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Interview with Dan Minkin

By Dan Minkin | Director of Testing, Auckland

INSIGHTS // Media Coverage

14 Jul 2015

#Careers|#Consultancy|#TestManagement

INSIGHTS // Media Coverage

#Careers|#Consultancy|#TestManagement

By Dan Minkin

14 Jul 2015

Our interview this issue is with Dan Minkin of Planit. Dan has been around the testing traps in both the UK and New Zealand and brings his unique experiences to our shores.

Can you please describe Planit

Planit are the largest Testing Services provider across Australia and New Zealand, currently in release version 2.0! V1.0 was founded in Sydney in 1997 by Chris Carter as a management buyout from an UK company called Imago QA. Since then there have been minor releases into Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Perth, Hamilton and Christchurch.

V2.0 was released in January when we entered into a partnership with leading mid-market Private Equity firm Archer. This has allowed us to release significant capital to invest in the next stage which includes focus on entry into the UK market and further European, Asian and Australasian services and geographical expansion.

What products and services does Planit offer?

We offer a comprehensive range of testing services, employing around 700 functional and non-functional testing specialists. We can provide consultancy and advice, testing delivery and training for your team.

Our testers can be deployed to your project or engaged via a managed service model.

Right now, Service Virtualisation is one of the most exciting additions to our offering. It is used to mitigate risks in development while increasing quality and speed of delivery by simulating costly or constrained systems.

In a World-first, we have recently partnered with IBM to launch a cloud-based Service Virtualisation solution, providing a highly affordable and accessible pay-as-you-go model, removing the barriers to entry for this game-changing technology.

Another key area of interest at the moment is Digital. This is quite a broad topic but two areas of focus for us include the devices market, where we are running mobile-first projects across new technologies such as wearables. The other area is the delivery methodology; in a market where speed and time to market is critical, we have started to focus on strong Agile and continuous delivery practices such as test automation and continuous integration.

What do you believe makes Planit different?

Planit are different in so many ways. The fact that all of our consultants are permanent. The fact that this always allows us to have a bench to respond to client needs, the ability to call on the skills and manpower of all eight business units, the fact that all of our directors and principals have come through test or technical management roles.

Our recruitment practices are another key differentiator, as we are ever scouring the globe for new talent, ensuring each new recruit meets our high standards through a strict recruiting process. This includes formally assessing candidates to ensure quality of work, communication skills and cultural fit.

Another thing that sets us apart is our thought leadership and the manner in which we share our expertise with the industry via our market-leading training and industry research initiatives. In fact, we have trained in excess of 20,000 QA professionals across Australia and New Zealand.

Even in the way we truly partner with our clients makes us different from the pack; we offer so many services and commercial offerings that are unique in my experience, I could keep going for hours!

What do you think makes a Test Manager or Analyst come to work for Planit?

Many of our differentiators and our strong growth path makes Planit an employer of choice for many. But in addition to that, we spend a lot of effort nurturing a really positive atmosphere in our office. We describe ourselves as a close-knit community. In the Auckland office, we have office-based get-togethers every fortnight. We also invest a lot in providing support for individuals and their families, many of whom have moved across the world.

During interviews, I have found two factors to be most significant among candidates. These are the desire to experience variety of work and the desire for training and career development. Both of these are at the heart of any role at Planit, as we upskill our consultants with our World class training and provide them with opportunities to work on some of the most interesting projects on offer in the region.

Where do you believe NZ’s approach to testing is going well?

Firstly, keeping things onshore works for New Zealand. Even the biggest internationals have such a sense of local responsibility that they ensure that the local market remains the key growth area, only dipping into the international scene once the local market has been fully considered.

Secondly, and possibly linked with this, the mature attitude in NZ, to look to see what the Australians have done, to wait to see what gets shaken out and the ability to learn the lessons from brother and sister companies over the ditch.

Finally, the speedy acceptance of Agile practices and Agile testing methods has been a tremendous push in the right direction and one I think that has helped testing not be regarded as a separate and disposable discipline.

Where do you believe the challenges for NZ testing companies lay?

If you would have asked me two or three years ago, I would have said acceptance of Testing as a fully, mature discipline, which was given the same credibility as Business Analysis or Development. But this seems to have moved on.

I cannot talk for other companies, but the immediate and ongoing challenge for us now is recruitment. For six years now, growth has been restricted by the number of quality people we have been able to find. Finding professional testing staff with the right communication, self-management, customer service skills and drive is an ongoing process. Quite simply we haven’t closed the doors in 5 years. Other than that, an on-going challenge is keeping the staff we have up-to-date with the latest skills, be that Agile, BDD, Automation or Digital skills. I’m sure every testing company finds that a challenge; good thing for us that we specialise in training!

Where do you believe NZ’s approach could improve?

Operational Acceptance Testing is much more integrated and accepted set of disciplines in the United Kingdom, where I learnt my trade. In much the way that Security and Performance Testing services have become much more in demand, I suspect it will take a large infrastructure failure or disaster scenario to move OAT into the mainstream.

Do you believe that overall the standard of testing in NZ is improving?

Yes. Both the standard of testing and the belief in testing has steadily improved in NZ. Having a general scan across the market over the past three years, companies who embraced testing those years ago are now operating at a noticeably higher standard than and those who did not believe in testing and are now, more recently, beginning to embrace testing.

Where do you believe the next initiatives in testing lay? What’s coming next? In NZ? Internationally?

Predicting the future in technology is frankly impossible. There will be something that will surprise 99% of us coming in the next five years I’m sure … but I don’t know what it is! I tend to work on 1-3 year horizons. At this distance we have a fair chance of identifying a current trend in its early stage and keeping up with it.

Some initiatives and trends which will continue to grow over the coming years include the use of open source tools, continued change in the skills required of testers (more technical , more adaptable), shift left initiatives in their various guises, (DevOps, Behavioural Driven Development, Service Virtualisation). Business Intelligence and Digital projects (and the consequent testing tools and processes that are needed) cannot be ignored.

Incidentally, by one measure I think we are at “peak Agile” and there will be a small move back to traditional methods (as measured by a rise in the number traditionally run projects) but balanced by an improvement in Agile practices in those areas that continue to use them.

Do you have a testing horror story to share?

There was a time I deleted 50,000 customer records while clearing down customer records for a test, and pointed the query at production (these things were possible in the 90’s).

Or the time I rang the help desk because the program I was testing correctly generated the “Please ring the help desk” error message. The kicker being I had only programmed in the error message text earlier in the week.

Finally, not so much a testing horror story rather a personal project horror story. Between 2004 and 2008, each and every project I worked on was cut short, de-scoped or cancelled. For four years I couldn’t point to single dollar (or pound) or business value that I had helped deliver. However the value of testing is often that it allows the business to make such difficult decisions, so there was value of sorts.

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