STAREAST 2015 Interview with Dorothy Graham on Blunders in Test Automation


In this interview, Dorothy Graham, a software test consultant, discusses her STAREAST presentations. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.


In this interview, Dorothy Graham digs into her experience at STAREAST, as well as her multiple discussions. These include "Dorothy Graham: On Testing," "Successful Test Automation: A Manager’s View," and her popular keynote "Blunders in Test Automation." 

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with our virtual interviews, and I have the pleasure of having Dorothy Graham with me. Thank you for joining me this morning. It's an honor to have you here.

Dorothy Graham: Thank you very much.

Jennifer Bonine: I wanted to talk with you a little bit about a couple of topics. You had the opportunity—and a lot of people may not know this, but—to attend the very first STAR conference that existed.

Dorothy Graham: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that's right.

Jennifer Bonine: In ‘92. We've come a long way since ‘92, and the conferences, and just how they're held, and who's here, and what's going on. Maybe for folks that haven't had the opportunity, or this is our first time here, or they've never been and they're just watching, maybe give them a little background on what you've seen, as the transformation around these types of conferences for software testing.

Dorothy Graham: Certainly, software testing has changed a lot since 1992. I remember when I went to my very first testing conference ever, which was in ‘91, just being amazed that there were other people who liked testing. This is way before the days of the Internet or social media ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: ... or even emails, things like that. It was a way to contact other people who were interested in testing, and the communication you had with other people ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: ... the learning, was absolutely wonderful. At the time, back in the ‘90s, testing was not really very well regarded. I mean, when I used to tell people I'm specializing in testing: "What on Earth do you want to do that for?"

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Why?

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, exactly. "How crazy are you?"

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Certainly, that's one of the biggest changes I've seen. I mean, now we have a conference here with hundreds of people, almost a thousand people.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Testing is being taken seriously. Testing is a proper career now.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: A respectable occupation. That's certainly one of the biggest changes I've seen.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and it is.

Dorothy Graham: Which is nice.

Jennifer Bonine: It's neat to see. And even, I think, today, we see exactly what you mentioned, where even though people have the Internet and other things, they come to these conferences and go, "Oh my gosh, you're facing the same challenges I'm facing."

Dorothy Graham: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: "I'm not alone, and we're in this together." It's feeling like there's more people out there going through similar things that you're going through, which is kind of refreshing, and affirming, for people ...

Dorothy Graham: Absolutely, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... to be able to do that.

Dorothy Graham: Just to meet other people who are doing similar things to you.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: I mean, you meet new people at the conference, so you wouldn't have met online. You establish relationships with them. I mean, I've already heard from some people who are in my Monday tutorial, and they're going to keep in touch.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: They're going to form their own little community. I think that's absolutely great.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that's great. You were a founding member of some organizations, the ISEB ...

Dorothy Graham: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer Bonine: ... and then ISTQB, you were a member that, and part of that. As we've talked about, there's some controversy around these organizations, certifications. For some of the folks out there that aren't aware, maybe we should talk a little bit about how you see that, and kind of just what we're seeing in terms of some of the controversy around getting those certifications, and should we or shouldn't we? What's the value, and all of that.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah. Again, when the ideas for having a certification came up, back in the ‘90s, there were other aspects of software development that did have certifications. Project management ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... software development, and so on. People wanted something for testing, because testers weren't respected.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: People thought, "There's nothing to learn about testing," so having a qualification where you had to at least know something ... I mean, the foundation level in particular, which is the ... When I was on the working party for the foundation syllabus, the first one, for ISTQB ... It was really intended, I mean, there are different ways that you can try to assess testers. A bit of knowledge is one area, and that's relatively straight forward to do.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Skills is another area, which is probably more important, but that's more difficult to assess.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: Or looking at people's experience, which again, is difficult to compare experiences, and widely different types of contexts ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... which is also important. But the initial ISTQB foundation, was intended to take away a bottom level of ignorance. At that time, people were using different terms for the same thing ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: ... and the same terms, for different things, and communicating about testing. People often didn't know the basic principles of testing, or even the first thing about what a testing technique was. Just giving an initial introduction to testing, how it fits in with development, basically, some information about testing ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... which can be assessed with a multiple choice test.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Over the years, I'm amazed how this scheme has grown.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Obviously it is meeting a need. It doesn't meet all needs.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: It's not the answer to everything.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: But, I think it's been very effective and very helpful in taking away the level of ignorance.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, exactly. Just kind of creating base layer ...

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... for people and foundation, and removing some of the ... Because a lot of times what we see, I think, especially with different things, even new trends and stuff that come out, people hear buzz words, or they hear the high-level term, and they interpret it to mean something that it's not. Then it gets misinterpreted and then potentially misimplemented, because they don't truly understand. You need kind of that foundation before you can go forth and understand what you're trying to actually accomplish, I think.

