Griffin Jones

Organisation –  Congruent Compliance LLC

Role/Designation – Software Testing and FDA Regulatory Compliance Consultant 

Location –  Rochester,  New York, USA

Griffin Jones is currently helping clients who are struggling with FDA regulatory compliance and context-driven software testing problems.

Prior to becoming independent, Griffin had a four year career at iCardiac Technologies which provides cardiac safety services to the pharmaceutical industry.  As the Director of Quality and Regulatory Compliance he was responsible for establishing, maintaining, and executing an FDA regulatory compliant Quality System, and Software Development and Software Testing process.

Prior to iCardiac, Griffin had an eighteen year career at Eastman Kodak Company, where he was a Product Quality Lead and a Software Testing Engineer. He participated on numerous project teams across a wide variety of technologies and business divisions – including multiple consumer products and business applications, a post-production digital special effects system, and medical devices.  

Griffin is a member of the Association for Software Testing (AST), American Society for Quality (ASQ), and the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS).

1. How long have you been involved in software testing?

My entire working career.

My first job after college in 1988 was working for Eastman Kodak on a very large distributed digital imaging project. As the wave of digital imaging swept through Kodak’s different markets I moved to participate in those initial commercialisation teams.  I stayed at EK until 2007, when I joined a medical software start-up (as THE software testing department) and helped established the software development, software testing, and FDA regulatory compliance processes for the company. I recently left iCardiac, and am currently consulting and/or contracting for software projects that need practical help with FDA regulatory compliance and/or context –driven testing.

2. How did you become a software tester?

I was lucky. There was a recession, and I initially landed in a test group as a contractor because that was where all the work was.  I was good at exploring the product and finding the interesting and important issues that our traditional scripted testing missed.  I developed a collaborative relationship with the software development team and was socially and technically accepted by them. After a year, I was informally partnered with an experienced test engineer with an aerospace background. He gave me a copy of Cem Kaner’s just published Testing Computer Software – which I devoured and applied.  After reading that book, I really committed myself to software testing as a profession.

3. Why are you passionate about testing and what keeps that passion burning?

I’m driven by my inner values. I do my best work when I believe in the value to the customer of what  I’m working on, the integrity of people I’m working with,  and the importance of my contribution to the project.  When that all comes together, I can get very passionate about the project. A successful project gets me fired-up. I also get passionate about potentially catastrophic risks to stakeholders. Merely checking  to confirm requirements is not sufficient. Karl Popper said, “A theory gains credibility as it is subjected to (and passes) harsh tests. “   Exploring the edges of the team’s architectural and design understanding via testing is very important to me.  Read the detailed account of the Therac-25 accident, or the other catastrophic accidents detailed in James Reason’s Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents.  Software was a common contributor to many of these catastrophic disasters.

I stay passionate about software testing because I have some core beliefs about the profession. I’ve been deeply influenced by a small set of individuals whose example and ideas I want to see propagated (e.g., Weinberg, Satir, Kaner, Bolton, etc.). Through my work, I hope to be a good example of their ideals. But at my core, my father has had a huge professional influence on me. He was the training and safety officer for a nuclear power plant, and did incident/accident investigations across the industry. Through my work I hope to honour him, and his values.

4. What is it about the context driven testing community that you are involved with?

My primary focus has been applying regulatory compliant context driven testing to FDA regulated organizations – medical devices, clinical research organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry. This industry wants to reap the benefits of a more agile approach to testing, but it has to be done in a compliant manner.  I also provide context driven testing services to non-regulated industries.

5. Is working in your current industry present unique challenges with regards to testing and QA? If so, how?

For FDA regulated industries? Absolutely – YES. First, the tester has to accept that unknown (or known) software errors in your product may result in innocent vulnerable people being injured or killed. This is not a kind of responsibility every tester should accept lightly.

