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Talks at Better Software East / DevOps East / Agile Dev East 2016

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The third and fourth days of the triple conference Better Software East / DevOps East / Agile Dev East held in Orlando, Florida, continued the trend established by the first two, with talks covering a wide range of topics but with a clear emphasis on testing. While days 1 and 2 were filled with half and full-day tutorials, days 3 and 4 were based on one-hour talks.

Out of the 64 talks scheduled in the triple conference, 15 of them- almost a quarter- dealt with the topic of testing. Among these talks, the biggest share went to discuss what the role of the tester can be in the context of DevOps, the Internet of Things, and the increasing trend to use metrics for decision-making. Although the discourse would vary across different talks, most of them were based on the core idea that, while many of the activities traditionally performed by testers are not valid anymore (such as manually executed test scripts), their ability to think differently can still be put to good use. In this way, most of the talks about testing would stay away from tools and technologies and focus on how to integrate testers within the organisation. One notable exception to this came from Alexander Andelkovic’s talk “Artificial Intelligence in Testing: The Future is Now”, where he described how people at game-developer King train different bots to mimic human actions, in this way testing the difficulty level of games like Candy Crash Saga.

Beyond testing, communication would be the next most debated topic, with the emergent practice of ChatOps deserving a special mention. The basic idea of ChatOps is to better integrate work and communication by centralising as much work as possible into instant messaging applications. This wouldn’t have been possible with traditional IM tools, but more modern ones like HipChat or Slack feature three characteristics that are basic to this concept: the ability to freely create public and private channels, the ability to integrate third party tools that can write messages into the chat room like any other user and, most importantly, the ability to embed bots that can respond to certain commands.

As Raj Indugula and Robert Brown explained, the key thing to understand about notifications from third party tools is that these tend to be of synchronous importance: they usually require rather immediate responses. For instance, a notification from the CI server indicating that the build is broken is something that developers need to look at straightaway. However, notifications have been traditionally configured to be transmitted through email, which is a rather asynchronous communication mechanism. This has frequently lead to events that aren’t dealt with quickly enough, and to stale notifications that pollute people’s inboxes. Sending this type of notifications to an IM tool is therefore a better match, where more immediate actions can be taken and then the message can just scroll up and be ignored. There is still the risk that an excess of notifications creates excessive noise in the chat room, which is why the ability to create multiple channels, and to divert notifications to relevant channels, becomes so important.

But what Indugula and Brown showed as most revolutionary was the ability to use bots to control external systems without leaving the IM tool. The speakers gave the example of Trello, the online Kanban board tool. The integration of Trello with Slack comes with a bot that allows manipulation of the different cards in Trello from within Slack, just by using the message board as a command line. This way, by typing “/trello add New Task”, the Trello bot will connect to the Trello instance and create a new card called “New Task”. This implies that team members can now manage their tasks from the IM tool, but also start a quick Hangout videoconference with the whole team using “/hangout”, managing pull requests from GitHub, and much more. The list of possible integrations keeps growing and can be found at the Slack App Directory or the Atlassian Marketplace for HipChat.

All in all, one of the main conclusions to be taken from Better Software East, DevOps East and Agile Dev East, is that organisations will keep on looking at ways to adapt traditional roles as they undergo their cultural transformations; testers in particular will have to evolve to reuse their skills in new activities. The other main conclusion is that communication management continues to be a pain point for many teams, which is leading to the creation of new tools that help filter, distribute and share information in more effective ways.

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