Testing Smarter With Santhosh Tuppad (Interview by Hexawise)
This interview with Santhosh Tuppad is part of Hexawise's series of “Testing Smarter with…” interviews. Their goal with these interviews is to highlight insights and experiences as told by many of the software testing field’s leading thinkers.
Santhosh Tuppad fell in love with computers when he was 12 and since then his love for computers has increased exponentially. He founded his first startup in 2010 and was part of growing the company to nearly 80 people.
In short, he is a passionate software tester, security researcher, entrepreneur and badass in following his heart come what may!
This post includes highlights from our full interview with Santhosh Tuppad. The full interview is long and packed with great thoughts.
Hexawise: What drew you into a career in software testing?
Santhosh: I have loved computers since I was 12. My father enrolled me into a computer course and I got to experience Disk Operating System for the first time where I used computer using command-line terminal and also played Prince Of Persia game. And I was addicted to gaming during this phase.
After my gaming stint, I was introduced to the internet and picked up an addiction for IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Here, I met various hackers and used to communicate with them on various channels which were heavily moderated and were invite only. I had to demonstrate my interest in hacking to these folks to invite me to their channel. My first hack was to hack the dial-up network credentials and use them at my home when the internet shop used to close at night. We used to have Internet Packs at those times in India and I had to pay money to buy those: and I did not have money during my teenage years.
Without much ado, let’s skip to software testing part. After my graduation, I did not know what should I be doing (one thing I knew for sure was, anything that I do has to be with computers as I was passionate). I understood that, I cannot settle for anything which doesn’t synchronize with my heart. I was on the journey of finding which becomes part of me. And finally, I enrolled for the software testing course. And during the course days, I could connect my hacking skills (security testing) to software testing. This part of my life is what I call finding bliss.
And the story continued and I started growing in the industry as a tester, international speaker, participant in conferences across the globe, entrepreneur in software testing, keynote speaker, blogger, author and what not.
Hexawise: If you could write a letter and send it back in time to yourself when you were first getting into software testing, what advice would you include in it?
Oh my dear soul,
I see that you have found yourself in a country where everyone is pressurized to become something else than they want to be. You identified something crucial and beautiful about yourself, that is you follow your heart with patience and kindness and don’t settle for something that doesn’t make you come alive. Like I know, passion is a variable and it may get boring at times; but being bored is just a temporary phase and an emotion which doesn’t mean your passion is dead. So, be rational and decide for yourself while you are kind to others. Accept yourself and forgive everyone.
You are stepping into what you love and I know you are confident about your journey and you believe in it. That’s beautiful.
It may be easy to fall into routine and get into monotony of things in your career. Nevertheless, you know how to sail through things and get out of them to start fresh or continue in a different path. You can swiftly shift based on your visceral.
Grow by following your visceral feelings and have no regrets. Be good at connecting the dotsand growing out of them. The beauty of software testing has not been known by the world so well as of today, so work on your skills and demonstrate them to the world and educate professionals and students about the greatness of software testing. It’s not about you or me or anyone, it’s about next generation testers who could help their next generation and their generation to enjoy the fruit of invention which includes software. Let software make the life beautiful and not buggy.
I know that you know about your journey, but I am just saying.
With love, Your other self
Wedding picture of Gina Enache and Santhosh Tuppad in the temple at Bengaluru, India
Hexawise: What kinds of activities do you enjoy when you’re not at work?
Santhosh: I love meditation forms; talking deeply with a friend sitting on my balcony of my apartment; watching documentaries of various types; and conversations about psychology, life and many other topics with my wife Gina Enache.
I feel that educating customers is the key and it takes more leaders to spread the greatness of exploratory testing style to the world through demonstration.
Views on Software Testing
Hexawise: What do you wish more developers, business analysts, and project managers understood about software testing?
Santhosh: I wish that developers, business analysts and project managers understood that it is not low-skilled job which anyone can do. And also wish more of them learned to collaborate across the teams in order achieve the common goal.