Dorothy Graham: That's right, and even if you use different terms, at least you have a way that you can communicate with other people. Say, "Oh, when we say this, we mean this."

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep. I think that's so important. Now, folks out there, probably if they Google you—as I said yesterday, Google yourselves—if they Google you, they'll see you've written several books ...

Dorothy Graham: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: ... that are out there, that are available. I have heard that you're working on a new one.

Dorothy Graham: Actually, I'm working on a Wiki ...

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Dorothy Graham: ... rather than a book. Seretta Gamba, who contributed a chapter to the Test Automation Experiences book ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: ... she's a developer, and when she read all of the other stories in the book, she thought, "Patterns, patterns." She initially wrote a book about test automation patterns, and asked me to become involved. When I saw it, I thought, "Wow, this is great."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Because they're so interconnected, doing it in book form was difficult.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: When I would have a Wiki ...

Jennifer Bonine: It'll be a Wiki, not a book?

Dorothy Graham: We might have a book eventually.

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Dorothy Graham: But this is the quickest way in ...

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Dorothy Graham: ... or,

Jennifer Bonine: Okay.

Dorothy Graham: In that Wiki, we have a lot of different patterns, different types of patterns, management process, execution design patterns ...

Jennifer Bonine: Interesting.

Dorothy Graham: ... and issues, which are not just problems, but also things that need to be done.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Ways of helping people in their automation, and we hope this will become a very useful resource to people doing test automation.

Jennifer Bonine: For those of you out there doing test automation, it sounds like a very good resource and a website to be able to go to look at some of those patterns and things.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, it's free.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and it's free, which is great.

Dorothy Graham: It's open for anyone to look at.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Speaking of that, you spoke this morning on automation and some of the blunders, as you called them?

Dorothy Graham: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jennifer Bonine: For those folks ... Some of them may have seen the keynote this morning, some of them may not ... How did you come up with this keynote, that you did this morning around these blunders, and what was your inspiration for that?

Dorothy Graham: I've been talking about the test automation for a long time, and I had a previous presentation about mistakes in automation. When Lee invited me to do the keynote, the blunders idea was actually his. He's great at sort of suggesting topics for speakers, and getting really good things out of them I think. The blunders idea came from him. Then I took some of the things that were the mistakes, but then added some others as well, and ways that I've seen people going wrong in testing. I think the most important one is that people think testing tools do testing, but they don't. They just run stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: They run stuff.

Dorothy Graham: They're just computer programs.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. Exactly, they're the machine.

Dorothy Graham: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: It's still not the person.

Dorothy Graham: It's the computer.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, exactly. I did an interview this morning with Paul Holland ...

Dorothy Graham: Oh yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... and Paul was mentioning he has some similar thoughts as you around some of the things where people over automate, or they ...

Dorothy Graham: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: ... it's kind of like an addiction. They start, and then they want more and more and more, and then lose sight of, and can't ...

Dorothy Graham: They don't think about, "What should we automate?" ...

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Dorothy Graham: ... and what we shouldn't automate. Now, I thought the keynote yesterday from Dan North, was really good ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... with the quadrants, with automation. I thought that was very interesting as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Just kind of the question of, get a strategy, understand what makes sense, don't go into it thinking it's everything, or that it replaces ...

Dorothy Graham: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: ... the actual human involvement in this whole process.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: We know about the automation piece. Is there other things around this space, that you're real passionate about right now, or, things are kind of hot topics for you in the space that, you want to kind of share with the folks that are watching?

Dorothy Graham: Automation is the thing I'm most passionate about. Good testing as well. Testing has been an amazing ... I mean, I've been in the industry for a long time.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: I've certainly seen it change over time.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Dorothy Graham: But it's always interesting. There's always new things to learn.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: A love coming to the STAR conferences, and hope to come to another one.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Maybe next year.

Jennifer Bonine: It is. It's interesting to get the diverse perspectives, and some of the new folks, that have some new trends and ideas, and then the folks that have a lot of experience, and have done it, and have other ideas, and kind of just share those.

Dorothy Graham: One of the ways that it's changed amazingly, is just what we're testing now.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: I mean, back in the ‘90s, it was mainframes.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Then you had mini computers, wow.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, exactly.

Dorothy Graham: Then we had sort of client server architecture, whoa.

Jennifer Bonine: Whoa, that was dramatic.

Dorothy Graham: Now, we're getting, not just mobile, but wearables ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... and things like that. Things in the cloud ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... and virtualization, and testing is having trouble keeping up. But actually, I'll let you in on a secret, testing has always had trouble keeping up.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Testing will always have trouble keeping up. We still have to try ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... because you still have to, hopefully, make things better.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Dorothy Graham: Again, looking more towards rather than putting the bugs in and then taking them out ...

