Live Blog: Testing the Xbox: Lessons for All, Alan Page, STARWEST 2013

Jonathan Vanian's picture

During the first five minutes of Alan Page’s keynote session, the Principal SDET (the fancy name for “tester”) at Microsoft Corporation played a short video that silenced the jam-packed crowd as he began his discussion on Microsoft’s testing practices for its soon-to-be-released Xbox One. The video, an introduction to the new gaming and entertainment system, played for what seemed like an all-too-brief thirty seconds, but it was enough to generate enough enthusiasm from the crowd to pay the utmost attention to what Page was about to say.

This keynote session, mind you, was not about sharing secrets behind the system—it was about sharing the various strategies and techniques Page and his team of six testers use to ensure that the Xbox One functions correctly and seamlessly.

Those in attendance got a chance to see how Microsoft handles such a large-scale project. Page was quick to point out that although he and his team only need to test one piece of hardware, unlike the majority of testers who need to ensure that their products function correctly across myriad devices, there’s still much work to be had.

“We have no worries—everyone has the exact same hardware,” Page slyly said. “So it’s easy, right?”

Well, not exactly. According to Page, the Xbox One and it’s related peripheral devices like the motion-detecting Kinect gadget, need to be tested to ensure that they can operate with ease across a variety of televisions, HDMI certifications, and networking routers, not to mention taking in account security protocols. Page says he and his team perform an “immense amount of effort to make it hack proof.”

Of course, the same tips and tricks that Page uses for the Xbox One can be applied to testers of all kinds, and he made sure that his presentation centered around that fact with his helpful list of six key lessons to take away:

Lesson 1: Build a great team. According to Page, you shouldn’t set up your team to build a great product; you need to build a great team and let them build a great product.

Lesson 2: Learn from the past. Always be open to innovation and never simply commit yourself to the status quo.

Lesson 3: Have a strategy. Page highlighted the importance of having a clear and effective strategy that is easy to articulate and convey to your team members. You need to have a set of guiding principles to help aid you in your decision-making process.

Lesson 4: Eliminate silos, walls, and fiefdoms. For the Xbox One project, Page said that developers and testers share the same source code repository instead of having everything segregated by department. That way, the developers can do low-level testing, like unit tests or functional tests, while the testers concentrate on the big-ticket items.

Lesson 5: The crowd is powerful…and the user is king. To help your team and organization create a product that people actually like, you can create evaluation charts that will allow you to pick people’s brains on whether or not particular features resonate with them. If you have a feature that is polarizing, make sure that is what you intended to create, rather than something that unexpectedly causes people to either love it or hate it.

Lesson 6: Have fun. Make sure you inject a sense of humor into your workplace. Having fun in life will help you in your job to be more productive.