Interview with Ben Kelly @BenjaminKelly
Current Role/Designation: Development Team Lead
Location: London, UK
Ben Kelly is a software tester and development team lead at eBay in London. He’s been in a software tester for over a decade and has worked in a number of industries including Internet traffic analysis, insurance, online language learning and e-commerce across Australia, Japan and the UK. He presents regularly at conferences around the world and is a founding member of the International Society for Software Testing.
* Interviewed by Srinivas Kadiyala
1. You have been into Software Industry working across various departments and industries. Tell us about your journey to becoming a software tester. How did it start?
It should have been clear to me from a very early age. I was always better at pulling things apart to see how they worked than I was at putting things together.
I graduated from university wanting to be a programmer. The problem was I was a really ordinary coder. A friend of mine suggested I try a testing role as a way to bridge into coding. I did, then discovered how deep software testing is and I fell in love with it.
2. You are a founding member of International Society for Software Testing (ISST). What is your role and what you are doing in ISST these days?
I’m a member of the society, but I have no special role within the organization. Right now, I’m working with a group of fellow members to put together a resource for beginner testers who want to gain both knowledge and hands-on experience in software testing.
3. You have given different talks at various conferences/events? You have been at South Africa for oredev Conference, What were the new things came up front?
Actually, Oredev was in Malmo. I was in South Africa for Tasting Let’s Test. They were quite different conferences, but both immensely enjoyable. I was delighted to find there are some really interesting testing minds in South Africa, I think Louise Perold has done a great job putting together a budding testing community there. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from that part of the world very soon.
Oredev was a chance for me to get amongst some non-testers and try to beat the drum about what I see as good software testing to an audience who perhaps may not be as familiar with what that looks like. Attending testing conferences is great for people who want to get better at testing (whether they’re testers or not). I think though that there’s a need to demonstrate to our non-testing peers see what testing can be like. I fear that for many, their exposure to testing is with people who are not particularly effective as testers.
4. Your Profile says: You are “Exploratory Testing Clown” – Can you tell us more about it?
It’s a bit of self-deprecating humor. I was once accused in the comments of a blog (I don’t recall which) of being a bully and a clown. I don’t bully people, but I decided that clown works for me – at a rodeo, they’re the ones that save other people from the bull.
5. What has been your biggest challenge in software testing? How did you overcome it?
I think it’s easy to become complacent once you have a little bit of knowledge under your belt. It’s easy to do the same thing day to day, not put yourself in challenging situations, to not learn. I’m inherently lazy, so it’s very tempting sometimes just to sit back and do just enough to get by. There’s another part of me that rails against that behavior. It’s not good enough. I don’t want to be doing work that is merely adequate. I want to be proud of the work I do though you can go too far to that extreme as well. I tend to take on lots of different things so that I don’t have time to be indolent, but when I take on too much, then I simply don’t have enough time to spend on things to do a good enough job, so I end up in the same situation for different reasons. So, to boil it down, my biggest challenge is finding the right balance in life to be able to do work I’m proud of. I’m still working on
6. Your website is called testjutsu. What is testjutsu? Why did you name it like that?
The name serves as a reminder to me that while theory is good, it should be grounded and applied in the real world. In Japanese martial arts, there are various forms that can be roughly divided into ‘do’ forms (kendo, judo, aikido etc) and ‘jutsu’ forms (kenjutsu, jujutsu, aikijutsu); the former being the study of ‘the path’; generally the aim of a ‘do’ form is the development of one’s character through training. ‘Jutsu’ forms tend to be more focused on practical application. Ironically perhaps, my blog seems to have posts that are probably equal parts ‘jutsu’ and ‘do’.
7. You believe ‘a testing certification is no guarantee of testing competence’. Why do you say so?
I hope the answer to this is obvious to anyone who considers the question for a few moments. In their current form, testing certifications are a multiple-choice exam requiring no practical demonstration of competence. A person with zero testing experience can pass these tests after a very short amount of study. Does that necessarily make them a competent tester? Of course not.
