Twinterview with Alan Page

14 Jun

Last week we ‘twinterviewed’ (twitter interviewed) upcoming Fusion and STANZ speaker Alan Page, Principle Software Design Engineer in Test with Microsoft on the Xbox team. Here’s what he had to say about the essential skills for testers, Customer Focused Design, common testing mistakes and what technology is exciting him right now:

SoftEd twitter handle @SoftEdMan

@alanpage: Hi Alan, how are you today?

Alan Page twitter handle @alanpage

@SoftEdMan: I’m doing great – been overbooked a bit lately, but feeling great and excited to take part in my first “twinterview”!

We’re excited to be talking to you here! It’s fun to embrace new technology. So, can you tell us about what you do for a living?

It’s funny how hard it can be to answer such a simple question. Short answer is I’m a tester, but I should elaborate.

How’s this: I try to improve Tests, Testers, and Testing in the Xbox console org at MS. But that’s not a lot better.

Last try: I identify/reduce risk and find areas for improvement; I design test strategies; I try to make the Xbox team better.

 Haha good work. It’s not easy to fit a living into 160 characters. Here’s another tough one – what do you love most about it?

I love that it’s hard. It forces me to experiment, fail, and grow. It’s different every day, so I always need to adapt and learn.

Oh – and I get to work on Xbox – that’s pretty cool too.

Cool, sounds like fun, plus that’s got to be every little boy’s dream. Do you have a favourite website? What makes it your fav?

I have to say I’m a huge fan of personal kanban for task organization and I use the leankit site EVERY day.

Looks interesting. It can be tough to keep organised without tools like that. Almost half done.

Keep ‘em coming – I’ll talk software or software testing anytime :}

What thing (book/article/gadget/anything) have you seen recently that got you excited about the future of technology?

It’s honestly Xbox360 – what we announced at E3 (more video, smart glass, games and a browser on the console is amazing).

I know I sound like a homer, but an Xbox entertainment console in every living room certainly isn’t bad for a vision :}

I also bought a learning thermostat recently – it also connects with wifi. That’s *almost* but I see a trend.

I was just thinking the same thing! I can’t wait to be able to browse the net using my Xbox360 – it’s very exciting.

Insert “exciting” after the “almost” in last tweet.

5 years ago, I had 6 devices on my home network – today, it’s closer to 30. I think 5 years from now it will be well over 100.

So anytime I see a gadget or appliance get more powerful (or interesting) via connectivity, I get pretty excited.

You could say that I’m excited about the potential of a world of connected devices (skynet warning goes here) #sorryForLongAnswer.

Don’t worry about long answers, we can talk all day if you want. Next Q: which article/book woud you urge everyone to read?

“Everyone” is a pretty large group, and I read a lot, so this is tough – but I’ll see what I can do.

One that I think should be interesting to *everyone* is Steven Johnson’s, Where Good Ideas Come From

I think all testers should be well read in anything by Feynman (e.g. He had the mind of a great tester.

Was just watching your youtube video about that this morning … looks like a good read. Ok, a couple more Q’s.

What common mistakes do you see businesses make when it comes to testing?

The biggest one is trying to test quality in at the end of the cycle rather than using testers collaboratively throughout.

Another is thinking that testers are soley responsible for quality.

Many of the points in Brian @Marick‘s 15 year old article on “Classic Testing Mistakes: are still valid

Both sound frustrating. Thanks for the article. Which skills do you think are essential for testers to have?

Above all, the “thinking” skill is most important.

This includes systems thinking, problem decomposition, decision making etc. Great testers are great thinkers.

Beyond that, testers need enough technical knowledge to understand the system they are testing.

And if “a seeking mind”, or “passion for learning” are skills, testers need that skill too!

Sounds like a big job. It’s a good thing we’ve got experts like you to teach us about it. 2 more questions to go.

Why is customer focused test design important to you?

With “traditional” test design testers can sometimes focus on the wrong testing activities.

Customers don’t care how many tests you ran, how many passed, what bugs you found or how many lines of code you covered.

Customers don’t care anything about the activities of software development – they want software to work.

Customer focused test design helps frame the test design in context of things that customers may actually care about.

A customer focused approach to test design puts upfront emphasis on usability, reliability, performance, etc.

And to finally answer your question, it’s important to me because I want to make software people *like* – not sw they *tolerate*.

Great answer. We like it when people make like-able software too. Right just one last question.

I think I already know the answer to this one – when will you next be in NZ/AUS? Are you planning anything exciting?

Funny you should ask! I’ll be in New Zealand *and* Australia for Fusion & STANZ Sept 10-14, 2012. I can’t wait!

I probably won’t have time for white-water rafting in Rotorua this trip, but talking testing should be almost as exciting.

That’s fantastic! We can’t wait either. That’s all the Qs I have for today. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that this was fun. Thanks for the opportunity, and for the great questions.

Thanks for all the great answers, and thanks for your time. Looking forward to seeing you at Fusion and STANZ.

My pleasure – I’m looking forward to the trip.

If you would like to hear more from Alan, he will be speaking at both of our conferences this year:


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