Military Training for Software Professionals: An Interview with Rick Craig


Does the training that enlisted military members receive give future testers and developers a better footing and education than can be found in a standard classroom? Rick Craig tells his story of transitioning from the military to the world of software testing.

Noel: Hi. This is Noel Wurst from TechWell, and I am speaking today with Rick Craig who is a consultant and trainer with SQE and we wanted to speak to Rick mainly about his military background and to learn why maybe those who are in the military or leaving the military could have a lot of success maybe in the high tech world of software and testing and those kind of things and at stuff that Rick has worked with in the past. I've got a couple of questions for him. How are you doing today Rick?
Rick: I'm doing fine. Thanks Noel.
Noel: Great. So I was thinking that a good way to get started would just be to give your background in that military history and kind of what made you get into software when you left.
Rick: Okay. Well, I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1977 as an artillery officer, big guns. I did the things you would expect a lieutenant to do platoon commander, liaison officer and then I got a job at one of the computer centers and okay I'm artillery. Don't know much about computers.
Rick: I became an accidental test manager. It was in the early 80s with a dozen or so testers and when I went to my next command they had a job for a test manager with a lot of testers. I was a captain by then and this would normally be a much more senior officer, but back then not many people knew about testing so I got the job. My boss very wisely realized that I was still basically a cannon officer and didn't really know much about computers. So he hired a couple of high-priced consultants to mentor me. For two years they mentored me in software testing, which was kind of a mystery back then and maybe today. So all the way my mentors urged me to write an article about testing, and I did and I got a check in the mail. I thought this is a really good thing. So I cranked out a few articles and then I got invitations to speak at conferences and then began to get job offers and in 1989 after 12 years of active duty I accepted a job with SQE and became a reservist instead of active duty, and I've been with SQE ever since.
Noel: It's funny how people find that whole testing, how people run into that accidentally sometimes. People go to school for programming and there's all these coding for kids and all that kind of stuff. Yet testing ... It's almost like people are still letting people just kind of find their own way into testing.
Rick: Yeah. I run into people all the time. It's like how did you get into testing? Well, I'm an accidental tester. It happens all the time.
Noel: I was thinking also with as far as the role the technology plays today in the military with things becoming so advanced and connected and cyber wars and all that kind of stuff it seems like maybe people being enlisted would get a good bit of exposure to high tech kind of stuff. I was just thinking that kind of hands on education may be even more beneficial than just a traditional classroom education that they would maybe get if they didn't go into the military or feel like they had to get once they left the military. Do you think that kind of hands on expertise they're getting really does give them a great footing to getting into high tech when they leave?
Rick: Yeah, I think so. Before we even talk about technology though, I just think the training and the attitude that we develop in the military itself is valuable in any field of endeavor not just in the software world. Typically military members of all services are taught to think on their feet and be take-charge kinds of people and I think that serves them well. When it comes to technology, if you think about it, I would say that the U.S. Military is likely one of the largest users of technology in the world and in the industry. If you think more specifically about software testing for example or software engineering, let's make it a little broader than testing, a lot of the innovations that we use over the years have been born in the military.
For example, well obviously even the precursor to the internet, the ARPANET came through the military. I think the IEEEA29 standard for testing is probably based on an Army standard. PERT project management was a military activity. Capability maturity model was created for the Air Force as a way for them to choose outsourcers 20-30 years ago. Even in more modern things like agile, although you'll never hear anyone really talk about this, the estimation models they use like planning poker and t-shirt sizing are based on a really decade's old philosophy developed in the military called Delphi. We definitely have these roots, but really about the military and the training is we have a culture of training. When you think about it, Noel, when we're not actively involved in some kind of combat activity our primary job is training. So we bring that culture to everything that we do.
Noel: Do you think that culture of training kind of extends into testing specifically as far as all the things ... I didn't hear you mention testing specifically in there. Do you think that as far as software testing in particular that you do get some sort of training that would kind of get your mind in that ... I always hear things like testers are very creative and they think outside the box and they do things a little bit differently. The military is a little bit different from the traditional business setting. Do you think that testing itself has a particular place there?
Rick: Yeah. I think so. I think that military members are particularly well suited for this. For example, I think almost everyone would agree a great attribute to being a tester is attention to detail. Military members are trained in discipline and attention to detail. That serves you very well. You mentioned creativity and you don't think of military people necessarily as creative, but I think they are.
Noel: Yeah, I would. I definitely would.
Rick: Yeah. I think that's an important part. This whole idea if you're given directions in the military we know how to follow those, but if we don't have directions then we use decentralized leadership and all military members are taught to think on their feet and to take charge. I think that bodes well for testing.
Noel: I think so. Lastly, I wanted to talk about certification in particular. I'm always interested in anything that causes any kind of debate or controversy or stirs up trouble and that kind of stuff. For someone like yourself who helps people get certified, I was kind of curious as to what value you find in software testing certification in particular as opposed to someone just going about it on their own and saying “oh, I don't need the certification.” Is it one of the things where every little bit helps or what kind of value do you find in certification?
Rick: Yeah. Even if we're not talking about testing for a moment. We'll just talk about certification in general. If you want to be a scuba diver you might want to go out and get certified, and when you got out of that pool and passed your exam you weren't suddenly a better scuba diver, but it does let me know that you know about the safety and how to handle the equipment and it's going to allow you to get your tanks filled. So when it comes to testing I kind of feel the same way. I'm not going to go out and find somebody to hire just because they're certified, obviously.
But if they are certified that tells me they know the vocabulary, they know the best practices. It shows me a little initiative that they went out to get those, and I can say as an employer if someone comes to me and they're certified I believe that's a certain amount of training that I may not have to pay for. I get that added benefit. I think certification the main thing for me is it says okay we're going to give it this common vocabulary that you build upon that. That's the view on certification in general.
Noel: Is that a pretty decent place to start as far as certification? Not that you have to make that the first thing you do upon leaving the military but for someone who did want to get into software, software testing even, is something like certification to get the vocabulary and get that familiarity going. Is that a decent place to kind of look at initially maybe?
Rick: Yeah. I think that's a real insightful comment. For example, I teach a certification course and even if someone wasn't anxious to become certified I think because of the breadth of the course it's particularly a good place for people to start. We do sometimes at a client site we may teach a certification course even though they have no intention of becoming certified.
Noel: Yeah. That's pretty cool. Taking the class for what you get out of the class and the certification is almost like ... I don't want to call it just a bonus, but the certification is simply what you get for completing it but if you just look at the certification it almost kind of buries all that education that got before you ever got that.
Rick: Yeah. Of course your hands on experience ... In the military we're all about that. It's not one or the other it's both, but you've got to start somewhere and that's a good place to begin.
Noel: Cool. Well thank you for speaking with us today. Good luck to yourself and anyone else who is leaving the military or even just not leaving the military but looking to get into software or software testing. This has been our talk with Rick Craig who is a consultant and trainer with SQE and thanks again so much.
Rick: Thanks, Noel.
A consultant, lecturer, author, and test manager, Rick Craig has led numerous teams of testers on both large and small projects. In his twenty-five years of consulting worldwide, Rick has advised and supported a diverse group of organizations on many testing and test management issues. From large insurance providers and telecommunications companies to smaller software services companies, he has mentored senior software managers and helped test teams improve their effectiveness. Rick is coauthor of Systematic Software Testing and is a frequent speaker at testing conferences, including every STAR conference since its inception.

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