The Tester’s Role in Estimation and Measurement: STARWEST 2015 Interview with Rob Sabourin


In this interview, TechWell speaks with Rob Sabourin, principal consultant (and president/janitor) of AmiBug.Com. During the show, he gave a presentation titled "Exploring Usability: Testing for Mobile and Web Technologies."

Jennifer Bonine: We are live with our last virtual interview of the day. Rob, you're the lucky winner.

Rob Sabourin: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: You're our closer. Thanks for being here.

Rob Sabourin: Always be closing.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks for being here with us again. For those folks watching out there that haven't gotten a chance to see you yet, they will, coming up in the lightning keynotes, right?

Rob Sabourin: If they watch carefully. I'm going to fly in and fly out.

Jennifer Bonine: So stay tuned, Rob will be back.

Rob Sabourin: White lightning. There you go.

Jennifer Bonine: At the lightning keynotes after this. Keep tuning in. I also saw you, I was just saying, I saw you out at the Test Lab. We had the Test Lab guys here a little bit earlier.

Rob Sabourin: I saw that. They made me work at the lab while they interviewed.

Jennifer Bonine: I thought you had a neat concept, because you obviously give tutorials and classes ...

Rob Sabourin: Classes, tutorials ...

Jennifer Bonine: All of that good stuff. You encourage your people to come …

Rob Sabourin: When I'm at a conference like this, you meet a lot of people. They take your workshops, they take your courses, and it's a lot of theoretical stuff. There's a lot of gibbertygoop and a lot of talking about it, and maybe some show-and-tell, too, but it's very little hands-on actual testing. I like to say, "Hey, come and test with me. If you have a question, don't just talk about it with me. Come and test with me." I actually bring with me a lab coat. I wear the lab coat. I sit at the lab, and I encourage the delegates who I've been talking to about different methods, techniques, approaches, and we'll see. We'll make it happen, and we make it real, and we really test together.

Jennifer Bonine: So people take you up on it!

Rob Sabourin: Many times they do, and I get all kinds of cool discussions and dialogues. Some of the best learning I do is by testing with people. I want to encourage people to actually test at a testing conference.

Jennifer Bonine: What a novel concept, right?

Rob Sabourin: Think about how many speakers don't do that, too. I want to encourage other speakers to do that.

Jennifer Bonine: I loved it, like I said. Those of you who are watching don't get to see this, but out where the Test Lab is I walked by. We of course had Bart and our Test Lab guys that are here, and then I saw you with your lab coat, and you were there.

Rob Sabourin: Test with me. Right?

Jennifer Bonine: Any big ah-has or different things you're hearing this conference than some of the other ones you've been at?

Rob Sabourin: First of all, I love the tone this year. This conference has got, there's a critical mass of people who aren't afraid to ask good questions. They're encouraging the momentum where other people get in and get braver and braver. This is a great group this year. I don't know what it is this year that's a little bit different, but there's that nice energy in the air.

Jennifer Bonine: Different vibe than …

Rob Sabourin: It is definitely a different vibe. It's that critical mass, that these folks aren't afraid to ask questions, these folks aren't afraid to dive in; then other people are following from that and learning from that. A lot of people are sort of afraid to ask the questions, a little intimidated. At this conference, you're supposed to ask questions! That's what it's all about!

Jennifer Bonine: Is learning, right? Getting more information.

Rob Sabourin: Exactly. I think that's a nice vibe this year.

Jennifer Bonine: I've seen, too, it was interesting. One of the things at the conference, for those that aren't here, is there's a board for Meet the Speakers, where you can talk to speakers, and there's lunches and stuff. I've seen conferences where those are completely empty. No one signed up. This one, I was looking, people are actually ...

Rob Sabourin: I don't know what it is about STAR that attracts that, but people like that formality. Some people are sort of intimidated to go and talk to a speaker. I'm just hanging out there, I'll sit down for hours. I don't know if you know the names of the people, but I'm testing with some pretty well-known people in the testing community. Those people are watching us and they're a little intimidated to come up.

I say "Test with me," I try to be open and encouraging. That Meet the Speakers thing gives it a little formality, makes it a little more comfortable for people,

Jennifer Bonine: Like "I can come, it's okay. It's not a club."

