Interview with Keith Klain @KeithKlain
This interview was published in our December 2013 edition
Current Role/Designation: Co-Head Barclays Test Service
Location: New York, USA
Keith Klain is the Co-Head of Barclays Test Service, and is responsible for all quality assurance and software testing activities across all asset classes and businesses for 1700+ employee and vendor staff in Barclays Bank. With nearly 20 years of multinational experience managing enterprise-wide testing programs, Keith has built and managed global test teams for financial services and IT consulting firms in the US, UK, and Asia Pacific. He also was a software quality management practice director for an international technology consultancy. Keith is a current member of the board of directors for the Association for Software Testing and the recipient of the Software Testing Professional 2013 Luminary Award.
* Interviewed by Jay Philips
1. Tell us about your journey to becoming a software tester. How did it start and how this has been so far? Was it planned or by accident?
I think of the start of my testing “career” was when I joined a company called Spherion which had a Software Quality Management practice which specialized in testing. They had written a methodology, training, and a support network you could tap into for advice and mentoring.
Their approach was basically the V-model and very rigid with lots of documentation filled with wonderful stuff like “phase containment” and test case counting.
Working my way up through the ranks from a test analyst, to automation engineer, to test manager, to practice director, I had to learn all that stuff well enough to go into the business-side of running a testing practice. That’s very helpful now as I know the arguments for factory style commoditized testing inside and out, as I’ve used them all!
2. When did you realize your passion was software testing?
My passion for testing has always been there, but I think the biggest shift I’ve seen in my approach to testing and managing testers came at Barclays when it really hit me that we are in the knowledge business not manufacturing. I think that is one of most common (and harmful) mistakes that testers and people in IT make when it comes to testing. Managing people who use their brains to creatively solve problems takes a complete paradigm shift in how you communicate and motivate them.
The mistakes I’ve made in the past are not giving people enough autonomy to get their work done and removing fear from the organization structure. Fear is like an odorless, colorless gas that seeps under the door and before you know it, everyone is asleep. In all honesty, I’ve found that the more transparent I’ve been with people on strategy, operations, finances, etc. has actually made my attrition rates go down! That runs directly counter to the prevailing HR policy of telling people what YOU think they need to know to try to manage them better. My policy is tell them everything and let them manage their own expectations.
3. Do you regret being associated with software testing today? Given a chance would you move from testing to any other field in IT?
Regrets? Never! You regret the things you don’t do, so I would never say I regretted getting involved in software testing. If I had to do things differently, I’m not sure what it would be from a career perspective. I have always been an opportunist, whether it’s moving to London to start up a testing practice despite never having been to the UK or moving my whole family to Singapore when I joined Barclays. I’m also one of those people who really love our business, so I haven’t ever wanted to do any other role and I’m fortunate enough to have a great job that allows me to dive into things when I want, whether it is technology, tools, people or operational stuff.
4. You recently received the Software Test Professionals 2013 STP Luminary Award. Can you briefly go over what that award is?
The award, aside from being flattering beyond belief, describes a luminary as “someone who has inspired others by their actions and the results of those actions on the profession”. Every person nominated for the award has contributed a tremendous amount to the software testing industry, and I am grateful to be counted among their ranks. I am also fortunate to be one of those people who love my industry and have a great job where I get to work with talented colleagues who inspire me every day, so this award would mean nothing without their contribution.
5. You are on the board of the Association of Software Testing (AST), can you describe your role and how you plan to help expand the association?
I am an Executive at Large for the AST, which basically means I am part of the Executive Committee for the AST which recommends and approves actions on behalf of the members for initiatives, spend requests, budgets and general proceedings. I am also the chair of the Grant Committee, will reimburse local volunteers who are doing good things for the software testing community that align with AST’s mission. You can request funds up to $1000 USD for local meetings, peer conferences, workshops – basically anything that contributes to the wider testing community. I tell everyone who will listen to apply for a grant, as it is a great way to develop local communities and it has been a terrific success for the AST it supporting our mission.
6. You have created local AST communities in Singapore & India. Can you briefly tell us about some of the challenges you had creating these communities?
The greatest challenge is getting people to attend anything beyond their daily work life as everyone is so busy! I generally find that the testing community wants to do more for themselves and the industry, but finding the right balance that doesn’t take them away from their families and still adds to their career is tough. The meet up I started in Singapore benefited greatly from the organizational skills of team we had at Barclays and as well, used funds from the AST to get it off the ground. India has a vibrant CDT community, but is stretched in terms of locations, so it feels fragmented to me. Getting any meet up going is hard work, but is infinitely easier with the use of social media, as anyone could tell you when I was developing the Singapore contact database via LinkedIN!
7. Are you planning on creating any more AST communities or meetups? If so, where?
I would love to start more meet ups and always welcome the opportunity to support local communities with what little “internets” stardom I can provide. I really believe that the power of local folks getting together and forming connections with each other is the key to changing things in the testing industry. Right now, I don’t have loads of time on my hands between my day job, the AST, and my current commitment to conference talks in 2014, but I try to transparent about when I’m in town, so let me know and I’ll try to turn up!
