What Agile and DevOps Do for Software Communities: An Interview with Brandon Carlson


In this interview, Brandon Carlson, a consultant at Lean TECHniques, explains how all the newer aspects of software have come together. He explains how things have changed since agile has grown in prominence and what DevOps does for testing and development.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with another interviewer and I wanted to introduce you to Brandon. Brandon, thanks for joining us.

Brandon Carlson: Thanks for inviting me. My pleasure.

Jennifer Bonine: We're glad to have you here. For folks that don't know, why don't you tell us a little bit about the company you work for, and what you do?

Brandon Carlson: My name is Brandon Carlson. I'm with a company called Lean TEChniques. We do IT management consulting focused around agile and DevOps. In addition to the coaching, we also do custom software development, product development, and we're in Iowa. Obviously, if you're out of town, in a higher cost-of-living area, we've got cheaper rates and super high-quality developers. Most people don't know that the Midwest is considered the Silicon Prairie of the United States.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, exactly. I love that term. For those of you who haven't heard of that, the Midwest, you'll hear it more and more as "the Silicon Prairie." A lot of good resources.

Brandon Carlson: A lot of tech.

Jennifer Bonine: A lot of tech. A lot of people that haven't been tapped into, that you don't have some of the same competition that you get out on the West and the East Coast. You've got a lot really good talent available in the Midwest to tap into for those that didn't know that.

One of the things we're hearing a lot—we talked a little bit about earlier it with some of the speakers—is this whole concept around DevOps, agile, what that's doing to the industry around the communities for testing, development, project management, BAs. What that's bringing about in terms of those communities. Maybe give us a little context on what you're seeing in regards to what that's doing in the industry now, with those principles coming into play.

Brandon Carlson: It's pretty fascinating. I came to this conference and I see a lot of stuff about technical stuff at this conference that we never used to see at this type of conference. We're hearing about BDD, so if you don't know what BDD is, you can come here to learn it. There's people doing test-driven development, which is a developer practice, you can learn that here. You might not learn it, but you're going to at least know what they're talking about.

Jennifer Bonine: You get exposed to it.

Brandon Carlson: Right. There's a session on GitHub here, which is a tool the developers use. What I'm digging right now about the conference and the community, is I'm really starting to see this convergence between pre-agile, we had the testers over here and the developers over here and the operations guys, or the production people down here. Now as agile has started to take over, we're starting to see at these conferences a lot of this overlap. We've got the dev community and the test community coming together. I think that's really cool.

This year, I'm seeing even more with the DevOps, which is kind all the rage these days. I think we're at one of the places we missed out on opportunities and we're finally realizing with the agile movement, is the production folks were still left out to hang. Now, we're seeing, Even with all the DevOps sessions here, we're seeing- and I think there's a whole track on DevOps correct?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, there is.

Brandon Carlson: We're starting to see that production and operation stuff move in, so now everybody's converging and coming together. The productivity gains that we get out of that are amazing. Most of the gigs we're doing these days are DevOps, agile, trying to bring all of it together.

Jennifer Bonine: Bring that together.

Brandon Carlson: All three of them together.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and how you do that in an organization. What I think that brings up that's really interesting for folks that don't know you're background. We've talked to a lot of people today that have been in testing for thirty-plus years or twenty-plus years. That's not you. We should probably talk about how you got here, because you're relatively new on the scene at these conferences in particular.

Brandon Carlson: Correct. My background, I've been software developer for over twenty years, and I would not consider myself a tester right? It's not my background. However, back in 2002 I started with my first agile project and started this stuff like, test driven development and all these kinds of things. I started learning more and more about how to work with testers and that kind of stuff. I started really breaking those barriers down.

I'm also an avid reader, kind of a nerd right? I wrote a blog post, I called it "Hey Amazon, my recommendation engine's broken." The idea behind it was pretty simple. There's a concept called the Antilibrary from Umberto Eco. He said that the most valuable books in your bookshelf are ones that you haven't read yet because they have information in it that might influence you.

I wrote this blog post because I read all these books and Amazon says "Hey Brandon people that spend money on books like this also buy this book too." What I found with these books, if I take the Amazon recommendations, guess what I hear. The same thing that I just got done reading in the last book.

