November 2020 Updates

Somehow Thanksgiving is over but I’ve been buying Christmas presents for weeks. It’s amazing how quickly (but not quietly) 2020 is flying by now that it is nearly December. As with most of my updates, these are mostly for my own clarity on what has transpired but I hope they are of interest to bystanders and friends too.

About two months ago my company BloomNation announced it was rebranding itself to Promenade Group to better reflect how our business was now positioned to help 3 different verticals gain traction online: flower shops (BloomNation), liquor and wine stores (Swigg) and restaurants (Dig In). The company is growing rapidly and is in a strong position during Pandemic (thankfully). Most companies I’ve joined have been duds so working for a startup that is succeeding is a nice change of pace.

A few months prior to this, I hired my first direct report. I spent at least a full month recruiting and interviewing people for a mid-level Software Test Engineer. I’ll have more to say in the near future but suffice it to say over 100 people applied and only 1 got the job.

So many other things come to mind:

  • A little over 2 weeks ago was my first AST Board Meeting as President. I spent the past two years as Treasurer, et al. Not much has changed, but then again so much has.
  • There’s lots of cool stuff happening within the AST that I hope to be able to share in the next few months! So much good stuff. In the meantime I’ve got to bite my tongue.
  • I’m currently teaching the final AST-BBST course of the year, Test Design. One of the most under-rated courses we have. Lots to look forward to in 2021 with regard to courses!

While I’m not speaking at it, the original online testing conference (the aptly named) OnlineTestConf is coming in December is always worth checking out. The 2020 conference calendar isn’t over but has been filled with online conferences. If this is the way of the future, we’ll definitely need better ways to comb through the programs to find the specific things we want to learn. Information overload is real.

8 Tools I use to Accelerate My Testing

Inspired by Justin Rorhman’s post of a similar name with a slight twist focusing on tools that generally help accelerate my testing.

As a test and quality specialist embedded in an engineering team I have a lot of work to do on any given day. Our engineering team’s goal is to ship quality software on a regular basis to deliver value to our customers. Naturally I rely heavily on a number of tools to help me better understand what is going on with the software or code under test and/or to accelerate what I’m able to do in a given amount of time.

Like Justin said in his article “Testing tools don’t make me a good tester, but they do make me a better tester. These tools help amplify things I need to do repeatedly or give me access to the product I wouldn’t have otherwise. They also shape the way I think about testing problems, for better and worse.”

In no particular order these tools are:

  1. GitHub. We use the GitHub workflow to deliver all of our code including application, library, and test automation. With each push to a particular branch our CI system builds the application and runs our unit and integration tests. With each Pull Request I can see all or just specific changes, code reviews and test run summaries. All this helps keep our build pipeline clean, makes it easier to identify potential issues quickly and helps me quickly build my test strategy.
  2. Docker. Each separate application of our system has been dockerized (aka runs in a container). This makes it incredibly easy to set new people up (a few hours of setup instead of a day) and gives us some powerful logging for each application. It also reduces conflicts when switching between branches where libraries or decencies have been changed.
  3. Heroku review apps. As I mentioned above with each push our application is compiled through our CI system. Once finished our CI system pushes that complied build to Heroku which automatically provisions a staging like environment accessible through its own url. (This feature is called a Heroku Review application). In about 5 minutes after a set of changes have been built our team now has a brand-new test environment ready for those hard to test local problems like testing on real mobile devices or a few special integrated services. Being able to build these new automatic quickly allows our developers to show off / get quicker input to the work they are doing.
  4. Browser DeveloperTools. I primarily use Chrome and Safari but the developer tools in each browser are priceless. From Inspecting requests and looking at their data, to setting or removing experiment variables, debugging problems, looking for problems, profiling, responsive design, layout, checking DOM elements, etc browser DeveloperTools really are the first place to start. It would be so much harder to learn what is going on without them.
  5. CircleCI. Great for keeping your deployment pipeline clean, running your build tests and ensuring those changes get where they are going each time. It doesn’t much matter what CI system you use it’s helping to accelerate something that would normally take away from developer or tester time.
  6. EverNote. Surprising or not, I’m always taking notes about any number of things like quick terminal commands, operations for creating data, migrating databases in heroku, setting up configurations, test ideas, questions for follow up, etc. Anything I might forget goes here and I can get to it anywhere, any place on any device.
  7. iTerm2. A command line replacement utility with Oh My Zsh installed that I’ve customized and continue to customize with shortcuts and aliases to make my repetitive tasks quicker. Also customized with visuals showing which repo I’m in, what branch I’m on and if there are uncommitted files, because I do enough on the command line.
  8. Automated UI acceptance tests. Running our acceptance tests for each staging deploy (or set of deploys) allows us time to do more deep exploration on the application as a whole with a reduced focus on those areas covered by the existing tests.

Part of the desire for writing this was to record what my work looks like now and then be able to compare it later-on in the future. However, in the time since I started writing this article I changed jobs and now the future is here. Well, kind of. My new team’s development stack is a lot more varied, which means so are the tools I’m using. I think it’s still best to wait for half a year or so before I write a follow up post on the tools accelerate that work. In the meantime, what tools do you use that accelerate your testing?

Learning about customers

Working for a startup company you go through a lot of problems, potential solutions and more problems. I was reminded of my company in the article by Startup Lessons Learned entitled Validated learning about customers. Eric Ries, who writes the Startup Lessons Learned blog, describes two scenarios with two fictional companies.

My company is like the first company in his post: the metrics of success change constantly and our product definition fluctuates regularly. Our development team is always busy but those efforts don’t exactly lead to added value to the product. We are pretty good at selling the one-time product but we have to put a lot of effort into each sale and so the sales process isn’t scalable. Worse it’s frustrating that management doesn’t see this.

At the end of the article Eric lists some solutions to companies with this “stuck in the mud” situation and I think the third solution is something my company should try: build tools to help the sales team reduce the time on each sale and try building parts of our product that make the sales process faster or the investment afterwards less. (I added that last bit). How good is your product if it requires customers spend large amounts of time, energy and money in order to make it usable? Shouldn’t the company make the use of your product as frictionless and automated as possible so it’s easy for customers?

After reading this article I’m interested in reading his full book: The Lean Startup.