STAREAST 2015 Interview with Scott Barber on Application Performance Testing


Scott Barber on his STAREAST presentations. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.


In this interview, Scott Barber talks about his experience in the industry as well as his multiple STAREAST presentations. This covers application performance testing as a simplified approach and a product owner's perspective on testing. 

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back. More virtual interviews. We are here with Scott Barber. Scott, thanks for joining me.

Scott Barber: Oh, my pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome to have you. Let's talk about your background a little bit because you said you're with Salesforce now.

Scott Barber: Sure. I am.

Jennifer Bonine: Little known tool that probably a lot of you use or have heard of, right? You're with Salesforce, but maybe give people a little bit of your background, so they can put in context some of the things we're going to talk about.

Scott Barber: Sure. I can now say that I officially got into testing fifteen years ago.

Jennifer Bonine: Yay!

Scott Barber: For most of that, it's been very performance testing-centric.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Scott Barber: For about ten years of that, I was a consultant of one form or another. Got my own little company, did training, whatever, but a couple of years back, I had an opportunity to take a position as a product owner with SmartBear to work on their performance tools, right? You figure how can that go wrong? With all those years, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Right, yeah.

Scott Barber: Fantastic experience. That went for about eighteen months. There were some changes in the organization. They shifted some focus, so they were putting focus on another set of tools. Very clean and a friendly parting of ways at that point.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Scott Barber: I took some time over the holidays to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, the big question we all ask every once in a while.

Scott Barber: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: What do I want to be when I grow up?

Scott Barber: Exactly. When it came time that the bank account said, "No, really, you have to work," then an opportunity arose with Salesforce that involved going back to being a tester with teams where I got to work from home and spend time with my kids. Hey, you can't beat that. Yeah, that's where I am today, is I'm an individual contributor with a company that has all kinds of opportunities in lots of areas.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Scott Barber: I haven't been there very long, so there's lots left to learn, but certainly I find that my approach towards working with teams is a little bit different after spending time as a product owner.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You have now another perspective, right? Getting outside of that zone of just being in performance testing or being an individual contributor and going into that product ownership role probably has giving you a different perspective. Can you explain that different perspective you now look at things coming from that product ownership?

Scott Barber: It might be kind of expected, the degree to which working with the teams as a product owner, especially on a performance product, that was fabulous.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, yeah.

Scott Barber: Right? They were so happy to have a product owner who understood, had been on a team, understood the product. That part was everything that you would think it would be. That was wonderful. Of course, then from the other side, interfacing with sales, marketing, figuring how to set pricing. Then, of course, your periodic business reviews at which point nobody asks things about quality or features. They're looking at about three things: revenue, margin, and when's it going to get bigger.

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, exactly.

Scott Barber: As someone who's considered themselves an activist, it's a really challenging mental shift to say, hey, if we did this, it would be absolutely wonderful and people would love it. It would be great and to turn and look and say we don't have that kind of money to spend and that kind of time before we have a new release that we can upsell or renew. It's a little deflating.

Jennifer Bonine: It is, yeah.

Scott Barber: You come to understand very quickly that it's not necessarily as much about I want to make more money. It's we've got investors pressuring us. We want to survive as a company. We don't want the board to put us on the block to be sold. Whatever the driving factor is, it's not what you think it is when you're just a tester and somebody saying, "No, we're not investing in that."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, you can't have that feature.

Scott Barber: There's so much more to it. Exactly. Until you sit in those meetings and see those spread sheets and really have to make those decisions yourself, you don't realize that it's very rarely, if ever, the reason you think.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You get a real appreciation I'm sure for the behind-the-scenes that no one sees, right? You feel that as a tester from the side of gosh, I wish this product could do this and that and everything else. It feels like sometimes, okay, the reason they're not doing is they just don't want to or they don't care or they don't understand me, when in reality, it could be very different from that.

Scott Barber: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: It could be we understand exactly what you want. We would love to give you that, but there's financial reasons why we can't.

Scott Barber: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: We can't even tell you why we really can't.

Scott Barber: Exactly. All we can tell you is we only have these many dems available and that's the one that's growing fastest. We've got to go there now.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Scott Barber: What it boils down to is now, being part of a team, I can imagine the conversations that are going on up there. I can look at stuff and I can say, hey, is this in scope? Is this on the table?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, exactly.

Scott Barber: When a product owner says, "Not right now," I can say, "Is there some place I can put it so you won't forget it?" Instead of going into that defensive argue mode.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, of I'm just angry you're not going to do this.

