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Testing the Limits with Andrew Muns, President of STP (Part 1)

How testers are perceived by execs and developers

In the latest installment of our “Testing the Limits” series, we sat down with Andrew Muns (@amuns) the President of Software Test & Performance (of STP Magazine and STPCon fame), to discuss how testers are perceived by execs and developers, the future of media companies, and the changes that are underway at STP.  This is the first half of our chat; check back Thursday for part two.

uTest:  STPCon is being held this October in Cambridge, MA… what do you have in store for the attendees this year?

Andrew: This is the first conference that will have been planned start STP_Collaborativeto finish by Redwood Collaborative Media and was designed according to our very simple philosophy: “ask your audience what they want and give it to them.”  The show’s program was designed largely  based on a survey in which we asked two things, what topics are most important to you and who do you want to hear from.

The most requested topics among our readers were Test Automation, Performance Testing, Test Management and Agile.  We’ve built a five track program with specialized training and workshops for each of these four areas, plus a track we call “FutureTest.”  The concept of FutureTest is to take a look ahead to emerging tools, technologies and practices – to help our members stay on the cutting edge of the testing industry.

We’ve got only all-stars here (check out the full roster) plus a keynote by a NASA astronaut, Mike Mullane, who will talk about leadership and the organizational culture that led to one of the most tragic QA mistakes in history: the O-ring of the space shuttle Challenger.  Michael Bolton, will then use this story as a launching point (pardon the pun) to talk about test leadership.  It’s going to be a phenomenal event.

uTest:  You recently launched STPCollaborative.com. Tell us the purpose of this site and what’s so different about it.

A: The media business is undergoing a dramatic shift, and the STPCollaborative site was built as a platform for our member-focused model.  Somewhat dramatically perhaps, I call this a Copernican shift because today’s media companies now realize things don’t revolve around them.  Our focus is on members of the software testing community, in which we’re just one of many participants.

In a way, this isn’t new to us and is based on the very successful model developed by Ron Muns, my father, our Chairman, and founder of HDI (previously the Help Desk Institute). HDI was a membership organization for technical support professionals founded before the current trendiness of social networking and web-based communities emerged.  His company built a vibrant community for a group of professionals that didn’t get much respect, and really helped to create professional standards and be a vocal advocate for the profession.  We are working to build STP Collaborative into a membership organization that provides that same sense of community, that facilitates knowledge sharing and education, and that helps testers reach their professional goals.

STP Collaborative is the information resource platform for our members.  It brings the previously static content from Software Test & Performance into a more interactive web-based format, and informs members of new educational content, whether in the form of online content or live events and conferences.  Of course the best is yet to come, and we’re working diligently behind the scenes to increase the interactivity of our site and to roll out some truly world-class online and offline educational resources for testers.

uTest: By the way, who tested the site before launch?
:-)

A: First off, uTest was extremely helpful to us in preparing for launch (thanks!).  We’re a start-up in many ways and as such have an extremely lean team with limited resources, so having the uTest community assist us was invaluable.  In fact, two of the bugs you guys found would have been real show stoppers!

Before this, however, the testing was done largely by Igor Balos at Wildbit (our developer team), our own staff (everyone participated), and a few members of the testing community who volunteered to help.  Our contributing editor Matt Heusser was also particularly helpful.  Best of all, I actually got to test software myself!

uTest: So based on what you’ve seen so far at the helm of STP Collaborative, how close-knit is the software testing community compared to other professions?

A: Well, as a newcomer to the space, my first impression is that the profession is fairly Balkanized.  People talk a lot to me about “schools of software testing” and many of the consultants and thought leaders in the industry feel very passionately about their “school.”  This is partly because software testing is by definition concerned with a very fuzzy and philosophical concept called “quality,” and partly because “software” itself has so many incarnations that people in different fields can have radically different perspectives.

In spite of this, I believe that very tight bonds exist among testers.  There is a strong community here that identifies with common professional and interpersonal issues.  I attended Jerry Weinberg’s session at the recent CAST conference and we did a role-playing exercise where a tester was arguing for equal pay with the developers.  The outpouring of support from the group for the woman playing the role of the tester was incredible.

uTest: What’s been the biggest challenge in creating STP Collaborative?

A: Let’s see, we’re a start-up in a highly-cyclical industry undergoing dramatic change, in one of the most challenging economic situations of our lifetime.  Where should I start?

Joking aside, I’m amazed at what we’ve accomplished in the face of some very strong headwinds. In the last eight months, we’re reinventing our business from a one-to-many traditional media model to a member-centric, highly interactive listening and learning model. We’ve built a world-class strategic advisory board. We’ve launched a terrific new website focused on building a community; and we’ve redesigned our magazine.  The biggest challenge has been managing the chaos associated with this pace of change!

uTest: Your background has included stints in finance, teaching, as well as the Peace Corps. Ever think you’d end up in the world of software testing?

A: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on earth to have worked teaching math in Central Africa, done IT consulting in Venezuela, worked on a distressed debt trading floor in New York, helped Carl Icahn shake up corporate boards, and run a new media company.  Looking back, though, any role I’ve ever been good at was really just teaching.  Sales done properly and honestly is an educational endeavor, and business is really relationship building and sales no matter what field you’re in.

In fairness, no one would hire me to be a software tester.  That said, I have an open mind, I’m very humble, I listen to people, and I love to learn.  I’m told the best software testers bring in diverse perspectives, and learn and adapt constantly.  If that’s the case, my involvement with the testing world should be a great fit!

uTest: Testers and developers: Friends or foes?

A: I’m sure this varies from company to company and team to team, but I’d wager a sum of money that teams where the two are friends dramatically outperform teams where they’re foes.

Check back tomorrow for part two of our chat with Andrew.  Have other questions for him about the state of the testing industry, the next big thing in QA, or STP’s plans for world domination?  Don’t be shy — drop a comment and ask away!

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More Stories By Jennifer Moebius

Jennifer Moebius, Public Relations Manager at uTest, champions media efforts, analyst relations and speaking/awards programs. A media maven and creative writer, Jennifer’s accomplishments include feature articles in BusinessWeek, Fortune, Dow Jones, The New York Times and Investor’s Business Daily. Prior to uTest, Jennifer was Senior Account Executive at boutique PR firm Emerge Public Relations where she managed PR programs for a variety of tech clients including Burton Group, Information Builders, Action Engine, Tizor Systems, good2gether and Harvard Business Publishing.