8. You have started a petition against ISTQB. What is that about and why did you start that?
Firstly, you have the right (and I believe a responsibility) to ask questions of any company or any person who is trying to sell you something or presenting themselves as experts. I started the petition because I wasn’t getting any answers from the ISTQB board or their vocal emissaries in the industry. My understanding was there were concerns a psychometric study of one or more of their tests showed that the “test reliability coefficient” did not reliably prove students were competent in the syllabus. As well, allegedly a very senior person in the ISTQB/ASTQB was signaling issues with over 100,000 certifications that already been issued!
I still have not got any answers from the ISTQB, and if our industry is going to improve, we have got to start raising our expectations out of the leadership in the software testing community. The ISTQB and ASTQB (and a whole host of others) have for far too long acted like, to paraphrase Ralph Nader, a “sacred cow feeding the public a steady line of sacred bull.” I don’t know how anyone calling themselves a tester, or who cares anything about the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the software testing industry could take a position that questions shouldn’t be asked.
9. What is the alternative of ISTQB? If there is no better alternative (to ISTQB) which is accessible to thousands of testers worldwide, ISTQB is going to grow.
Frankly, I don’t feel it’s necessary to have a “better alternative” in the same model of the ISTQB. There is a wealth of information available for people to develop skills and relationships to become skilled testers. I think the scheme that the ISTQB and its partners who sell the training is fundamentally flawed, and will never become a standard for defining skills in testing. I meet thousands of testers every year, and a great deal of them have taken the ISTQB Foundations course, and by a large majority, I find they don’t feel the exam made them a better tester. Seriously!
So if the goal was creating a shallow certificate for passing multiple choice tests used as keyword search tool for the recruitment of commoditized factory testers? Great job, folks! Success! The core issue is that developing skill and knowledge doesn’t scale. It’s not easily packaged and sold to naïve COOs, so I don’t care about creating an alternative to nonsense – we should just call it what it is.
10. According to you, what is lacking in today’s commercialized software testing industry, especially in test management?
An over-reliance on what I call “operational test management” is a huge problem in our industry. I define “operational test managers” as managers of managers, or people who just look at spreadsheets all day to report n metrics and SLAs (I lovingly refer to them as the “coloring in” team). They give the perception of work without actually doing any and contribute very little to the overall conversation about quality and what happened during testing.
There are deeply invested interests in keeping those roles around, primarily due to the massive amount of outsourcing testing has been subjected to over the last decade. Vendors promote them as ways to help scared onshore managers understand and manage what they are doing, but ultimately, they encourage bad behavior from people and inject a load of dysfunction into teams. If I could get rid of anything in the software testing industry, it would be all those terrible metrics scorecards and then all the roles who manage them.
11. What has been your biggest challenge in software testing? How did you overcome it?
Education is one of the biggest challenges due to stereotypes and ingrained bias developed from decades of bad metrics programs, flawed maturity models, and low value testing. Testers have to take responsibility for their own contribution to the problem as well, as we can re-enforce a lot of those perceptions by how we conduct ourselves and inherently limit our value. When I created the BTS University, it was a big step in the right direction for realigning our goals as testers to the business, the objectives of testing (information) and defining the skills needed to redefine our value.
I believe that if you want to drive change in an organization and get congruent action from culturally and regionally diverse teams, you have to focus on what you are contributing to the problem first, articulate your values and principles to give people a lens to view their work, then develop strategies that are aligned to the business you support.
12. What qualities will you look for in a candidate when you want to recruit someone for software testing job?
In my experience the best testers are honest with themselves and others, can speak in stories that tie things together, approach life with humility and their passion inspires those around them. That’s all built with a healthy dose of self-refection, admitting you made mistakes, sharing information, apologizing when you’re wrong. In addition to that, I look for people who study more than the testing industry to broaden their skills and knowledge, especially when it comes to objectivity.
As a Test Manager, you might feel it is your job to “provide an objective view of the quality of the build”, which is a perfectly reasonable position to take, especially if you believe that testers are stakeholders in the company and invested in the success of the project. I would assert that being invested and maintaining objectivity are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, to function properly in your role, it is crucial to mind and manage your own bias. I believe that testing should provide an objective view of the quality of the build – where I differ is my view on WHO should be forming (and communicating) that view.
13. What will you suggest to people who want to join IT industry as software testers?
A good tester to me is humble, curious, honest, and knows how to construct an argument in the classical sense. My advice to anyone wanting to be a great tester is question everything, read A LOT, and get involved in the CDT community. Even if you don’t subscribe to everything that the CDT community believes in, it is a great place to debate, sharpen your arguments and learn. It can be a bit intimidating at first through its reputation for rigorous debate, but I have never seen a group of people more genuinely concerned for the betterment of testers.
14. Name few people you would like to thank, people who helped you directly or indirectly in your career as a software testing professional.
Directly would be James Bach, Michael Bolton, Paul Holland, and Pradeep Soundararajan and indirectly would be Michael Larsen, Griffin Jones, Anne-Marie Charrett, Jerry Weinberg, Harry Collins, Daniel Kahneman, Robert Austin. I also have to thank the 1000s of tester who I’ve worked with over the years and learned far more from than I ever taught.
Blog/Site – www.qualityremarks.com
Twitter ID – @keithklain