Careers Q&A: Planit's Chris Carter

Planit managing director, Chris Carter, shares his experiences in IT and talks about the importance of software testing skills in all industries

Founder and managing director of software testing firm, Planit, Carter has been a big advocate of software testing skills and requirements over the years, setting up the Australian New Zealand Testing Board (ANZTB) for the proliferation of standards qualifications locally.

Computerworld Australia caught up with Carter to talk about the importance of software testing and where it's headed in the future.

How did you get into IT in the first place?

My first IT job more than 20 years ago was designing and testing a software system for a major retail bank in London. There I discovered software testing, still very much in its infancy, and was attracted to the idea of being part of something new and growing at the junction of both IT and business.

How would you say you gained most of your experience in IT?

When I began software testing, there were few standards to follow or formal learning options available such as today’s ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualifications Board) career development pathway.

Initially, I learnt on the job working with colleagues – including some fantastic managers - at pioneering testing firm Imago QA, the forerunner to Planit. Fortunately, applications were far less complex than they are today.

The software testing community is fairly tight-knit and people are happy to share ideas and learning through industry forums. As Vice President of the ISTQB, I meet a variety of experience testing professionals and subject matter experts from all over the world, who often challenge my ideas and continue my education.

Software testing is obviously something you feel quite strongly about. Where do you think education about software testing is missing in the wider ICT industry?

Software testing is now regarded as a critical phase of the software development lifecycle for many organisations. However, many still don’t have an independent and objective view of exactly how capable and experienced their testers are.

More broadly speaking, I believe universities are letting the industry down by not paying enough attention to software testing. If graduates were exposed to software testing during their studies, they would have a far better knowledge of it - and the critical roles it plays in software development projects - as they moved into the workforce.

Are there any particular trends you're seeing in terms of which industries are taking up software testing? Do you think this will change significantly over the coming years?

There’s always been steady demand in finance and insurance for testing, driven by compliance and security concerns.

Telecommunications and utilities also place a high value on testing, and many have developed more mature processes to deliver high quality systems.

Recently, we’ve seen more demand in the verticals of retail, manufacturing, media and entertainment as technology becomes an area of business in which business can still differentiate. Smaller organisations are also coming forward and view testing as vehicle for getting a working product or service to market faster.

There is a realisation that the investment in testing is preferable to the high cost of fixing a problem after release and the negative publicity that it may bring.

The IT skills shortage is something that the software testing industry certainly isn't immune from. Where are you seeing the biggest shortages, and what do you think are the best solutions for that?

There has always been a shortage of high calibre testers in Australia. Specifically, in specialist areas such as test automation and performance testing, there is a dearth of experienced practitioners.

Retaining talented staff is a good starting point. Companies have to become innovative in their approach to HR and take a stake in the development of staff and their careers to offer a future within the company.

What was the motivation for your involvement with the Australian and New Zealand Testing Board (ANZTB)?

In February 2000, Planit introduced the ISEB (Information Systems Examination Board) certification for testing into Australia. The ISEB scheme evolved into the ISTQB certification scheme, with member board representation throughout the world. Based on my experience of running the scheme in Australia, I was well positioned to establish the ANZTB to roll out the ISTQB program across Australia and New Zealand.

The ANZTB oversees the implementation of the ISTQB syllabus for foundation and advanced tester training. It regulates training providers and facilitates ISTQB examinations across the country.

The ANTZB also organises professional forums for tester networking, and is involved in a range if industry initiatives that raise the profile of testing. The ultimate goal is improving the maturity, repeatability and understanding of software testing engineering in Australia and New Zealand, as well as ensuring it meets international standards and providing a forum for the testing community.

Do you think there's enough coherence between testing companies on standards and best practice?

Compared with where we were 10 years ago, the standardisation of testing has improved beyond all recognition. However, there is still a way to go before we can truly consider software testing a profession.

One of the big criticisms of IT workers by their employers is they don't have the required business skills to work effectively. Do you see this in your experience?

From a software testing perspective, I consider this an unfair criticism. If an individual has software testing skills and experience, they have the ability to quickly understand how the business works and how the systems are designed to support that. If I had the option of employing a subject matter expert with limited testing skills, or a testing professional with limited subject matter expertise, I’d employ the latter every time.

What are your suggestions for aspiring IT workers looking to get ahead of the pack?

You need to be abreast of and passionate about technology, although technical skills will only take you so far.

You’ll progress much further if you develop behavioural skills that allow you to change and adapt as the business environment around you changes. Have a one-year plan and a three-year plan for your personal development and career.

Be prepared to reinvent yourself from time to time and step out of your comfort zone. If you can get bridge the gap between business and technology, the sky is the limit.

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