Test Better by Blocking Bugs: STARWEST 2015 Interview with Pamela Gillaspie


In this interview, TechWell speaks with Pamela Gillaspie, a founding member and managing test engineer at TestPlant. At the conference, she gave a presentation titled "Improve Testing with a Zone Defense."

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with more virtual interviews here at STARWEST. I'm very excited that we have Pamela with us. Pamela, thanks for joining us.

Pamela Gillaspie: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Jennifer Bonine: One of the things I think is interesting for those of you watching out there, some of you may say, "Hey, how do I get to the conference? How do I get an opportunity to speak or participate in it?" I think, Pamela, it would be great for you to tell your story on how you ended up speaking here, and how that process worked for you, and why you decided to do that, just to give them some context.

Pamela Gillaspie: I just started speaking this year. Speaking at conferences wasn't a goal of mine, but I had a story that I was really excited about. I had written about it, and that was great, but I was still just talking about it, and talking about it. Several people suggested, "You should do a presentation on that." I got an email about STARWEST's call for proposals ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, call for proposals.

Pamela Gillaspie: ... and I just went for it.

Jennifer Bonine: I think people should know, that are watching, it really is that simple. Typically, if you've been to the conference before or if you're on their list now, they'll send emails and just say we're looking for speaker proposals submissions. Submit your proposal. It's not that complex. You basically have a title. You have a brief description; you want just to give them an idea of what you're going to talk about. It gets submitted. Those get reviewed. Then you usually get a call, where Lee or someone will call you ...

Pamela Gillaspie: Yeah, it was Lee.

Jennifer Bonine: ... it's usually Lee, and just talk to you about what you're going to talk about and go through it. Then they make some decisions and call you and say, "Congratulations, we're going to put your talk in." You get an email. Then what's nice about that, for those that don't know, is you actually then get your conference admission.

Pamela Gillaspie: Yes, that is very nice.

Jennifer Bonine: It gets you the admission, so if you're struggling out there with, "How do I get someone to pay to send me to the conference," if you submit and you're a speaker, you'll at least get the conference admission portion covered, so you don't have to worry about that. Obviously, you may have to have travel, but at least that portion's covered. Maybe let's talk a little bit what your topic was on yesterday, what your talk was about so that they know what the talk was.

Pamela Gillaspie: It was called "Improve Testing with a Zone Defense." I did a sports theme. Actually, I started off with a sports theme. My themes kind of went all over the place. It's about using defects that are reported by customers, finding recurring themes among those defects, and then devising strategies to cover those themes ...

Jennifer Bonine: That's great.

Pamela Gillaspie: ... those zones ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, literally.

Pamela Gillaspie: ... as groups.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome. I mean because when you think about it, I think about in terms of children. When there's more of them than you, you have to do zone defense and ...

Pamela Gillaspie: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: ... figure out how to handle it.

Pamela Gillaspie: That's right. When they outnumber you ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, when they outnumber you. More than likely in software, there's going to be more bugs than there are time to test or testers ...

Pamela Gillaspie: That's true.

Jennifer Bonine: ... to look after them. How do you break that into chunks where you can manage it, do some analysis on it, figure out how to get the broadest coverage you can, and tackle those? How did that go? Were you sensing that resonated with the folks in the session? Were they understanding what you were trying to do?

Pamela Gillaspie: I think so. For one thing it's about examining these bugs and finding the traits in the bugs and what to do about them, but there's also another bit of a message, too, which is that you really need to be looking at the hard data. You need to be looking at your bugs to know the quality of your product. It happens sometimes that you get a release out, and say there's a big customer who loves the new features. They send your CTO an email, and everybody talks about how great a release it is, but that doesn't tell you about the experience of the hundreds or thousands of testers using your product. It goes the other way, too. Someone doesn't see the feature they want, or they run into some bugs or something, and suddenly it's a horrible release, but that doesn't describe the experience of the users either.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, exactly. Just to give some context for people out there, are you guys doing mobile testing? Are you doing web testing? What are you focused on for where you've seen it work and where you've used it? I'm sure it can work for anything, but where have you been using that strategy in terms of your own day-to-day life and world?

