DevOps: a developer’s playpen

The rise of DevOps has changed the face of systems development in what seems to be a remarkably short space of time. If structured methods and waterfall approaches managed by Prince 2 were systems development version 2.0, DevOps is definitely a reboot to version 3.0. DevOps is quite literally the integration of development and operations, traditionally two opposite ends of a spectrum. Development implies change and operations require stability. The promise of DevOps is to bridge this gap and supply good quality software with shorter release cycles and be reactive to a business’s rapidly changing needs. A company can react to a competitor in days rather than months.

The reality is the seeds of DevOps, which has been maturing for many years, however, in the last couple of years, these seeds have blossomed into maturity to enable a revolution in systems development. Agile methodologies, which always required continuous integration and supported continuous delivery, are now coupled with a growing range of rapidly evolving open source tools that are powering the DevOps movement forward. The open source movement has united developers and is providing development tools that are perfectly tailored to the DevOps approach. Cloud providers such as Amazon can now supply a working environment on demand; it is a developer’s playpen.

Quick moving projects

I don’t want to write this article about the increasingly rich toolkit of DevOps; instead, this article is about how the DevOps revolution is affecting the tester community and how the tester community should embrace DevOps. The role of the tester is changing, but test skills are still required. DevOps places a large dependence on testing, high quality, repeatable automated testing. Applications cannot be released without being tested. So how does the tester fit into the DevOps world, or perhaps it’s better to ask how testing is performed, as the definition of a tester is now possibly changing. Fundamentally, I am a developer at heart and I love quick moving projects with quick delivery, so I’ve embraced agile and the DevOps world. The tools I’m seeing now are what we dreamed of even a few years ago.

But what is the tester in the face of this revolution, and what is the role of the specialist tester as distinct from the test function?

Well, developers have always done unit testing. This doesn’t change in the DevOps world. However, because of the use of automated testing tools, continuous integration and automation servers, unit testing is a lot better in the DevOps world. A good developer will be expected to produce high-quality code and an associated unit test suite as a standard. Unit test level bugs should be reduced dramatically. Also because the unit tests are now tightly coupled to the code, as re-running the automated test suite can carry out regression testing.

Passing a test

The use of techniques such as BDD, (Behavioural Driven Development), TDD, (Test Driven Development) and ATDD, (Acceptance Test Driven Development), in the DevOps world show the importance of testing to the success of DevOps approaches. Continuous testing is the key to the success of DevOps. For example, making use of TDD, a java developer will probably produce a set of Junit tests, which will define the definition of done for the code they are about to produce. They will then produce code and run it against the Junit tests, fix any failures, then keep repeating the process until all test has passed. At this point, the code will be considered done and it can be integrated into the master branch of code. The Junit tests will also integrate so they can be run whenever regression testing is required. So, not only has the code been developed and successfully unit tested, it can be regression tested at any point in time in the future without any additional effort or time.

Unit testing tends to be quite specific to low-level details. BDD and ACDD approaches tend to address the user behaviour level and the user acceptance criteria level. Essentially this means the use of business scenarios that will reflect the behaviour of the function in operation. An example of this would be the use of Cucumber/Gherkin in which the tester can test business scenarios and create an automated suite of tests that can test the code against the acceptance criteria. To write tests in Cucumber/Gherkin requires minimal technical skill and in some cases can be done by the intended users of the system, if requirements were defined in Cucumber/Gherkin then they would produce a testable set of requirements at the outset of any development. However, running and maintaining these tests does require technical skill that end users and manual testers will not possess.

Development language

It is clear that in order to operate as a specialist tester in a DevOps squad, the tester should have good test automation skills and it would be useful if the tester had some knowledge of the development language and the environments being used. The tools mentioned above, as well as the many tools that also support TDD, BDD and ACDD require technical skills to be used to their maximum potential. Automated regression testing eliminates any errors that can be introduced in a manual test phase and it can be run very quickly, within the time span of the actual change.

DevOps has formalised the need for a new role called Software Development Engineer in Test, an SDET. An SDET will be required to perform test automation, creating test infrastructure that can support those tests and potentially support different environments and different languages. This is a role that primarily supports the test function and enables tests to be automated quickly and efficiently by the use of development engineer skills.

Automated test tools and SDETs does not minimise the need for good testing skills, the quality of the product depends more than ever on the ability of the DevOps squad to put in place a good set of tests that will ensure the product meets the expectations of the end users, it’s no good being fast and wrong! Testing tools will not tell you how or what to test. Skilled testers and developers will need to do that.

Mobile marketplace

In a competitive market online, or a mobile marketplace, the need to react quickly to a competitor is essential to success, being first is important but not being too long getting to second place is potentially about survival. The ability to make a change, create a new customer-facing feature or integrate a new supplier, in a short space of time and be able to automatically regression test your platform without any additional effort may enable you to get that change in a few days rather than weeks.

We know that companies, with a good DevOps approach to testing, supported by a well built and managed continuous integration and continuous delivery pipeline, can delegate change to individual DevOps squads who can operate autonomously and manage rapid changes to defined areas of functionality. This can be done because a full regression set can be run whenever a change is implemented. Where a business is able to exploit this is where change is not centrally managed but can be delegated to the appropriate business unit, in this case, the path for a change going from perceived business needs to implement, as software supporting customer growth can be very short.

So are we talking about tester version 3.0, or a reboot of the tester for the DevOps world?

I think we probably are, specialist testers will need to learn automation and appropriate technical skills. Testers can’t be insulated from having to deal with tools such as Docker and cloud environments. However, at the moment, the reality is that very few DevOps projects operate in a totally green field. Most projects have to deal with integrations into existing legacy systems, adhere to corporate and regulatory frameworks, be developed to in-house processes and procedures and be subject to the corporate political influences. DevOps teams may well need to co-exist with existing operational and support teams as well as manage requirements from business change teams. All these external stakeholders will have test requirements that need to be met.

Transforming systems

There is also the need for system integration testing and in large complex systems with legacy components and that will not be easy. Specialist integration testers may well be required. Automation of integration tests in these complex hybrid environments is difficult. New approaches may well need to be found. The need to integrate specialised legacy integration environments to support the end-to-end functionality will place challenges to the automation process.

This is a more complicated environment and the role of the tester will obviously be wider than meeting the development demands of the DevOps team. A strategy often employed is to roll out the DevOps approach to the more dynamic areas of an enterprise, such the online and mobile retail offerings, while the change in other areas of the enterprise is implemented and managed by development and operational teams.

Even in this environment, DevOps is still a powerful enabler, and its power to transform will make it a more powerful influence as companies transform, their IT operations and transform their systems. But it will happen over time, for the moment, nearly all new tester roles will require automation skills as companies will at the very least look to leverage the benefits of test automation even if they do not have a full blown DevOps implementation.

Written by Quality Leader, Wayne Tofteroo