Monday, September 22, 2008

A Softie Again

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm about to become a Microsoftie, again! I have been given the opportunity to return to Microsoft as a senior test lead, working in the Management Division. No, that's NOT the group of execs who run the company! That's the group producing OS and platform management tools like Operations Manager (a product I've worked on in the past), SMS Server and so forth.

About two months ago, Microsoft announced the formation of a development center here in my home of Salt Lake City. I quickly applied for roles in the test organization. After two years of working project IT, I am ready to get back to product software! Some people might snicker, but the commitment to quality at a product software company, especially Microsoft, is so much higher than in project IT. I found I was spitting in the wind quite often in my previous roles--I was either fighting losing battles or I was fighting the wrong battles (ie, pushing for quality in organizations or situations where leadership didn't share the same commitment, or pushing for higher quality than some projects required).

Additionally, I found that my last few organizations did NOT look at testing engineers as equal citizens. Testing was looked at primary as QC (quality control) or possibly QA (quality assurance). Rarely were we invited to planning or design meetings, never were we looked upon as people who could help PREVENT defects. We were often seen as a roadblock to release. Don't even ask about my two-hour argument with IBM about the value of negative testing! Engineers who could help architect solutions? No way!! I often felt my fourteen years of engineering experience were swept under the table because I had "QA" in front of my "Engineer" title, rather than "Java" or "Development".

So I'm very excited to be returning to an organization and a company where I get a 'full seat' at the table, and an opportunity to contribute to my full ability, not to the perceived level of my title. IE, I'm an engineer again!

Doesn't change much about my point of view or my approach to testing. I'm still hyper-focused on 1) bug prevention, 2) quality engineering, and 3) driving for greater effectiveness and efficiency. And sometimes that will put me at odds with mainstream MS thinking (recall my conversation about moving to all SDETs and automating all tests, and the resulting "user experience" bugs that slip through the cracks in products like Vista).

For me the best thing is, I get to stay in beautiful Salt Lake City, and yet work for one of the greatest employers in the world. And NOW I can honestly say I've tried a few others...

So OK - let's hear it. How bad is Microsoft quality, really? If you could talk to a test leader, what would you tell them? What would you ask them?


  1. Do you share James Whittakers views on the future of software testing ?

    Is this a shared vision amongst the testers at MS, is there a common approach across all divisions ?

  2. Phil, sorry for the delay. I've been running like mad since starting back up! I've not read through James' entire series yet (he's got 7 entries going on the topic--it's like he's paid by the word or something! (friendly jab).

    Ironically, James spoke at my new employee orientation meeting. It was fun and he had the audience howling over his screen captures of terrible error dialogs - all MS products, mind you!

    Do I agree? So far, what I've read has said testing will move to crowdsourcing, where a to of testers are banging away on a product. Could that become an integral strategy for testing? Sure, for product software. Am I worried about my job? Absolutely not.

    The key here is that testing professionals are continually moving up the foodchain. I view my role (and the role of all test engineers) as being into bug prevention and early detection. Leaving the fit-n-finish bugs to crowdsourcing is great. If my engineers focus on core issues like concurrency bugs, performance, or security flaws, I can build a more solid product. If crowdsourcing finds the simple layout issues, I'm OK with that.

    So I see a gulf growing between test ENGINEERS and testers in general. The engineers are finding core design/arch issues while testers are finding UI layout, text/grammar. Do I currently expect my team to find both categories of defect? Yes. Will I in the future? Yes. But can I see a need for this type of low-skill testing? Sure.

    My role has evolved a lot through my 14-year career and my 12 years at MSFT (I'm back now), to where i'm a full-fledged engineer with a significant role in pushing quality upstream, preventing defects, finding the hard-to-find stuff (concurrency, perf, etc.) and also keeping an eye out for defects.

    So does that answer? There's no particular movement to crowdsource stuff; I don't know if anyone at MS is even doing it. But there's a definite move to increase testing's role for quality and pushing quality earlier and earlier in the process.


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