Pamela Gillaspie: Oh, sure. I work at TestPlant where we make the eggPlant testing tools. I'm testing the testing tools. What I'm talking about in the presentation is our eggPlant functional product, but it really applies to performance testing and mobile testing, and every place where there are users and bugs.

Jennifer Bonine: You can really apply that principle. I think it's so interesting because, really, your consumer is all those people out there probably watching that are using your tools.

Pamela Gillaspie: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: So being a tester whose customer is testers, you have a lot of very knowledgeable people on how to find issues and defects and things that they ...

Pamela Gillaspie: Oh, you have no idea.

Jennifer Bonine: You have a very savvy customer base.

Pamela Gillaspie: Yes, we do.

Jennifer Bonine: Unlike just traditional customers out there in the wild, you have definitely a very educated customer base on how they want things to work, and they think it should work, and when they find things.

Pamela Gillaspie: Yes. They are educated, and they are vocal, as they should be. We definitely want to make them happy.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, absolutely. You've seen the conference also just from what you guys do. Obviously you guys come to the conference with the tool and stuff as well. This year, have you gotten to sit in on a lot of the sessions or participate in some of them as well?

Pamela Gillaspie: I actually went to more sessions this year than I have in the past. I love the sessions, but at the same time, I miss the booth. The first time I came here I spent a lot of time in the booth. I was really nervous about that because I'm not in a customer-facing job at all, but I'm just getting to talk to other testers about our product.

Jennifer Bonine: And hear directly from them.

Pamela Gillaspie: It's really fun. I mean as much as I love the sessions, and actually presenting this time, I'm trying not to focus on our products and my presentation. I want to be talking tester to tester, not vendor to tester.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, exactly. And having more of that, "Here's my experience as a tester and a peer," as opposed to a vendor.

Pamela Gillaspie: Right. But in the booth I get to show off our stuff and fly my eggPlant flag.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is fun, too, so you get both perspectives. Again, what people don't see is there's a whole vendor area and vendor fair that you can go to that has all the different tools and companies that are supporting testing and all the testers out there, that they can go see, which is fun, too, to get exposure to some of the new tools and the new functionality that's coming out, the stuff that you guys are working on, the stuff that a lot of other organizations are working on to help make the job of everyone out there a little bit easier, hopefully, and give them the tools they need to be successful. For people who maybe haven't heard of the tools that you guys have, can you just give us a brief overview of what they do and where they could leverage and utilize some of the tools you guys have?

Pamela Gillaspie: I'd love to. We have our eggPlant Functional testing tool. It used to just be called eggPlant when it was the only product. It's now eggPlant Functional.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is so cute. I love that name.

Pamela Gillaspie: Oh, I do, too.

Jennifer Bonine: It's such a fun image.

Pamela Gillaspie: That is an image-based testing tool, and we can use it to test pretty much anything. We connect to the system under test through VNC, or Windows RDP. Then we use mouse, keyboard, touch actions to control the system under test. That's really cool and fun and simple. My kids love to play with it.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, I bet.

Pamela Gillaspie: At the same time, you can do all the things you can do with traditional scripting languages, too, all the heavy duty scripting.

Jennifer Bonine: Language scripting, so just a preference of how do you want to do that? Do you want to use a scripting language, or do you want to use more of a tool like that to be able to do it?

Pamela Gillaspie: That's right. I mean the best is a combination of those things.

Jennifer Bonine: And using both, for where it fits you and where your skill set is, right?

Pamela Gillaspie: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: Different people have different strengths and skill sets to be able to use different things.

Pamela Gillaspie: We've got a huge range of users.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, I bet. It's just interesting to see. When you're building the tool, trying to serve people who are incredibly advanced as well some people who maybe need more help and making it user friendly for all ranges of knowledge in that product would be fun to think about.