It creates this echo chamber. I was taking this in and reading this so I wrote this blog post. Then I got to thinking about it a little bit more. For the last twenty years, I've been going to development conferences.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Brandon Carlson: I'm complaining about the echo chamber that Amazon's creating for me and I'm going to an echo chamber.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Brandon Carlson: What I decided to do a few years ago, was I decided to start limiting the number dev conferences I go to and start going to other disciplines, such as BA conferences and QA conferences. That's what let me to STAR as being a participant in some of the better software and ADC conferences that TechWell puts on over the years. I decided this is a natural place for me to go. I'm starting to get a lot more involved in the testing community.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is awesome. It's doing exactly what we're telling agile and DevOps to do. Breaking down those silos so you have a place to go for testers to learn about their discipline, but they're also engaging and interacting with the other disciplines more closely and learning about different perspectives and how different people see things and operate.

I think it's awesome just seeing—That is a big difference I see at the conferences in the last couple of years, is folks like yourself. Who traditionally you wouldn't have seen, it was all going to be ... Especially at a STAR conference was primarily focused around testing, so it was testers or people that would classify themselves in the testing discipline.

Now when you give classes and you ask people, what's your primary job in your company? You're not getting all testing, or test management, or test leadership, you're getting, I do development, I lead developers, I'm a scrum master, I'm a BA, I'm these other things, but I need to know about testing because we're all converging right?

Brandon Carlson: Yeah absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: There's a lot a more that we're doing together to break those silos down and you're seeing more of that, which I think is awesome. Something to think about for the folks out there too, for yourselves of, are you in an echo chamber?

Brandon Carlson: Yeah absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Do you need to change up your perspective, or what you're doing, and just get some new information around things.

Brandon Carlson: Absolutely. We heard, was it Michael Sowers?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Brandon Carlson: We heard Michael Sowers talk about there's a lack of innovation in testing in his keynote yesterday, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yes. Yesterday in the Lightning Keynotes.

Brandon Carlson: In the Lightning Keynotes, yeah. When you look at all of the research—I told you guys I'm a nerd, right? When you look at all the research on creativity, creativity and innovation comes from having all kinds of different ideas and molding different ideas together to produce something new.

Steve Jobs was quoted as saying a quote like that. I think getting out there as a tester, if you hang out with testers all the time, you go to your local quality assurance user group. Try going to a local developer group, or maybe more apt for testers might be, a local business analysis group or something. Go to some events like that. Get some different perspectives. What kinds of tools did they use that you could adapt to your environment and vice-versa.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that would work for you. I think that's so neat because the other thing you see I think at these conferences, is exactly what you just said- where even what are considered industry leaders in the field; people that write books, that do all the blogs, that have been around for a long time- What I hear them saying at these conferences is, they would find and hone ideas because they're talking to a lot of different people.

Brandon Carlson: Yes and they're getting all that feedback.

Jennifer Bonine: And they're getting all that feedback. That's how they innovate on what they've already thought, but they're being challenged to think in a different way and think about it from a different perspective. That's what I think is great about that mixing of things, is you get that other perspective, that you maybe were missing.

Brandon Carlson: Yeah absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Kind of that blind spot of what you may not have seen. I think those are great perspectives.

Brandon Carlson: Your ability to communicate. I'll be honest with you, when I started coming here a couple years ago, I didn't know what session based test management was. I didn't know there was a difference between tests and checks until a couple of years ago.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, you're like "woo."

Brandon Carlson: Now I'm hearing all this language and I realize how easy it is for us to talk past one another.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes.

Brandon Carlson: Just from a communication perspective, meaning it'll work more effectively as a team. With agile and DevOps and all this stuff, you have those disparate skill sets and they're all being jammed together on these teams to deliver software. These communication issues continue to get worse if we don't actively work on ...

Jennifer Bonine: Addressing that.

Brandon Carlson: Addressing that, yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Again it's coming from different disciplines which have different languages that are at the core, right?

Brandon Carlson: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: You may hear terms but it doesn't resonate to you what that term actually means. You hear it, but like you said, you just talk past each other, the testers saying something and the developers saying something and they have no idea what it means but they're just interpreting what it is, and it may not be correct on either side. Having that dialogue and understand the terminology and coming to the language that you understand to get stuff done, really important for folks.