Rob Sabourin: I'm on a list ... no, but it's true. It's not a private club.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not a private club of testers.

Rob Sabourin: STAR does it well. If you're seeing a lot of people using it, it's because it's got a good track record.

Jennifer Bonine: I saw a lot more of that this year.

Rob Sabourin: Although I don't personally do that. I prefer to hang out in the lab and test with everybody. We have different styles.

Jennifer Bonine: What are you talking about here, this time?

Rob Sabourin: I did two things already. I talked about the user experience testing. I talked about estimation. I'm going to take the theme that's common between the two and talk about fantasy in my lightning keynote. I don't want to spend five minutes talking about a five-minute talk.

Jennifer Bonine: No, exactly. We don't want to …

Rob Sabourin: Fantasy. Fantasy.

Jennifer Bonine: So now you have to tune in to see what Rob's going to say about fantasy.

Rob Sabourin: Just for a few minutes.

Jennifer Bonine: For a few minutes, and see what this is all about. Something interesting, which you'll get out of it, probably. If people want to know more or find more out about you, what's the best way to contact you if they're not here?

Rob Sabourin: I don't know what the best way is. I have a lousy web presence. I don't know how to use Twitter. I don't know what Facebook is all about.

Jennifer Bonine: That's confusing too, right?

Rob Sabourin: You could call me.

Jennifer Bonine: Rob will give you his cell phone.

Rob Sabourin: I put a lot of my stuff on a website called, so, a lot of my examples and case studies.

Jennifer Bonine: Are out there.

Rob Sabourin: My own website,, is in a state of disrepair right now, but I encourage people just send me an email: [email protected]. [email protected], whatever you like. You'll find me on the internet very easily, and I'm very responsive. I just ask people, if they're trying to contact me, to remind me where we met or what it's about. Give me a hint.

Jennifer Bonine: Where they heard of you, or ...

Rob Sabourin: Yeah, stuff like that. I really enjoy doing that. A lot of my articles, case studies, and presentation materials are available at TechWell's famous repository.

Jennifer Bonine: Of information.

Rob Sabourin: Whatever they call it these days.

Jennifer Bonine: It's out there.

Rob Sabourin: Stuck up minds, or StickyMinds ...

Jennifer Bonine: StickyMinds, yep. It's StickyMinds. You can go ahead and stuff minds.

Rob Sabourin: There you go.

Jennifer Bonine: StickyMinds is where you'll find Rob's stuff.

Rob Sabourin: A lot of it.

Jennifer Bonine: Rob, anything fun that you're working on? Any new projects?

Rob Sabourin: Oh, yeah. Really fun stuff.

Jennifer Bonine: Can you tell us about any of them?

Rob Sabourin: I really wish I could name the companies, but I'm working on some test automation work with some of the biggest mobile app companies on the planet. We're kicking butt. It's really fun, looking at ways to come up with comprehensive strategies to help people really release software with confidence that you didn't accidentally destroy something. I'm doing big-name stuff on that.

I did some work recently with Berkeley, Berkeley University in California, University of California Berkeley, doing all sorts of exercises to help teach developers how to do testing in embedded devices that are being put into what we call the Internet of Things, which are these really ultra-connected appliances. Like your fridge is talking to someone's fridge down the street.

Jennifer Bonine: They're telling, "You can go down there and borrow that," yeah.

Rob Sabourin: Actually talking to the grid. Talking to the power grid about when's the best time to do your drying and stuff. I did a lot of work in that area this year, really fun consulting work. Teach developers how to test embedded software for the Internet of Things appliance side. That's, it's going to be out there. The next-gen stuff is coming out soon. Very, very net-aware appliances.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow.

Rob Sabourin: Scary.

Jennifer Bonine: Right?

Rob Sabourin: The Terminator.

Jennifer Bonine: With that, everyone's starting to talk about, obviously the keynote this morning was about the Internet of Things, and what's coming. What are you hearing about, there's a whole bunch of security stuff that comes with that?

Rob Sabourin: Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: The opening up of everything to everyone at any time.

