I've done for a long time. First thing to do is think about just mobile as table stakes for your career, right? Think about it, next year, could you imagine like a test manager or a release manager, something like that at a company that has a mobile app, not be familiar with mobile? That starts to sound a little ridiculous. Really, mobile and being deep in mobile is just table stakes for career advancement in general in companies.

I think the thing that's exciting to me personally is that there's this mobile transition that has created a lot of opportunity for innovation. With every new platform transition, there's a lot of opportunity just even in the business side of things to change the game and to make money, frankly.

You don't see a lot of testers waking up and creating companies, right? Maybe Click Framework. They kind of dabbled here, but there's very few people that are mobile testers that are creating companies. That's what kind of frustrated me and led me to work on AppDiff. If you look around, most of the testing companies are not started by testers, right?

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Jason Arbon: They're people that see a great business opportunity or great technologists, but you don't see a lot of testers. I would say the big opportunity that's sitting in front of us today is that testing ... Nobody wants to do testing, frankly, in the world. It's a hard problem. It's an unsolved problem of computer science.

Guess who the best people are to create these new companies? The people that I'll be talking to at the conference, right? If I could inspire one or two of those folks to take the leap, and try to build a little company, and build something new, something to push the edge of things on the business side, that will be rewarding for me. There's really an opportunity. The normal, standard kind of career development, mobile's just table stakes, and then from kind of innovation or a business perspective. The seas are wide open today.

Josiah Renaudin: I think that inspiration part you mentioned kind of answers my next question. To dig a little bit deeper into it, more than anything, really, what message do you want to leave with your keynote audience after the presentation?

Jason Arbon: I guess the key thing I want to leave people with is that it's actually not about desktop. It's not about web. It's not about mobile. It's not even about ambient computing. The question is, really, how do we test? I think it's time that we take a step back and quit just porting our best practices from one platform to the next to the next. We literally see this with Appium, right? Really think about what is the fundamental activity that we're accomplishing? What is testing? How do we quantify quality? Why do we test? Those are the questions I think that are still unanswered, ironically, in our industry. That's what I want people to focus on, is it's really not about mobile, web, or desktop, some platform-specific thing. It's about thinking about what do we do as testers, what value do we add to software?

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. Fantastic. Jason, thank you very much for talking to me today. I really enjoyed the conversation. I'm looking forward to hearing more at Mobile Dev + Test.

Jason Arbon: Awesome. Great. Thanks, Josiah.

Jason ArbonCEO of AppDiff.com Jason Arbon is focused on automagically identifying differences in mobile app UI, UX, and performance. Jason is the creator of the new mobile web search and discovery app mobo. Jason was formerly the director of engineering and director of product at Applause.com/uTest.com, where he created the App Store data analytics service and led overall product strategy to deliver crowdtesting to top app teams via more than 100,000 community members. Jason previously held engineering management and innovation roles at Google and Microsoft. He coauthored How Google Tests Software and authored App Quality: Secrets for Agile App Teams.

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