Winter Is Coming! A Call to Action for Software Testing

As I look forward to the start of Season 6 of the HBO Series, Game of Thrones in April, the motto of House Stark - Winter is Coming! both a warning and a call to action to maintain constant vigilance to prepare for tough times ahead, is beginning to take a strangely familiar tone.

Falling oil prices, stock market turmoil and Unicorns crashing down from the skies could well be harbingers of tough times ahead – Winter. And we may do well to heed warnings to remain vigilant.

The need for Vigilance

Public companies facing falling stock prices are beginning to cut costs to boost balance sheets. Falling commodity prices are also going to reduce the amount of cash available for investment by sovereign funds and large investment funds. IT budget cuts and the prospect of delayed or smaller future funding rounds will force those responsible for building and managing software to look for more efficient ways to deploy their capital. This vigilance to achieve capital efficiency has to start at the top, in the C-Suite.

One of the lasting outcomes of the last winter in the tech economy in the US was a significant increase in offshoring as a way of achieving capital efficiency. Until then, offshoring was seen as something only large enterprises did, but it became a must have for even startups and mid sized companies. Investors emphasized the need for a ‘lower cost’ development center as a way to stretch their investment dollars.

But winters pass, seasons change and we tend to forget the travails of the cold as we bask in the warmth of fat balance sheets flush with cash and easy funding.

The vigilance that was the norm during winter has been relaxed and at times forgotten as we saw unicorns emerge and rise to the skies. We will however be wise to bring that vigilance back so that we can continue to thrive when the frost sets in.

With most software testing done offshore, labor costs already are at an all time low. Steps to bring greater efficiency in the deployment of capital for testing have to involve something other than just moving jobs to lower cost economies. These steps must include a level of automation that takes humans out of performing low value grunt tasks in testing and frees them to perform activities that provide a higher value. Activities like test design and planning require a level of domain expertise and subject matter knowledge, and when done right, contribute significantly more towards improving software quality.

Freeing up your testing teams to pursue the high-value tasks means you have to first get them out of doing the mundane manual testing that they have been used to.

The challenge is two-fold. Firstly, building and maintaining test automation has typically required specialized skills and expensive tools. Tools you may not have the capital budget to buy and skills you many not have in-house. Secondly the learning curve for manual testers to take up test automation has been extremely steep and one that most are unable to navigate. This dual challenge of high upfront capital costs and dealing with a workforce that cannot transition to a new future has kept inefficient testing practices going for far too long.

There is a new reality in test automation today! A reality that when adopted will not just allow us to survive the winter, but thrive as well.

A New Reality

It is possible today to build and manage test automation without using expensive and proprietary tools that require upfront capital expenditure. Legacy tools that carry the burden of per-user or node locked licenses, and tools that are primarily workstation-centric in building the running test automation are being replaced by nimble SaaS and Cloud based testing platforms. These are easy to use and support the current reality of distributed software development and testing teams. Out-of-the box and standards-based integration with DevOps tools available in these platforms ensure that product management teams, development and testing teams work in sync. Further by replacing the upfront capital expenditure required for software licenses with pay-as-you-go subscriptions these platforms help companies conserve cash and provide a true measure of productivity and ROI in testing operations.

Move spending on tools from capital to operational budgets to conserve cash

While unit tests built by developers work well to test the building blocks of software, testing real user journeys and business workflows require a great deal of understanding of the business. The new test automation platforms are making it possible to build automation to test these user journeys and business workflows using people that understand the business – subject matter experts and domain experts. By eliminating the dependence on programmers for designing and building this test automation, companies can significantly reduce the cost associated with test automation. Further by helping companies use their manual testers that understand the business to build the automation, these platforms help transition an existing testing workforce to a new reality.

Make it easy for your existing manual testing teams to adopt test automation. Your testing workforce will be more efficient and productive helping you stay competitive during tough times.

Finally the testing platforms in this new reality also help companies improve their software development and testing processes by providing them with valuable and actionable insights about their software quality. Insights powered by analytics and detailed reports on test results that are readily available to all stakeholders without having to spend long hours or precious resources crunching numbers. Test automation is critical to obtain the data that powers these insights. The greater the extent of test automation, the better the insights to improve software quality.

A Call to Action

At the current time in the Game of Thrones, it has been almost nine years since the last winter and most of the key characters in the plot were too young to remember it. They are engrossed in their current squabbles to realize the larger threat to the realm that winter brings. It is up to the older characters that have experienced previous winters to caution them to be prepared or perish.

Nine years – In our present context that would be 2007. How would those of us that have been through the last economic winter remember it and caution each other to prepare for the next one.

It is not a matter of if, but when – Winter Is Coming!