At the same time, I also feel that testers should upskill and demonstrate the value they provide in order to gain credibility from those on other teams. I also wish to see them spending time together instead of just seeing their role as limited. Last, but not least; manage conflicts and work as a team.
Hexawise: What challenges and advantages are there to managing an exploratory based, thinking software tester organization (as you designed Test Insane to be) compared to the still common "checking" style software testing organization.
- Not many customers understand how exploratory testing can be valuable. And it’s hard to educate them as well because most of them do not want to hear.
- Hiring is a bigger problem. In my experience, I have trained new testers or made some testers to unlearn their testing way and I have been successful, but it’s hard to scale in my view in the current world.
- Pricing is something that customers choose over the skills. It’s sad, but true. Most customers appear to be happy with “checking” style organization because their pricing is good for customers. Value based testing still needs to be understood by customers. However, I have been trying my best to talk about good testing (exploratory skilled testing/technical testing) to business owners at conferences I participate in or speak at.
- Most of the testers have half-baked knowledge about exploratory testing and yet they call themselves exploratory testing experts. This makes it hard for context-driven leaders to see a scaleable model for exploratory testing. Thanks to Ministry of Testing community which is really spreading a great message to the testing world. I appreciate Rosie Sherry, Richard Bradshaw and every CDT member who are working on scaling it up and spreading the right message to the world.
I feel that educating customers is the key and it takes more leaders to spread the greatness of exploratory testing style to the world through demonstration.
- Starting TestInsane (Exploratory Testing and Check Automation Services Company) has also enabled me to bring in a change and demonstrate to the world the worth of good testing and value-based testing that can be done through the exploratory testing style.
- Experienced testers who joined TestInsane unlearned the checking style and learned exploratory style testing and they are leaders who spread their knowledge and also are happy with their profession.
- Customers are happy when they see test coverage and have acknowledged that it helps them to make better informed decisions about shipping or not.
- Recurring business from customers who saw the value
- The sense of freedom with responsibilities that my team members have. And this is because they enjoy exploratory testing and they perform amazingly. Freedom has always been great, but it comes with challenges. And one of the challenge is constantly learning and adapting based on the context.
I recommend that organizations hire security specialists because you don’t want to just rely on checklist based testers unless they have mastered hacking and have practiced enough to create a mindset of hacker.
Hexawise: Do you believe security testing for software requires testers that specialize in security testing? Certainly some security testing can be incorporated by most software testers, but does the complexity and constantly evolving nature of software security mean that only specialists can provide sufficient security testing?
Santhosh: This is very context specific question. And I am glad that you mention “Certainly some security testing can be incorporated by most software testers” which is true. Most of the software testers can be “Survival Mode” security testers who follow the checklist or guidelines (The Script Kiddie I mean).
However, what the organization needs for better coverage and deeper security testing is a tester who can be an explorer and find security vulnerabilities like a black-hat hacker. I recommend organizations hire security specialists because you don’t want to just rely on checklist based testers unless they have mastered hacking and have practiced enough to create a mindset of hacker.
I believe strongly that we need better security testers who are not just certified by EC-Council (nowadays, anyone can get this certification), but are known for skills and can show it via demonstration. Even in today’s world, we need security specialists if we are serious about software security. Period.
My articles on various topics of security testing provide additional reading on security testing of software.
Industry Observations / Industry Trends
Hexawise: India is a worldwide center for software testing. What risks do you see to that business going forward? What can testers (or testing companies) in India do to protect their market and gain customers going forward?
Santhosh: In my opinion, I don’t see the risk at all in India for these reasons:
- Overseas companies who outsource testing are happy with bad testing
- Customers think automation solves testing problems just because they are blind to good testing and they think - "good testing is automation" - which is incorrect. Like I say, automation is a myth. Automation is just a Ferrari (faster), it doesn't solves testing problems by itself.
- India has more manpower in terms of engineers. Now, this can be a boon or bane for individuals who were pressurised by society or parents to study engineering. However, India has more engineers and that means more manpower.
