Improving Testing through Automation and AI: An Interview with Tariq King


In this interview, Tariq King, the director of test engineering at Ultimate Software, discusses how we can innovate and make our testing better through smarter automation and the use of artificial intelligence.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with another interview. I'm really excited. Tariq, thanks for joining me.

Tariq King: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: This is the first time I've had you in my little stage set here.

Tariq King: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: So I'm excited. For folks out there who haven't seen you before or maybe missed this lightning keynote, I've heard it's recorded.

Tariq King: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: So they can maybe go watch it again. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what you talked about?

Tariq King: Yeah, so I talked a little bit about the fact that there's been a lot of chatter about testing, and the evolution of testing, and like, testing is dead. Testing is something that is shifting from more of a black box perspective into more developers and we're blurring that role. Then over the years, how that has kind of caused us to be confused about whether or not automation is really automation and that testing is merely an exploratory thing. So everyone seems to have a lot of confusion around testing.

I really made a call to innovate, and the thing is that if we really think about testing and how it really requires us to be independently thinking creative, can we think of a future where we have systems that actually can test themselves? Is that too big of a dream? We put a man on the moon. We had the Wright brothers fly. Are those things bigger dreams or smaller dreams than just kind of solving this problem?

So I really made a call to innovation to see how well we could get together to think of different ideas and really put those into practice, and take testing and what is automated testing from this small checking and verification into, can we use machine learning, artificial intelligence? Can we leverage all that research to make testing better?

Jennifer Bonine: From that perspective of machine learning and artificial intelligence, I know you made the call to the audience. What have you seen in terms of that in your own experience, or things that maybe you're looking into around that or your interest in that?

Tariq King: Yeah, well, actually, I did my PhD dissertation on self-testing adaptive systems and really integrating testing into software that can dynamically change components or self-configure or self-heal. That was the core of my research, but more recently Ultimate Software has really been looking at—that's the company that I work for now—looking at ways that we can innovate and try to see if we can really push that barrier. So we're starting to do research in this area, and I know there's a couple others out there, Jason Arbon from Appdiff, he's doing quite a bit on using AI to do testing. We've had some great conversations on that as well, so we're trying to stir up the community to see if we can start doing a lot more in this space.

Jennifer Bonine: He talked about the bots, right?

Tariq King: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: So he puts the bots out there and they do a lot of smart searching, even tests you don't know you needed, they sense and know, so that you know if something changed. Because, again, he talks about the challenge of sometimes testers don't know what's changed, right, because no one's told you or communicated, but if you used AI or the smart testing, you now have the capability to figure out that it's changed even if you don't know it.

Tariq King: Yeah, the software's so complex that you commit these changes and you wouldn't really know exactly if you had a side effect that you didn't suspect. So those things are things that if we have technologies that can really help us to figure out or we tackle those problems and come up with algorithms to do that, can really take us to the next level.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Now how are you seeing, you made that call out yesterday, in your discussions today with people here at the conference, are people kind of wrapping, because that's a big concept right?

Tariq King: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Keeping in mind, I was just talking to someone else about the Leadership Summit, and leaders here at the conference are just starting to talk about things like DevOps, he's like, it may be on the radar this year. Well, DevOps has been around for a while, right?

Tariq King: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: But leaders weren't taking it as seriously, and hopefully this year here, at least, they'll be talking more about it, so where do you see this in terms of a concept for people? Is it they're trying to wrap their arms around it? Do you think there's a good community that already gets it?

Tariq King: Yeah. I've heard a tremendous response to the talk and people really found it engaging and thought provoking, which is what I was aiming for. I think with things like this, it'll take some time for us to really rally around it, but the interest is there and it got people thinking a little bit differently, like, "What can we do? Have we really settled on what testing is and what automation means to us? Or can we do something differently?" I think that is usually the beginning of innovation right there.

Jennifer Bonine: If people are interested, because we probably just sparked some folks out there that maybe didn't see it and have said, "Wow, you've obviously spent some time on this with doing your PhD research on it," that's a big commitment to do that and spend that time. If people want more information or to find out more about this, what is the best way for them to, is there a forum for this? Do you have a blog site, a wiki? Where can they go to get some information on this?

Tariq King: No, not yet. This was early, I wanted to see the response. In terms of folks that I know that are working on this, Jason and myself are, so I think we're going to try to get together on something. So you can just reach out to either of us on LinkedIn, myself, Tariq King, or Jason Arbon at LinkedIn.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, Tariq King, I'm assuming there aren't a lot of those guys out there.

Tariq King: No, not very many, but Ultimate Software, you should be able to find me there or LinkedIn.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. So reach out, find Tariq King on LinkedIn. This is a great topic. I think this is one of those emerging topics, where we're getting people. So neat space, go do some research, do a little homework, and re-talk to Tariq if you have questions on it.

Tariq King: Great.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks, Tariq.

Tariq King: Thank you very much.

Tariq KingTariq King is the director of test engineering at Ultimate Software. With more than a decade of experience in software testing research and practice, Tariq provides technical leadership, people leadership, strategic direction, and staff training in software quality and test engineering. He has previously held positions of test manager, test architect, test lead, researcher, and college professor. Tariq is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops, has published more than thirty research articles in IEEE and ACM sponsored journals, and has developed and taught software testing courses in both industry and academia. Contact Tariq via LinkedIn.

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