There may be competent testers out there who happen to have a certification, but you cannot conclude that everyone holding a testing certification is a competent tester. Certifications as a measure of competence are completely worthless.
8. What will you suggest to people who want to join IT industry as software testers?
If you want to be a good software tester, learn the principles of software testing. Tools and programming languages come and go. If you focus on becoming very proficient in a certain tool, then you will become a proficient user of the tool. If you seek to understand the principles that underpin software testing even if through the use of a tool, you will be an effective software tester.
Communication. Your testing is only as good as your ability to communicate to others in a way that is meaningful to them. Thinking. Critically, logically, laterally, the relationship of tacit and explicit knowledge – how do you think about how you think? Learning. Modeling, experimentation, observation – how do you take in data and make sense of it? Understand the big picture. Where do you fit in as a tester? With your peers, with the project, with the organization; What is it that you can do to add value?
9. You offer interviewing testers as one of your service. What qualities will you look for in a candidate when you want to recruit them?
I wrote a blog post about what I look for in a resume. If you’re submitting a resume in order to be hired, getting that right first is crucial. After that, what I look for in a tester depends on what the client needs from them. For example, some require strong coding skills, some don’t. There are commonalities that I look for. Perhaps most importantly, can they actually test? If they can’t, it tends to be a short interview. Beyond that, does the candidate actively work to improve their knowledge and skills in the craft? Do they get the fundamentals or are they following a recipe by rote? Have they tapped in to a network of testing peers to help them develop their ideas and skills? Do they spend time outside of work to improve in testing?
10. According to you, what is lacking in today’s commercialized software testing industry, especially in test management?
‘What’s missing’ is an interesting question. I could look around and pick up on a lot of things I’m dissatisfied by. I started answering along those lines, but that’s a bit of a downer and it’s easy to find stuff to criticize. I see the testing landscape changing. It’s an exciting time to be a tester. It’s becoming harder to look at testing as a siloed solitary role. More and more I’m seeing testers integrating into programming teams, sharing knowledge and skills. This is in my opinion a wonderful way to work. It’s not without its own challenges, but the advantages of working so closely with other roles are massive.
With the increased acceptance of testing as a specialization and the integration of this role into a team comes the expectation that testers will be adding real value on a continuous basis. I think that’s good for testing.
You ask about test management and integration of testers into programming teams makes things interesting for test managers. Where you have one or more testers embedded into a team, there’s not so much ‘management’ left to do for a manager of a testing team. The team is distributed into other teams, so it’s more of a community of common interest at that point than a team. I think in that situation, a test manager’s role becomes a lot more about coaching and facilitation of skills. Having one or two testers in a team can sometimes be tough for the tester, so if the manager can provide a sounding board for testing conversations, to talk testing specifics and issues, provide objective feedback and so on, then I think that’s beneficial. There’s probably limited scope for participation by someone who likes the command & control style of management. I think it will become increasingly difficult for testers (and test managers) who are unwilling to change their approach and adapt.
11. Name few people you would like to thank, people who helped you directly or indirectly in your career as a software testing professional.
Too many to name. I started putting together a list and then realized I would inevitably leave someone important out and I’d probably look like I was name-dropping. There are an immense number of people that I’ve learned from and that I respect in the industry. I’m fortunate enough to count most of them as friends. I am immensely grateful to all of them.
12. Do you read Testing Circus Magazine? If yes, what is your feedback to improve this magazine?
I do read Testing Circus, though I admit I am an infrequent reader. I do like the content of your magazine and I’m glad to see such a diverse array of different minds. Kudos on that front. Have you considered interviewing or asking for articles by non-testers? If you had a regular spot for people who work with testers, did some things like coding or UX basics, then you’d help facilitate increased interactional expertise between testers and our non-testing peers.
Blog URL: http://testjutsu.com
Full Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/benjaminkelly