The Evolution of Agile: A Conversation with Bob Galen


JV: As agile has gotten more popular, how have you seen testing change over the years?

BG: I think it’s getting more empowered, the way I think about it. I’m not a tester. I didn’t grow up as a tester, I grew up as a developer, and along the way I started leading test teams. I remember sending myself to testing classes because I felt very uncomfortable leading people when I didn’t know what the heck they were doing. I was reading and studying testing, and I would hang out and test with folks just so I could sort of effectively lead them. One of my observations was that for years and years, testers were sort of woeful second-class citizens. Developers came first. They were always paid more and they were always sort of respected more. That’s a reality, I think, even for today. There wasn’t a lot of technical respect. It wasn’t looked on as a technical profession. People used to joke that testers would just be keyboard monkeys. There were these jokes going around saying that you would just hit keys and randomly ran tests. I never saw testing that way, personally. I didn’t see them as developers, but I didn’t see them as these woeful test monkeys. I saw them as a profession—as something that really saved our butts as development, and it was an incredibly valuable role if done well. And I’ve tried to sort of motivate them. I tried to sort of paint a picture to understand and be empathetic.

I think what agile has done, fast-forwarding, is that it’s sort of leveling that playing field, I hope, where testers are becoming sort of equal citizens in the team—a very valuable role in the team. They are starting to get credit. They are starting to be looked at as being a partner with development. Now this isn’t across the board. It’s still evolving. I run into a lot of agile teams that look at testers and they throw stuff over the wall to them. So [that stigma] is still there, and it’s quite prevalent, but it’s changing. I think that’s one of the most refreshing parts of the agile evolution—what it’s done to traditional testers. They have to work hard, but they can be embraced as effective team members. I don’t think that happened years ago.

JV: Do you think that because some of the methodologies used in agile—for example, the daily stand-ups—involve so much team interaction, that in some way these methodologies have allowed for testers to become more involved or at least recognized more often?

BG: I think both. I think they are being embraced and I think they are being challenged. They are given opportunities. Now it’s a choice for testers. I still try to throw the gauntlet down to testers and say, “It’s not pretty. There is no free ride. You have to step in. You have to work hard. You have to transform yourself to be an agile team member.” If you weren’t comfortable learning or if you didn’t think you had to be competitive technically, you have to be in an agile context. You just have to compete, but now it’s recognized if you show the effort. You get embraced, you get the recognition, and you have business impact. I think the product owners love inquisitive, aggressive, and engaged testers. It’s just a wonderful partnership in agile teams with the business side, the tester, and product owners; there’s a lot of synergy there.           

JV: It seems that some of these methodologies require a level of assertiveness on part of the tester. How do you go about making them feel more comfortable?

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