- There is nothing that testers need to do until the customers understand the value of good testing which is value-based instead of running the N number of test cases and showcasing some decorated spreadsheets which speak about good/bad testing.
- Companies are moving towards automation and artificial intelligence thinking it will solve their problems of testing. A big no. I believe that ideas are driven by the beautiful brain. And people believing the myth of AI and automation is not a risk as long as customers are loving them. In short, customers pay for this and people love to make money without educating the customer.
- There can be a risk if and only if there is any other country which will gain the traction compared to India and maybe show what is good testing in a bigger proportion. And only then there may be a risk for Indian based companies.
Here are the risks for a tester anywhere around the globe if they fall into any categories mentioned below (not just India):
- Falling into the phase of monotony and routine where there is no new learning.
- Believing that, “If I stick to this company for long time, then I will have job security” (We do not know when things change in this rapidly changing and evolving industry).
- Not getting to the depth of a problem and also not practicing thinking skills like lateral thinking, critical thinking, cognitive thinking etcetera.
- Not spending money and time on credible conferences and workshops
- Not adapting to the new learning and also being rigid by saying I cannot adapt.
- Lack of passion. There is only survival with lack of passion. If a tester wants their work to be great and satisfying, passion is must. Or else they can only survive and not enjoy what they do. The solution to lack of passion problem could be, creating a passion for the profession by learning OR identifying a passion even if it’s any other profession (This is a context-based advice).
Hexawise: Have you seen a particularly effective process where the software testing team was integrated into the feedback from a deployed software application (getting feedback from users on problems, exploring issues the software noted as possible bugs...)? What was so effective about that instance?
Santhosh: The answer to this is available in this interview in the “Staying Current / Learning” section of the full interview.
The effective thing about that was, both developers and testers got access to the bugs that really matter. And once the fixes started rolling based on the feedback analyzer tool where feedback from users were being used in order to test better, there was improvement in terms of page views, time spent on page and also orders were checked out smoothly and quickly. The company started getting more orders (eCommerce platform) while they had great positive feedback and the when measured monthly feedback statistics, the negative feedback eventually reduced which spoke about “the effectiveness” of using the feedback from users and accommodating in the testing practice for better.
Working closely with programmers/developers is one of the beauties of an effective team. And Agile to me just means human values and these values have to be incorporated in the team. I believe there has to be great training in the companies/teams about conflict management, communication, motivation, solving problems etcetera in order to power up the teams to perform better and deliver better products to the world thereby helping the business move forward.
Staying Current / Learning
Hexawise: What do you look for when hiring software testers? What suggestions do you have for those looking to advance in their in software testing career?
Santhosh: In my experience, I have hired testers based on their attitude only. And some times, I have hired them only for their skills. I have had my own lessons and I have some checklist or guidelines that I follow in order to good testers with mixed ingredients of attitude. Well, the attitude is a tricky part because unlike WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors, humans are not really WYSIWYG. It’s the perception during the interview that one carries about attitude. And attitude during the interview maybe based on best interest of the candidate to get hired. Most of the times it’s manipulation of the attitude which will fade away in months or days or years. I repeat, hiring is really a tricky situation and one can learn only through experiences and eventually grow with good hiring methods.
What do I look for based on my learning experiences in hiring?
- Technical testing skills - My highest priority is for this. For example: If I am hiring for web application testing, I interview them concepts like web browser rendering engine, developer tools usage, tampering POST requests via Network tab, about HTTP headers and why are they important, depth knowledge about cookies, session management, their unique ideas to test web application and providing them with my own custom buggy web application that I have developed in order to analyse their skills hands-on and finally understand if a candidate can be a better fit for my team. (Note: This example is for a fresh candidate or someone who is 1 to 2 year experienced in web application testing). I would like to say that, I knew more about web browsers, sessions, cookies, tampering, hacking (thanks to my love for hacking when I was 16 and it’s been more than a decade being a security tester. Now, you know how passion is important if you want to do something great and well.