Brandon Carlson: Yeah, so…

Jennifer Bonine: Now you obviously—Oh, go ahead.

Brandon Carlson: One example of one those cross-pollinating ideas that we've talked about here at this conference. I was in a session on defect prioritization. There's a question on one of the boards here that's talking about what's a good affect of defect prioritization strategy. I'm going to leave it right here, but I had a quite lengthy discussion with a few folks that ... One company I was at, our defect prioritization strategy was that we didn't prioritize defects.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is the strategy, right?

Brandon Carlson: We worked on all of them in a first in first out model, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yup.

Brandon Carlson: That's something that we did and at the time, we were crazy for doing that. It worked. If you want to hear how it worked, that's for another time because we don't have all the time in the world for this. I'd love to talk to people about that. It's an example of when we get some outside ideas, new things happen.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, exactly. To your point, back to that innovation. Changing up the mindset, of we don't have to do it that way just because we've always done it that way. The idea of prioritizing could mean not prioritizing at all and first in first out and just changing that whole model up. For folks that want to hear about that, we'll get a way for you to contact Brandon after we're done chatting so you can hear more about that or get more information.

On the coaching side of things, because you do a lot of coaching on the agile, DevOps piece. Maybe enlighten us to trends or what you're seeing in terms of organizations. Is it, they're still struggling with implementing agile, are you still seeing a lot of brand new folks saying "I'm new to the party, let me in, how do I get in?" What are you seeing?

Brandon Carlson: I see a lot of both. A lot of the new stuff is DevOps, because DevOps is pretty popular. Biggest thing that I get concerned about when I see a DevOps implementation; we've been getting a lot more conversations on DevOps and they say "well we're doing scrum" and this where my biases come into play, they're not doing the good code XP practices, such as test driven development, behavior driven development, or acceptance test driven development. Depending on how old you were when you learned what to call that. The solid technical foundation isn't there and people try build these continuous build pipelines and they don't have the solid ground.

A lot of times we're having to take these DevOps teams and have them take a step back and focus on the foundational stuff. Which is, good quality technical practices. With agile, we see a lot of folks that are coming in and saying "We've been trying Agile and it's not working for us." What it generally turns out to be is, you come in and you lay a framework down or a process down, like scrum, and you follow it blindly- Everything is context dependent so you need to use what works in your context, don't just come and apply these rules and think it's just magically going to work. Some of the dogmatic agile coaches out there might tell you, "Well you got to do it exactly this way or it doesn't work." because they all feed on each other. Realistically we have to deliver value to our customers. That's what it's all about. Let's take a look at what you're doing today. Where the drains on your system are, and how we can improve that process.

Jennifer Bonine: What works for you.

Brandon Carlson: Yeah, what works for you.

Jennifer Bonine: The one thing does not work for everyone and that's where I think people get into trouble is they're like "I have to do it exactly like this."

Brandon Carlson: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: They think they have to follow these rules and the whole idea almost of agile was there is no rules. The rule is that you just have to work together.

Brandon Carlson: It's the principles.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly and that's where I think people miss out and are like "but we have to do it exactly like this" and it's like "No, you need to be a little more open than that."

Brandon Carlson: Exactly.

Jennifer Bonine: I think that's great. Great to know. How are people going to be able to contact you because we obviously didn't get enough time to go through some of the things that ...

Brandon Carlson: Right on. Contacting me is super easy. Go to a QA conference or a dev conference, because I go to both of them now.

Jennifer Bonine: He goes to both.

Brandon Carlson: Probably even easier than trying to get funding to go to a conference, would be, you can email at [email protected].

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect.

Brandon Carlson: We'll get right back to you.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome, so that's how they can find you. Hopefully you guys leaned some new stuff from Brandon, and we will talk to you all a little bit later this afternoon for more interviews after another session.

Brandon Carlson: Enjoy the rest of the virtual conference.

Brandon CarlsonA self-proclaimed nerd, Brandon Carlson works for Lean TECHniques Inc., an IT consultancy that helps teams deliver high-value, high-quality products to market. Passionate about elevating IT performance, over the past twenty years he has helped numerous organizations from startups to Fortune 100 companies improve their product development and delivery systems. Brandon's interests include behavioral psychology and software development professionalism. He can be reached on Twitter and just about everywhere as bcarlso and at [email protected].

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