Second, the industry has its’ own separate jargon, culture, and expectations about software testing.  The testing culture tends to be process driven, artifact heavy, and biased towards the Quality School or the Standards School  as described by Bret Pettichord. Honouring the values of these schools, and intentionally blending these approaches to software testing – but in a context driven way – can be a real strength. Opening up a culture to the possibility of a context driven approach can be a challenge.

Lastly, there is a stakeholder (regulators and auditors) with police powers that periodically performs a high stakes assessment of the whole organization. Over time, this can causes the test group’s mission to drift.  It devolves to merely safely passing a regulatory assessment without disturbing the status quo – to the detriment of “better” testing. Jiggling the organization out of that stereotyped behaviour is a challenge.

6. What advice do you have for people who want to be software testers?

Here is my quick list of recommendations:

– Testing is a verb. Find some way to start doing testing as soon as possible. Open source projects and small start-ups are good options.

– Join the software testing conversation on twitter.

– Listen to James Bach’s google talk “Becoming a Software Testing Expert”.

– Practice solving all kinds of puzzles and presenting puzzles to others. Keep a list of effective strategies and helpful tools.

– Read “Perfect Software and Other Illusions About Testing” and “Becoming a Technical Leader” by Jerry Weinberg.

– Read more about the field. I would start with these authors/bloggers: James Bach, Michael Bolton, Esther Derby, Cem Kaner, Johanna Rothman, and Jerry Weinberg. Follow their references and footnotes.

– Keep a learning journal. Review it periodically. If you struggle with writing, read Jerry’s “Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method”.

– Read Testing-Circus, Stickyminds, Better Software, and the AYE Articles.

– Join the LinkedIn software testing groups.

– Participate in Weekend Testers.

– Join the Association for Software Testing (AST) and American Society for Quality (ASQ).

– Study all the materials from the AST Foundations of Software Testing course, read all the readings, and attempt all the questions in the study guide. (Enrolling in the course is free, if you are an AST member.)

– Join a local software testing professional group and/or attend a software testing conference.

– Read with a critical mind James Bach’s blog “Against Certification”. Then read everything you can that is free from:  ISEB, ISTQB, SWEBOK, IEEE, and SEI CMM.

7. Where do you see software testing in the next five years?

My crystal ball is cloudy.Most issues in our field will stay the same. Those that have been exaggerated will revert back to the mean. But watch the trends in the general IT industry – software testing lags by about three years.

8. In the last six months, what one (or two or three..) things have helped you in your QA role?

I can think of two items. Participating in the Problem Solving Leadership workshop. The workshop creates an environment where each individual has the opportunity for profound personal insight. I had my particular lessons seared into my memory and written on my heart. I highly recommend PSL, and the AYE conference.The second helpful item was the analysis process described in “Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It”.   It was helpful in identifying the root causes of certain organizational problems.

9. What is your favourite quote?

That is hard to answer.  I collect quotes, and they all have special meaning to me. Reading through my quote board, I am tempted by quotes from Satir or Weinberg.

But I’m going to share a quote from Brian Marick:  “We are a service organization  whose job is to reduce damaging uncertainty about the perceived state of the product.”  I would extend it to include the idea of risks, and issues that threaten the effectiveness of testing.

10. You provide insightful comments on twitter – why do you use twitter and is it helpful to what you do?

I use Twitter because it is a daily flow of the software testing zeitgeist.  I learn about new thoughts and techniques minutes after their written about, rather than waiting to here them second hand at conferences and the like.  I use Twitter because it allows me to be a part of the international testing community. Thank you for the complement! I use twitter to listen into the current conversation in the profession, think about the issues, compose my thoughts, and present them publicly. For me, it is a stepping stone towards blogging and writing articles. Kumar SinghaInterview with TestersInterview with TestersGriffin Jones Organisation –  Congruent Compliance LLC Role/Designation – Software Testing and FDA Regulatory Compliance Consultant  Location –  Rochester,  New York, USA Griffin Jones is currently helping clients who are struggling with FDA regulatory compliance and context-driven software testing problems. Prior to becoming independent, Griffin had a four year career at iCardiac Technologies which...