STAREAST 2015 Interview with Andy Glover: Problem Solving for Testers

[interview]

Andy Glover, head of testing at Exco InTouch, discusses his STAREAST experience. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.

Summary:

In this STAREAST interview, Andy Glover explains how testers solve problems. He digs into visual testing and its uses, as well as how we need to innovate in order to move the industry forward. 

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back with another interview. This is Andy Glover. Andy, thank you for joining us.

Andrew Glover: Thank you for having me.

Jennifer Bonine: Andy, you work for a company called Exco InTouch. For those of you out there that haven't heard of this organization, can you tell us a little bit about what it does and what you guys do?

Andrew Glover: Sure. Exco InTouch works in the pharmaceutical industry. We help large pharma with clinical trials. One of the main things is, we collect data from patients. Through that we use mobile apps, so we provide an app to a patient, a patient logs in every day, answer questions, how they're feeling. We might remind them to take medication, or maybe remind them to go and see their doctor.

All that information can really help the pharma companies gather their information for a clinical trial, and hopefully get the medication, or the drug, to market.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. Now, the application of that, does that work in all markets or just in certain markets? Obviously there's certain regulations for the FDA in the United States versus internationally. Does it work across the globe?

Andrew Glover: Yeah across the globe. We're based in the UK. We work with lots of big pharma companies. FDA pretty much trumps everything, so everyone has to pull to the FDA. It doesn't matter where you work. If you work in England, or you work in the USA, or any other country, it seems to be the FDA standard. We have to follow their regulations, and so do everyone else really.

There are other regulations in the UK. There's the MHRA, but again, FDA seems to be more important.

Jennifer Bonine: Trumps?

Andrew Glover: Yeah, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: So you guys go with that one. That's interesting. Can you give us a little bit of background about how you ended up at this conference and what you're doing here, and your path to this industry?

Andrew Glover: Yeah. I've been testing for a long time now, about thirteen, fourteen years, mostly in the pharma industry. The reason I'm here though, is I've sort of got into visual testing over the last few years. I did a workshop on Monday, a half-day workshop, and discussed how to learn about visual testing and how to apply it and get the confidence to use it on a daily basis really.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. Now, inside your organization are you guys using visual testing?

Andrew Glover: Yes. For example, we use mind maps. Mind maps are really good. Mind maps are often used to generate ideas, which is an important part of testing. When you test applications, for example, you might be given a requirements document, but not all the requirements are written down. It's good to have a mind map to generate more ideas. You can bounce the ideas off other testers and project members as well.

The good thing about mind maps as well, it can be a living document. Rather than having a test plan, which is often lots and lots of words, and often I find people don't read them, which is a communication tool, but nobody uses it for communication. A mind map, I call it a living document.

You use it. You use it to generate ideas, but as you test, as you go through the project, you update it. You remove things that don't apply, add more things. We use a software called Xmind. That allows you to kind of annotate it. You can add images, green ticks, red crosses. It gives you a coverage of what you're testing. It's a very quick glimpse of how you're progressing in a project.

Jennifer Bonine: In terms of using these mind maps, and for those out there that haven't heard of visual testing as a strategy for them to use, it's interesting. Today, with all of our mobile apps and our technology, we seem to have less patience for things. Our attention span's shorter, so pictures capture our attention better than words a lot of times. We just don't have that attention span.

Andrew Glover: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: For people who are interested in doing visual testing, or getting more information on it, how do they go about this? How do you go about getting started to say, "Is this something that would work for our company or our organization?"

Andrew Glover: What I always say is that we always use icons and images in software. Users expect that in software, so it makes them understand the software quicker. They can memorize it or remember how the software works. We, as users, expect that in software.

Why we don't use it in documents when we develop projects, it's a good question. That's why I say, "Look, using visuals helps you remember. It triggers your brain and it picks up information much quicker. If you're running out of time, then you should definitely invest in using visuals because in the long term that will make things quicker." That's what I would say.

Jennifer Bonine: For the software out there that you're using, that you mentioned as one tool to do this and capture it, does it have pre-canned visuals out there that people then can utilize? So you don't have to necessarily be able to create or come up with those visuals on your own and you have some you can pull from?

Andrew Glover: Yeah, absolutely. There's lots of software out there you could download. A lot of them got smileys. If you're testing different features you can use a smiley face if one feature's going really well, and a sad face if something looks a bit buggy.

Again, that gives you a quick idea of how the overall quality of the software you're testing. There's lots of other images, green ticks, red crosses, that you can use. A ship to say it's ready to ship the software. Again, things like that. There's plenty of that.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Just kind of mixing it up a little and changing it up a little. I think too often people see the same things, or they gloss over stuff when they're reading it and that kind of pulls them out of that and goes "Oh, I haven't seen that before. What is that?" And are more interested in it.

Andrew Glover: I find that if you provide a document with lots of words they will definitely gloss over it, but if you have images that pop out that will definitely get their attention and it'll definitely help them remember as well, which is good.

Jennifer Bonine: It definitely draws them in. What do you say in terms of having done testing for thirteen years yourself, lots of people out there have been doing their jobs for a long time. Maybe in the same industry, maybe even at the same company. How do you stay from losing your edge, stopping seeing things that are there because you've done it for too long, or losing your creativity, and how you go about doing what you're doing?