Scott Barber: Exactly. It changes the conversation. Now I can turn around and say, "Okay, is there something like this we can do? How can I help us maybe move towards this sooner?" Maybe you can; maybe you can't, but it's a totally different conversation.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh yeah, a very different conversation with that perspective now I bet.

Scott Barber: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Very valuable. Some of the lesson on that too is just the value in sometimes getting outside of if you've been doing one thing for a long time, taking another perspective or taking a role where you get a different perspective on that.

Scott Barber: I've told people for years, you can be very, very good at your job in your company, but if you want to be truly excellent across the board, right, I've told people, find time that's right for you. Become a consultant and go, right? That's still true, but now I've got to add to that and say find a time or a place to take a stretch job that's related but outside. It really does. It brings some things into focus and it changes your perspective on others.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, no, that's great. For those of you watching out there, if you have those opportunities, don't necessarily shy away just because it's outside that comfort zone or what you've done before, but really look at it being able to shift your mindset, perspective, put things into focus as you said in some of those as well.

None of the folks I've interviewed so far have had much of their background or expertise in performance testing. I find it interesting just seeing from my perspective, so I love your thoughts on it being an expert in that space of trends you're seeing around it where it was a huge thing for a while. There were tools around it; there was tons of professionals. People if they couldn't find them, wanted them. They were hot. Everyone wanted performance testers and then all of a sudden, I didn't hear as much about it.

Now, it's getting popular again where people are like, "Oh, we have issues because now we're streaming across all these platforms and my stock goes down. If people are paying for this service and if they can't get it, they're angry. My system has to be performing whether using my mobile app and it's not working, they get angry, or I can't buy tickets on; I'm angry.

Scott Barber: I know that. I tell you, what has happened over fifteen years, it's a repetitive cycle, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Scott Barber: A technology pops up and everybody solves their performance problems with the technology, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yep.

Scott Barber: Then, before the next technology pops up, they say, "Oh my goodness. We've maxed out. Now we need help with performance."

Jennifer Bonine: Right, yep. Come help me.

Scott Barber: We've grown faster than we expected; we need help with performance. It is very cyclic. Right now, what's happening is the whole trend toward cloud and as a service. Hey, scale is horizontally; that's great. It does this; it does that. Now, it's getting big enough that people are talking about thousands of servers. They're like, "Wow, you know what? This is getting expensive again. We can't afford to be sloppy and we can't afford to have down time."

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Scott Barber: Yeah, it's picking back up.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Scott Barber: It all comes down to if you're going to pay attention to performance, if there's any one thing I can tell you, don't wait to do testing. Everybody pay attention to it throughout the cycle whether it's at a unit or a component or at a build level. You can't test everything, but you can certainly tell if you've got run away processes, for example. It'll give you a lot more stability and growth potential in the end. In the "no time left" advice, get everybody involved; do a little bit, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and think about it all the way through.

Scott Barber: Just ask yourself the question, in my task, just ask yourself that question. Is there something performance related that I can do that'll help out?

Jennifer Bonine: Because if you don't, it's exposed to a user today. If your systems go down—I remember Target had a point of sale issue, and immediately people were on Twitter and Facebook.

Scott Barber: Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, it's not only a problem in one store. It's a problem that everyone's heard about globally.

Scott Barber: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: You can't hide it.

Scott Barber: You don't even get to wait for the 6:00 news. It's instant.

Jennifer Bonine: It's instant feedback on when you have performance issues.

Scott Barber: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Think about it. We're out of time, but Scott, if people want to reach out to you, they want to learn more about some of the things we talked about, they may want advice on how do I shift. How can they find you or reach you?

Scott Barber: The easiest place to find links to all my stuff is, P-E-R-F-T-E-S-T-P-L-U-S dot com. Links to everything from there.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thanks, Scott.

Scott Barber: Thank you so much.

Scott BarberChief performance evangelist, Scott Barber is a respected leader in the advancement of software testing practices, an industry activist, and load testing celebrity of sorts. Scott authored several books―Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications, Beautiful Testing, How to Reduce the Cost of Testing, and Web Load Testing for Dummies―and more than 100 articles and blog posts. Founder/president of PerfTestPlus, Scott co-founded the WOPR, served as director of the AST and CMG, and is a founding member of ISST. His industry writing, speaking, and activism focus on improving the effectiveness and business alignment of software development practices.

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