Rob Sabourin: I'm listening and watching. I'm a little bit concerned. I want to hear what people are not just saying, but I want to see what people are doing. We know a lot about how to do privacy testing and how to security testing and how to do a lot of non-functional testing. Now it's got to become part of the day-by-day parlance; the day-by-day work of something. It's not something that some other team is going to take care of later. It's something that we've got to be aware of.

I like that, but that's bringing into question what are some of the basic skills and knowledge that Joe Tester's got to have in their Swiss Army knife, in their portfolio.

Jennifer Bonine: To do that.

Rob Sabourin: There are methods and techniques. In some ways especially security testing, what I see is, I sense it's like a private club. I sense it's like there's a magic to doing this, and unless you've done all these crazy rituals you can't practice that. We've got to break that down or thought analyze it and get those skills into the day-by-day testing world. It'll happen, but…

Jennifer Bonine: Not there yet.

Rob Sabourin: People are working on that. We'll get there. Some nice stuff is going to be coming out, making that possible. Books, articles, case studies, examples. That sort of work.

Jennifer Bonine: That's so true, right? People are still a little bit shy about delving into that area.

Rob Sabourin: That's absolutely true, it's an amazing thing. It's also true, used to be true for performance testing, and…

Jennifer Bonine: It's kind of mythical, it's like a mythical creature.

Rob Sabourin: Now it's not so bad. At one time it was a griffon.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly! Don't go there. Only certain people can. Exactly. So it'll be interesting to see how that happens. In terms of yourself, any other things, new books or papers or stuff that you're working on for you?

Rob Sabourin: The big one I'm working on is this fantasy stuff. It's testing lessons from the land of make-believe. It's an awesome thing. It's basically, I've been playing with some basically participants, who are my grandchildren. There's Suzy, who just turned four, and Jane, who's still five. We're playing together a lot. What I'm doing is I'm getting a beautiful catalog and collection of testing from the world of make-believe.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool.

Rob Sabourin: I'm looking to introduce that probably the first real big American splash will be at STAREAST next year.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, because …

Rob Sabourin: For me it's super. It's very big. I'm also working with my wife on testing lessons from OBGYN delivery room nursing stuff. That's not new, I've been doing that for years.

Jennifer Bonine: I didn't know that! That's very cool. For those that don't know, because you said it's big American splash, you're Canadian.

Rob Sabourin: There's going to be some trials of it. I'll be doing some beta testing of the presentation material in Waterloo, Ontario, at small, local peer conferences.

Jennifer Bonine: Very cool.

Rob Sabourin: The American splash …

Jennifer Bonine: Big American splash.

Rob Sabourin: We're going to make sure it's nice and smooth and clean and delivers ...

Jennifer Bonine: Ready to go for everyone.

Rob Sabourin: Absolutely. It's going to be beautiful.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome! It goes so fast, Rob. Thanks for spending time with us.

Rob Sabourin: Thanks for having me here.

Jennifer Bonine: Again, Amibug for…

Rob Sabourin: Amibug, yep.

Jennifer Bonine: To find Rob.

Rob Sabourin: Examples, email.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly.

Rob Sabourin: Look for me.

Jennifer Bonine: Or go back. Sometimes when I interview Rob he'll give you his cell phone. Go back in the tapes and you'll maybe find his cell phone somewhere.

Rob Sabourin: Somewhere.

Jennifer Bonine: There you go. Awesome. Thanks, Rob. Tune in for the keynotes next, you guys.

Rob Sabourin: Okay. That's it.

Jennifer Bonine: Thanks.

You can also see Rob Sabourin at STARCANADA 2016.

Rob SabourinRob Sabourin, P. Eng., has more than thirty-four years of management experience leading teams of software development professionals. A well-respected member of the software engineering community, Rob has managed, trained, mentored, and coached hundreds of top professionals in the field. He frequently speaks at conferences and writes on software engineering, SQA, testing, management, and internationalization. Rob wrote I am a Bug!, the popular software testing children's book; works as an adjunct professor of software engineering at McGill University; and serves as the principle consultant (and president/janitor) of AmiBug.Com, Inc. Contact Rob at [email protected].

User Comments

1 comment
Kevin Meyer's picture

Sorry, but where was the part about estimating?  This was more of "let's get to know Rich".  

February 24, 2016 - 2:44pm

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