On Beer, Mobile Development, and Crowdsourced Testing: An Interview with Greg Avola

[interview]

JV: It's almost a little bit creepy, but also so handy for testing.

GA: Obviously, we would never use it for a production product, but for beta it makes perfect sense. It doesn't track the usage on other applications, only on the application that you're using. When you're testing Android and they're multiple versions of the Android, multiple phones, multiple screen sizes, you're at a loss where to begin. Having the ability to see exactly what they see is extremely important when you’re talking about distributed team all over the world. We've seen issues per se sometimes where one phone on one network with one version is having a problem. It's almost impossible to delve deep into that situation and try to test those things. I've been known to actually buy phones off eBay just so I can see what it looks like from the user perspective for major issues. This gives me the opportunity to see real-time. The good thing is, it gets around the issue of the root issue of the logs, because I can see it in real-time as well. I can actually play back screen shots in the video of where they were. It not only helps for testing, but it also helps for UI/UX. Maybe you built a feature that you thought they would use and they're not using it the way you thought they were going to use it. That's another feature that I love about this new product called TestFairy.

That's the normal process that we do for a really cheap platform. For the Blackberry side and the Windows phone side, we actually use the same kind of group of beta testers. We have a bunch of people that are big fans of it on Windows phones, and they have their own Windows phone testing group. Blackberry is the same thing. We push the versions out and wait for their feedback and build off of that.

JV: You were talking about earlier on in this interview that now is the time people can build something. The barriers of entry are a lot smaller than they used to be. It seems like these tools like this, you can do so much testing and this has really helped out the process for a small development shop.

GA: If you think about it, we are only a two-man team. I have a full-time job in addition to this. The amount of time I can spend on it is very, very low during the week and stuff like that. With all the other things that I have to do, I want testing to be as streamlined as possible. If users can use the application throughout the entire week and they can record their thoughts and opinions right from some kind of plugin with TestFlight or some plugin with TestFairy and record everything, then it makes my life easier. I just go back and I can check off something I can fix automatically. This product solved some of the need for some of the testing for the major phones, but I think ultimately when it comes down to the very end, you're still going to run into some issues here and there with some of these more off phones all over the place. It's a double-edge sword. I always go into so excited and happy and then I'll end up finding like two or three minor issues that I would have never found because they were just some obscure bug. We take the 80 and 20 percent rule, so we are comfortable on an 80 percent level that we've conquered 80 percent of our traffic in terms of mobile; we'll push that out and we'll be good to go. The 20 percent we'll deal with in subsequent updates. If we've targeted our large audience, I think I'll feel pretty confident about our testing.

JV: All right. We're coming close to the end around here. Now that you're a beer connoisseur, what beers have you discovered through this product of yours? I think it's very fascinating that you were not even interested in beer before.

GA: People laugh at that when I tell them that all the time. One thing I think about beer is that people kind of look at it from a perspective of the big macro-breweries in the country. They may not have the taste you're looking for. Then when you go off and try and explore beer on your own, you tend to try something that maybe is not the right style that you like and that kind of turns you off in general to getting out of your comfort zone. That was the exact same problem for me. Trying some beer, trying to figure out what I liked. Through the application, I figured out that I do like IPA's. That was my favorite style of beer.

JV: The file type and the beer.

GA: Exactly. I never found one that I really enjoyed. When I tried that beer, my eyes opened and I was able to experience in a different way. Honestly, one of my favorite beers is actually in California called Russian River. They make a beer called Pliney the Elder, which is their double IPA. Again, I had never heard it before because I'm from New York. I don't ever see that, but from the application I saw people checking into it, the ratings and reviews. I got intrigued, so when I was out in San Francisco, a couple of months ago, I actually drove up to the brewery in Santa Rosa and had a pint there. Those are the kind of experiences I think you come to when you use the application. You may not start off as a beer fan and you're using it to discover beer in a new way, but then when you find what you like, that is an amazing experience. Through the app, I found what I like. I think people are doing the same thing, as well.

JV: Finally, any fun-facts you can share with us for lending all the data you have on beer lovers throughout the world?

GA: I think one of my favorite stats is, first of all, the average drinker on Untappd, drinks about, I believe, it's eighteen beers a month according to our data. That's interesting to say the least. The more interesting part of that equation is the fact that there are over 150,000 home-brews that have been added into the database. We allow users to actually add their own breweries per se. They track their home brew. Maybe they have different versions they want to put out there. They want to get feedback from friends that are local and stuff like that. I love to see the fact that people are using this product, not only for the commercial side, but also for the beers that you brew on your own time, which is crazy to see. Finally, I think one of my favorite stats of all time is the community, as I mentioned earlier in this conversation, how passionate they are about beer. When we first started the database of beer, it was about open source database about 5,000 of all the macro beers you could see everywhere. From this, the user community has created over 350,000 beers, commercial beers, that the home brews talked about earlier, in addition to the five.

JV: That's amazing.

GA: That to me shows the power of the community being able to grow, helping them grow, helping to add new beers to influence everyone else to trying new beers itself. It's great to see that kind of growth and that kind of Wikipedia-style entry. Of course, it adds a little bit of a headache in the end by being a lot of merging and stuff like that, but I think in the end, it does have value that we are looking for.

JV: All right. Great. Thank you for taking time out of your day to talk, chat with us today.

GA: No problem. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

Greg Avola

Living in the craft beer haven of New York City, Greg is the backend developer for Untappd. After experiencing Rare Vos for the first time, he instantly fell in love with craft beer. While some people enjoy reading books or watching movies, Greg's passion is to code. With that being said, after Tim and Greg came up with the idea of Untappd, Greg had a working prototype the next day. Being able to combine his passion for development and craft beer allowed Untappd to be born.

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Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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