Bigger and Better Test Design through Automation: An Interview with Hans Buwalda


In this interview, LogiGear's Hans Buwalda explains how better test design can lead to improved test automation and can make the difference between automation success and failure. He details why successful automated testing is a test design challenge, not a technical challenge.

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with virtual interviews, and I'm excited to have back with us someone we get to talk to at several of the conferences. So Hans, thanks for joining us again.

Hans Buwalda: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: We're happy to have you. So, some things to talk about. You've been at the conferences quite a bit. You see them year over year and how things change. You gave a couple of tutorials this week early in the week.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah, correct.

Jennifer Bonine: Each conference, I think, has kind of a different mood or vibe or feel to the conference. Any thoughts, kind of, on this one and what you're sensing?

Hans Buwalda: Yeah, I would say change, but I would say accelerating change, and that is both for the industry that we are in but I think also for the conference itself. It's really moving along with what's going on and with, especially, first it was agile and now it's DevOps, which are, of course, two related concepts. It's really moving fast.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: Of course, and what I notice for myself, I have a method. Action-based testing, you're fully aware of it.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: It's based on key words and modules. When I was first doing this, that was in '94, all the projects were waterfall projects. We didn't call them waterfall projects, but they really were. And you could easily see that because projects would usually not be successful, which is a typical property of waterfall projects. The chance of failure in a waterfall project is close to 100 percent.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. It's high.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah, I have grown up in this software industry with the notion that projects are always late. That it's normal. It's routine.

Jennifer Bonine: It's normal. You just get used to it.

Hans Buwalda: That's what it is.

Jennifer Bonine: It's an expectation.

Hans Buwalda: And suddenly agile comes along, and that is a gradual movement, but at a high point being the Agile Manifesto. And suddenly we look at things differently. And for us that means that testers are suddenly no longer in a separate team. Testers are part of the main team. The developers are there, the product owners are there—

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Hans Buwalda: And in one environment that goes a little better than in another environment, but essentially that means we have to rethink the whole thing. Because it was always assuming that you as a tester could be agile, what you would now call agile, as well, for the tester it's very flexible because it has to deal with difficult developers, difficult timelines, etc. And in agile that's no longer the case. So the method has changed quite drastically to reflect that.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. And having everyone part of that same team together now has bridged some of those gaps potentially in challenges you had before, right? Because it was two separate groups of people saying, "Well, I need this and I need this," and now you're one team. And success depends on one team working collaboratively together. You've broken down that barrier of "we're fighting against each other," and now we're all together.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. And that means you can do stuff. A very simple example: testability. And testability is the notion of how friendly is a system and a test for testing, and particularly automated testing. And that becomes a lot easier because you're on the same team as the developer. So if you need, like, a hook for timing or an interface definition or anything like that, you just go to your local developer, your team member, and you talk about it. And the guy or the girl will actually talk with you.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: And one flip side of that is that when the sprint is done, let's take Scrum as an example, when the sprint is done, everything should be done. Including the test, including the automation.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: And that is not always achieved. And when you don't achieve that, the price for that is that the QA is still busy with the previous sprint. And then the previous sprint, and he starts lagging behind.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Hans Buwalda: And because he's behind, he or she is behind, you cannot talk with the developers anymore because the developers are no longer in that part of the code.

Jennifer Bonine: And they've moved on.

Hans Buwalda: Meaning you're gonna be further behind. And so that is something I talk about a lot. First of all, what you can do in the sprint to make sure you're done with everybody else, and if that is really not possible because you have to run against multiple environments or something—

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: —how you best spin that off and let somebody else do it.

Jennifer Bonine: So you can stay current.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. And that can be—of course, we as a vendor, we are happy to help with services, but you can also just do that internally. Have a team that just takes care of whatever remaining, you can almost call it a debt, but every remaining automation and test development you still have.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep. So then they can take care of it and you can always stay current in your sprint and hand it off. So good technique and strategy, if people doing that out there are just getting in that practice of finishing together, right?

Hans Buwalda: Yep.

Jennifer Bonine: So finish together as a team. And if you can't, the discipline and practice of handing that work off so that someone else can carry that forward as a team.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: Versus individually. You know, the testers just getting farther and farther behind, which may be something that people are struggling with.

Hans Buwalda: And now what I see also, again, very exciting, is the DevOps. And the idea of DevOps is that you now also include the operations and the deployment and the shipping and whatever you call it. You put it in the cycle. So you make that a target for development. So you're going to automate the release, the builds, with programs like Make and Ent, but it is more organized now.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: And then deploying it and maybe testing in production is becoming more and more ... We heard about that this morning. And that's also very interesting.

Jennifer Bonine: Absolutely. Now, question for you. You work with organizations in Europe, I'm assuming, right? And then also in the US?

Hans Buwalda: No. It's mostly US.

Jennifer Bonine: Mostly US?

Hans Buwalda: I live in California.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. And I knew that, but I was thinking you still did some work with some organizations in Europe.

Hans Buwalda: Occasionally we have a couple of the Europeans. We also have a bunch of Asian customers.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: Like Japan, for example. It's a market very active.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: And most of what we do is, I think, US. I found out when I came here that the US is actually pretty big. It's a lot bigger than the Netherlands.  I kind of knew that already, but—

Jennifer Bonine: But you realized it when you were here.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. I realized it—for example, I live in the Bay Area now.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: And that's where our company is. I came driving here. But that's a pretty long drive.

Jennifer Bonine: That's a pretty long drive.

Hans Buwalda: If you do that in Europe, you have passed three or four countries.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You would have had to show your passport three or four times to get here.

