Mastering the complexities of software quality assurance (SQA) involves a long-term process of training, review and knowledge sharing.

These are the findings of the third quarterly Cape Town Automation Forum, a user group founded by software developer DVT and Allan Gray, which was hosted by DVT in September under the umbrella theme: lessons learned.

Attracting guest speakers from different companies, industries and fields of experience – including Sanlam’s Manoj Chavda, Fundamo’s (a Visa Company) Emil Schnabel, Open Box’s Michael Rocha, and DVT’s Alistair Heys – the 90-plus forum guests were given the opportunity to learn through hands-on demos, case studies and open debate.

“There’s been some disillusionment with automation over the years, but mostly because we need to find new or different approaches to quantifying the benefits,” says Chavda, who heads Sanlam’s Test Centre of Excellence.

“In our case we’ve realised significant savings throughout the organisation primarily from staff optimisation, which we can trace back directly to the effectiveness of automation in our business.”

Emil Schnabel, Fundamo’s QA manager, continued the staffing theme through his discussion on lessons learned in building a test team. “Interaction between test team members has always been important,” says Schnabel.

“But now with Agile taking centre stage in the IT industry, test analysts must have the ability to interact effectively with the development team and various stakeholders, and this is where team training should be focused.”

“On the opposite end of the classroom, one of the lessons learned in mentoring QA testers was the need to prioritise the sets of skills being taught,” explains Open Box senior test analyst Michael Rocha.

“With all the talk of automation you’d think all testers are the same and should be taught the same skills but like all of us testers are individuals with their own aptitudes and strengths. Time, patience and critical thinking are therefore the cornerstones to successful mentoring.”

As if to illustrate this point, DVT test analyst Alistair Heys demonstrated an open source test tool, SAHI, which he used to develop automated test scripts using self-taught Javascript skills.

“Alistair is an inspiration to non-technically-minded testers, showing that different skills can be learned and applied regardless of your background,” says Armien Jardine, head of SQA at DVT.

“South Africa – and Cape Town in particular – has an acute shortage of SQA skills, which is one of the reasons we founded the Automation Forum but more importantly why as an industry we have to maintain and expand the learning culture. The future of our industry – and the success of the many South African companies large and small – depends on our ability to find and develop local talent.”

More than 90 people from 20 different companies attended the latest meet. The next Forum meeting will take place in early 2013. For more information contact Armien Jardine on 021 467 5400 or email [email protected].