Pamela Gillaspie: It is fun. It's one of the things I love about working at TestPlant, being really into testing and getting to work on testing tools, and talk about what I want in a tool. It's fantastic.

Jennifer Bonine: And from real life experience, being able to say, "Here's what I want, and here's what I like," as well as getting to talk to other people who do it and say, "What do you want and need?" I think the theme we're hearing, too, which is interesting, I heard it a lot at this conference, is the testing or quality organization being the voice of the customer, so helping bring in that perspective as they're testing of what does the customer want to see and what is their perspective of what's going on, and making sure that it aligns, and the defects and the things you're finding are around the things that they're most concerned with, and finding those areas or zones that you have to focus on based on where they're interested. I don't know if you guys are seeing that, too.

Pamela Gillaspie: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: I think it's great that you, then, you have that real life touch point direct to the consumer.

Pamela Gillaspie: We already have that kind of relationship a little bit where we're just big enough as a company that I'm close enough to the account managers that I can get in on the accounts a little and what are those guys doing and

Jennifer Bonine: And get to see and experience it.

Pamela Gillaspie: Actually, I've asked to tag along on some customer care visits.

Jennifer Bonine: That's awesome.

Pamela Gillaspie: I'm really excited about that.

Jennifer Bonine: I think, too, for anyone out there, I encourage you to do that. If you have the opportunity, no matter what industry or field that you're working on, I think getting as close to understanding and hearing direct as you can is so important, so having the opportunity to do those visits. If you do stuff around warehousing, to be able to go into the plants and see how stuff is manufactured just to give you that firsthand perspective of what's happening, I think is always good for people out there that are saying, "How do you do that?" or whatever, but just asking, "Can I be involved? Can I go out on these things?" I think is a good thing.

Pamela Gillaspie: That's what I've done.

Jennifer Bonine: Just raise your hand and say, "I'm in. Just take me with."

Pamela Gillaspie: Yeah, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, a great idea. Any other things that you'd like to share around themes you're hearing or listening to consumers, the next wave of stuff they're asking for, or desires out there in the market right now for testers that they're saying I need this or want this?

Pamela Gillaspie: Sure. Actually I've heard a lot this week about models for testing, about modeling user actions, modeling your programs. I think that's fascinating and absolutely necessary as systems become more and more complex. Yeah, I'm very excited about that. Also, one of the reasons I like this conference in particular, is because automation is dear to my heart, and I hear a lot about automation here, more so than other conferences.

Jennifer Bonine: There's huge themes around it. Again, for people that are interested in that, I think you get a lot around that topic here when you come here and socialize, what people are trying, and what's working, and different strategies. Doing these interviews, we heard MetaAutomation and new terms around automation. I always think I know what's cutting edge, but I've heard new things this week. I'm like, I need to check into that on what's that is. We're hearing a lot around that I think as well.

Pamela Gillaspie: It's really exciting.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, so a ton of fun. Thank you for being here with us. It has gone so quick. Our time is up. If people want to contact you or have more questions, either about the product, or about how get to speak, or about some of what you're working on, what's the best way to reach you?

Pamela Gillaspie: Absolutely. I would say Twitter is good, so just PamelaGillaspie, or actually my TestPlant email, [email protected].

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here.

Pamela Gillaspie: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: Again, I encourage you to reach out and ask questions, and ask Pamela anything you guys have on your mind around some of the stuff she talked about. Thank you, Pamela.

Pamela Gillaspie: All right, thank you.

Pamela GillaspiePamela Gillaspie is a founding mother and managing test engineer at TestPlant, maker of the eggPlant range of test-automation tools. At TestPlant, Pamela does functional testing of load-testing tools, integration-testing of mobile-testing tools, and a little bit of everything in between. Above all, she appreciates the opportunity to help shape the tools of her trade. Pamela is a co-organizer of the Boulder QA Meetup Group and an active member of the Software Quality Association of Denver. She would love to hear from fellow testers on Twitter @PamelaGillaspie.

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