Andrew Glover: Lots of little things, I guess. I make sure I invest time in learning from others. I follow other blogs. There's lots of, in this conference, famous testers that I can follow. I follow them on Twitter. I read their articles. That's sort of making sure that I keep on top of the new testing techniques and also kind of gives me a bit of motivation as well because that's quite important when you're testing.

Other things would be make sure that you—I'm sort of an introvert, so I need to make sure I get some time by myself. I think what the project requires and then I go back and discuss that with the project team.

Other things ... Perhaps I also think it's important to be healthy and keep your mind fresh. Drink plenty of water as well. If you're working late, drinking coffee is good, but make sure you're hydrated. Normally people say that in conferences, but I think it's important as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Right? They pump you full of coffee, so you have to drink the water, too, to stay mentally alert as well, besides just the coffee for doing that. Mentioning it, you also have something that is really neat that I'm interested in, and I'm going to go check out, but if you guys haven't checked it out, it's something out there for the Cartoon Tester blog.

Tell us more about that, and kind of how it came about and how people can find it.

Andrew Glover: Yes. Cartoon Tester came about around five years ago now. I kind of knew there was lots of testers out there. I'm not great at writing, hence I use visuals. I sort of felt "Well, I can write blog posts or articles, but I know that's not my strength." I decided to draw images on cartoons and take a lighthearted side of testing, not taking it too seriously, and see what's funny and what's not.

I draw images of testers, bugs, defects, developers, PMs as well, and how they interact with each other. Sometimes it's fiction and that often causes something we can laugh about. Yeah, definitely have a look.

I've got a Facebook page, Cartoon Tester, and on my blog as well, cartoontester.com.

Jennifer Bonine: So people can check out Cartoon Tester. Now you guys all know to go take a look at that to see some of the visuals and I'm sure some of you probably, when you see those, will be able to relate to them and things you've experienced.

Andrew Glover: Absolutely. I've got over a hundred cartoons. I'm sure there's several, if not many, cartoons that kind of relate to your everyday life.

Jennifer Bonine: Feedback people give you on that are things that they post about them. Do you ever have one of those ones where you're like "Oh, I wonder if they'll get this." And you kind of are surprised by the reaction?

Andrew Glover: Yeah. I'm always worried when I post my next cartoon, thinking, "Are people going to get it? Are people going to get upset or angry?" But, generally speaking, I can't please everyone, but I often get lots of people back saying, "Oh, this is really good and it made me laugh for today," which is really good.

If I just get one coming back, that's good enough for me. I often do that. I often get that per cartoon.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, you get some feedback on how it's going.

Andrew Glover: Yeah, I'm happy with that.

Jennifer Bonine: So the rest of the conference, for those that are watching and are out there that don't have a chance to be here, what's your focus? What are you hoping to achieve over the next day and a half that's remaining at this event?

Andrew Glover: Well, I am sort of into creativity and visuals, so anything whether topics along those lines, I like to attend. Innovation as well. Jason spoke about that this morning so that was really good. I really enjoyed his ideas about innovation. Things along those lines.

I test mobile apps so I'll be going to mobile apps talks over the next couple of days as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Gives you a good idea, for some of you out there, what kind of different folks are focused on that are here. Now, have you spoken at a lot of different conferences, or was this one of your first?

Andrew Glover: I've spoken to a few now. I went to STARWEST last autumn. I’ve spoken at quite a few in Europe as well. This is my second one in the US. It's been great.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect.

Andrew Glover: Yeah, I spoke at quite a few back in Europe as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Do you tend to see that this concept of using the visuals, and the testing and creating that, is it also flowing into the business analysis and the requirements documents in some of the way we actually do requirements in general?

Andrew Glover: Yeah, absolutely. I think using visuals can really help with requirements, especially, for example, mobile applications. You can quite easily come up with screenshots of the app and that can help you, help the PM, help the developer sort of understand what the application does, the app. That helps the tester, as well, understand how the app works.

An idea as well is, you can get the screenshot from the app and then you can generate more test ideas. Your Mind Map could be the screenshot of the app in the middle, and then you can generate more ideas from it.

Jennifer Bonine: Sort of a visual way to do that. I think it speaks well, too, to probably breaking down barriers between technologists or IT folks, testers, and the business folks, as well as marketing and some of the other people that are having to try and collaborate.

It's less words, more visuals of what we're trying to achieve. Getting on the same page.

Andrew Glover: Exactly. Technology is very complex, is advancing all the time, if you have to put that in words it does scare people. PMs, users, clients, if we can use images to kind of soften that, that can really help. Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and make it more approachable, so to speak, in doing that.

Andrew Glover: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Well, we are out of time, Andy, but if people want to get a hold of you, obviously they should go check out your cartoon tester blog, but if I didn't ask all the questions, if there's something else they're dying to ask you, how can they reach you?

Andrew Glover: I'm on Twitter. That's probably the easiest way. My Twitter tag is @cartoontester. I've also got an email, [email protected].

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thanks for your time today, Andy. I appreciate it.

Andrew Glover: Thank you. I've enjoyed it.

Andy GloverWith more than thirteen years of experience in software testing, Andy Glover is the head of testing at Exco InTouch, a provider of mobile communications solutions in the pharma and medical health sector. At Exco, Andy manages a team of testers responsible for testing software—from windows-based applications to mobile phone applications and SMS messaging—for both internal use and for external clients. Andy likes to be involved in the software testing community and contributes to online forums and the Software Testing Planet. Andy runs cartoontester.blogspot.com, a blog posting cartoons about testers.

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