Hans Buwalda: If you map it out on the map of the United States, it's like one inch of the whole big country.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: Here it doesn't count as far. It's like a local drive.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Exactly. The thing I was interested in was if you have a perspective in maybe just having friends and colleagues, and then some of the work that you're doing in Asia and then a little bit overseas. Do you see any differences in the adoption rate in the US versus in Asia, for example, or in Europe? Because these conferences exist not only here in the US, but globally, and I've seen a few of the folks from Europe that have been here saying how different it is, what they're seeing that we're talking about here in the US versus EuroStar, for example, or some other European conferences and what they're focused on. I want your take on if you see that at all.

Hans Buwalda: I'll give it a try. Of course, when you ask different people you get different views, but let me just give you my view. You know that joke, if you have four Russians in a room you have five opinions. Europe—first of all, when you talk about Europe, there is no such thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: It is different countries. And I can promise you a country like Norway is really different from Italy, for example. It's really different. And before I came to the US specifically, I have worked in many of these countries. I've worked in France, in Germany a lot, in England, but also in Scandinavian countries. And what I think I notice is that northern Europeans—I'm thinking a bit about Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavian countries, maybe England—are very strong on methods. Relatively formal.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: Almost following the stereotype. And relatively formal. So if you have a method, I have a method, people try to follow that method, learn that method, etc. In the US, if you have a method, you write a book about it, and for the rest, forget about it. And then it is a famous ... In the early history that happened with the car industry, Americans wrote manuals about quality assurance and quality control.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: The Japanese read those books and they actually applied it.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: Nobody had taken that into account.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: That you would actually do what I write.

Jennifer Bonine: (laughter) We wrote it, they applied it. So, yeah. Exactly.

Hans Buwalda: I think that how active you are with methods, I think there is a big difference. In the US it's basically a bottom-line, can you just do it? And all these theoretical models and all these theoretical methods ... Can you read it now? Okay, let's get rid of it. And in Europe that's very different. It's very academic, it's very like ... Especially northern Europe. The southern is yet another story, but that ... That is especially northern Europe.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: And you see that the conferences in northern Europe also do pretty well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I just think it's interesting. I had heard that at this conference, and I hadn't heard that as much as some of the others just as a feedback, right? Of someone attending that this was their first time here. They were from Iceland, and then I've also talked to some people from France and some people from Germany, and the different perspective of "Oh, gosh, it's interesting, what you're talking about here," versus their experience attending, say, EuroStar.

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. EuroStar is a bit like STARCANADA. And you're going to have till the end of the month, I'm also gonna be there.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes!

Hans Buwalda: Are you gonna be there?

Jennifer Bonine: I'm gonna be there as well.

Hans Buwalda: Good. Maybe we can do another interview.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah!

Hans Buwalda: Maybe I can interview you for a change.

Jennifer Bonine: That would be great.

Hans Buwalda: But STARCANADA is a little smaller scale. The expo is smaller, just people with tables and stuff. And so you get a chance to talk more. Of course, yeah ... It's less diversified.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Hans Buwalda: And the US is like all over the world of people here. So it's fun to do both.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: Both comferences have their pluses and minuses.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. And having that exposure. So for those of you out there who haven't had a chance to attend one of these, you may be attending a STAR conference and it may be the one here in Anaheim, or it could be the one in Canada, and you'll have a very different experience on how those look even though they're similar conferences. Different look and feel based on who attends and how they operate. So you get very different feels to it.

Hans Buwalda: I, for example, if you talk about speakers, you have more chance to talk to speakers in STARCANADA than you will have here.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Hans Buwalda: Here you really need to sign up and go to the table for anything. In STARCANADA it's smaller.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. So you see that, right? It's just a smaller feel versus here—for those who haven't been here, it's quite large. And there are lots of people. It's in a big venue. So you could run around and not see that person at all at this conference because it is so large, versus STARCANADA being smaller, more intimate.

Hans Buwalda: There are several people I know very well, of the speakers. I haven't seen them yet.

Jennifer Bonine: You see? Right. Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: Like you.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, I know! Exactly.

Hans Buwalda: Except for a lot of ones who are very visible people, but I didn't see them here.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. And that can happen, right? So let's talk—maybe just briefly, I know we're almost out of time it goes so fast. Any last things, tidbits, books, blogs, anything you're kind of following right now that you would recommend to folks out there, saying here's something interesting I found?

Hans Buwalda: Yeah. I write a blog for TechWell. I write it every month. And whatever I think is interesting I put in the blog.

Jennifer Bonine: So they can go there to find that?

Hans Buwalda: And I have a website myself called HappyTester. It should be easy to remember. HappyTester. That's where I keep a list of all these articles, and of course on TechWell you can see the list as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Hans Buwalda: And my latest one is on containers, because that's as far as I can tell one of the more exciting things.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. So go to the HappyTester, for folks that want to hear more about what you're thinking and what the hot topics for you are and what's top of mind. So if you want to get in contact after this, if I didn't ask all the questions you wanted to hear, HappyTester is one way to go see what you're thinking about, and then they'll be able to get a hold of you as well.

Hans Buwalda: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: So perfect.

Hans Buwalda: Okay?

Jennifer Bonine: Thank you for being here with me today.

Hans Buwalda: Thank you very much.

Jennifer Bonine: I appreciate it.

Hans BHans Buwalda has been working with information technology since his high school years. In his career, Hans has gained experience as a developer, manager, and principal consultant for companies and organizations worldwide. He was a pioneer of the keyword approach to testing and automation, now widely used throughout the industry. His approaches to testing—action-based testing and soap opera testing—have helped a variety of customers achieve scalable and maintainable solutions for large and complex testing challenges. Hans is a frequent speaker at STAR conferences and is lead author of Integrated Test Design and Automation.

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