- Attitude - This has been tricky for me and I am still learning how to hire based on attitude. Based on my experiments, I love to have discussions with the candidate and have transparency and also in the journey, speak like friends because those are the times the candidate opens up and feels comfortable.
- Knowing the short-term plan of a candidate - Now, this is a checklist to see if I can have a good hire. Nevertheless, I need to see how a candidate performs in real environment once hired. In my experience, both these environments differ very well based on the context. It’s just like a web application or a software performance after being deployed to production/live environment.
Hexawise: What software testing-related books would you recommend should be on a tester’s bookshelf? What blogs would you recommend should be included in a software tester's RSS feed reader?
Santhosh: The first book I shall recommend is “Lessons learned in software testing” by James Bach, Bret Pettichord and Cem Kaner.
Here is the list of books that I love in testing,
- Testing Computer Software by Cem Kaner
- The Black Swan - By Nasim Taleb
- General Systems Thinking by Jerry Weinberg
- AmIaBug.com - Online Book by Robert Sabourin
- Showing Up - Book by Olaf Lewitz and Christine Neidhardt
- The Psychology of Software Testing - By John Stevenson
- The Web Application Hacker's Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws - By Dafydd Stuttard and Marcus Pinto (for security testing aspirants)
- The design of everyday things - By Don Norman
- And many more books. (follow me on twitter if you need any specific book suggestion as I cannot flood this post with so many books)
Blogs that I follow and recommend for a tester:
- James Bach's Blog
- DevelopSense by Michael Bolton
- Software Testing Blog (of course mine J)
- Testing Feeds, highly recommended
- I think this is a good list for now!
Hexawise: Have you incorporated a new testing idea into your testing practices in the last year? Will you continue using it? Why? / Why not?
The problem statement: When I was working at Tesco on a testing engagement, I happened to see that Tesco website had a feedback form with rating system, checkbox options and radio buttons which is used to collect feedback from its users. As part of my testing activity, I love to speak to cross-functional teams in an organization and extract the information that can help me test better.
So, looking at the feedback forms I wanted to know how is this feedback processed by the test team in order to improvise their testing by learning from users feedback. I approached the Test Manager and asked him, “Hey! Are we looking into the feedback from users so that we can improve our testing practices?” to which his response was, “Santhosh, that’s a very good question I hear for the first time and sadly we do not use it because there are thousands of feedback responses and we are confused on what to focus on. Only our customer support looks into it to address the issues and we don’t really use the feedback system to learn and better our testing”.
The Solution: In a week’s time, I along with my friend developed a feedback analysis system (a web based application) which could consume the feedback in a *.txt format and then reveal the feedback in organized and intelligent way. Basically, the application we developed sorted the information in a readable format and categorized the feedback.
The surprising factor was, developers also started to use the tool as they cared about the quality of their code. This was an amazing success of how cross-functional teams can work together and develop something to achieve a desired common goal.
Since then, I personally work on developing such tools along with my programmer friends in order to do better testing. This phase I call as, “Success by collaboration and being creative”.
Gina Enache (my wife) and Santhosh Tuppad in Germany
Santhosh Tuppad fell in love with computers when he was 12 and since then his love for computers has increased exponentially. After his graduation (Santhosh puts it this way, “Somehow, I graduated” J), he worked as software tester in one of the organization in India and he quit because he was bored with the work he was doing. After that, he started his first startup in 2010 and was part of growing the company to nearly 80 people. Alas! He got bored again in his first startup and also he was not happy. He made a choice to quit and started his second startup. He is going to start his next startup soon. He says, “Getting bored is a sign of something new to be started and it excites me”.
In short, he is a passionate software tester, security researcher (Started as unethical hacker and transformed to ethical hacker for good), entrepreneur and badass in following his heart / visceral come what may!
Social Media Contacts: Twitter: @santhoshst
LinkedIn: Santhosh Tuppad