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: ... as Rob said in his lightning keynote ... I think, looking at preventing the bugs getting in and getting testers involved as early as possible ...

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely.

Dorothy Graham: ... so that we have more collaboration, and fewer bugs get in the first place. I think that's definitely a good thing to do as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. Now, for folks out there that are watching that are new to this profession, or they're early on in their careers, any advice that you would give them, that you wish someone would have told you, when you were starting your career, about things to think about, or just a way to go about, navigating, in a career like this?

Dorothy Graham: Be interested. Be passionate. Learn. I think there's so much stuff out there that you can look at on the web. There are books obviously, there's qualifications which will help.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Dorothy Graham: There are blogs, and there are articles. Just be interested in things and do sort of explore what's out there. Don't take everything as written. Challenge things.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: I think the essence of testing is we're looking at what might not work. Testing is challenging, not only because it's really interesting, because what we do is we challenge.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: We challenge the software. "Hang on a minute, what about this?"

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Have they thought of that, and what if it doesn't, and that kind of thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Certainly for me, testing's been a great career, and maybe it's going to do itself out of a job eventually, but I don't think it's going to be in my lifetime, I'm afraid.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. No, I don't think so either, and it's funny how that trend comes, right? Where people will say testing is going to be a dying breed ...

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... or testers will be a dying breed. We heard that for a couple of years. Then you have some pretty pervasive mishaps that happened in the world with the, and Target, and Home Depot, and some pretty high profile incidents, where then, all of sudden, testing gets a lot of popularity ...

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: ... Gains momentum again, where people go, "We need these people," and "They're super critical," and "How do we find more of them?"

Dorothy Graham: Actually, one of the things I used to tell people, if they were having trouble selling the idea of doing testing?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: Was, if you can engineer a small disaster ...

Jennifer Bonine: It will help you.

Dorothy Graham: Don't put your company out of business, but ...

Jennifer Bonine: Find that small disaster, so they'll realize, the benefit, because it is. It's sad. It sometimes takes those small disasters, or large ones ...

Dorothy Graham: To wake people up to the dangers of not doing testing well.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly, yeah, and not having the right people looking out for it, and challenging, and asking the questions. I think you bring up a really good point. A lot of folks will hear a lot of academic things and opinions, and obviously, there's a lot of passionate people in this industry, who have their opinions. I thought you brought up a good point about, challenge that, right?

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: It may or may not be right, so don't just take it as fact.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: It's always good to do your homework, do your research, challenge those things, and form your own opinion.

Dorothy Graham: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep.

Jennifer Bonine: Based on your data and your research, probably. Your thoughts on that.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, I agree. I mean, there are some diverse opinions out there as well ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Dorothy Graham: ... which I think in a way is sad, because it's created a divisiveness within the testing community. That, I think, is the saddest thing about the way testing is now.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: I mean, when I started, we were all sort of so pleased to meet other people in testing, there was a real ...

Jennifer Bonine: We're in this together.

Dorothy Graham: ... spirit of, yes, exactly, we're in it together. A spirit of cooperation, even with competitors. It was really a wonderful time to be a tester. Now, it seems that—it makes me sad, really.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: People on both sides have very valid points to make, and I like to ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... hear from both sides of any, sort of debate.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Dorothy Graham: Let's keep it ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: ... people-friendly.

Jennifer Bonine: We're still in this together.

Dorothy Graham: Keep it polite.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. Thank you so much. We ran out of time. It goes so quickly. I enjoyed our chat.

Dorothy Graham: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: If people want to get a hold of you, and there's things that I didn't ask, that they really want to know, what's the best way to contact you?

Dorothy Graham: I have a website called [email protected]. Or my email is [email protected]@uk.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thank you so much.

Dorothy Graham: Thanks very much, Jennifer.

Jennifer Bonine: I appreciate it.

Dorothy GrahamIn software testing for over forty years, Dorothy Graham is coauthor of four books—Software Inspection, Software Test Automation, Foundations of Software Testing and Experiences of Test Automation—and is currently working with Seretta Gamba on a new book on a test automation patterns wiki. A popular and entertaining speaker at conferences and seminars worldwide, Dot has attended STAR conferences since the first one in 1992. She was a founding member of the ISEB Software Testing Board and a member of the working party that developed the ISTQB Foundation Syllabus. Dot was awarded the European Excellence Award in Software Testing in 1999 and the first ISTQB Excellence Award in 2012. Learn more about Dot at

About the author

Upcoming Events

Feb 20
Apr 29
Jun 04
Jun 25