Alister Scott - CukeUp! AU Q&A
  August 18, 2015

CukeUp! AU is landing in Sydney on November 19th-20th. This progressive conference is for testers, developers and product owners who think differently. The conference takes a look at complex software problems from different vantage points so you and your team can benefit from clearer understanding and closer collaboration. Learn more about CukeUp! here.

In the build up to the event, we are running a series of Q&As with our speakers. This week we spoke to Alister Scott, Lead Software Quality Engineer at Domino's Digital. Here goes.

Theo England: Your upcoming talk at CukeUp! is entitled 'Establishing a Self-Sustaining Culture of Quality at Domino’s Digital’. It describes Domino's shift from manual testers and creaky end of project test phases to cross-functional teams with greater control and accountability for the code they deliver.

Without giving away the whole talk, what are the benefits Domino's have seen since the move? And what would you say are the most important starting points for teams that want to take a similar approach?

Alister Scott: The important thing to know is that we didn’t make these changes for the sake of changing things: they were driven out of necessity of fast delivery of digital projects whilst maintaining a consistent level of quality. So I can be confident to say that these have been the biggest benefits we have seen. The most important starting points for teams who want to take a similar approach is determining whether this is something you actually need to achieve, because it’s definitely not an easy transition, and not something you need to do unless you need to drive the same benefits.

The only way I have seen a sustainable increase in both velocity and quality is to have self-tested code using automated tests.

TE: You spent your first few years working in the public sector as a test automation analyst. How does the culture compare to Domino's?

AS: I believe that an organisation’s culture mimics the domain they operate in. A company like Domino’s is all about speed to deliver a pizza, so naturally this translates into speed to deliver a digital project. Velocity is a huge factor that drives the culture. The public sector is about providing a public service that is mostly funded at the taxpayer’s expense. So this translates into a culture of high accountability, transparency and quality, not necessarily speed or time to market. I have seen a lot of people in IT look down upon public service work, but it does provide the opportunity to work on subject matter that can be much more ‘exciting' than some private enterprise work. For example, I was involved in federal government biometrics work as early as 2003, where a lot of private enterprise work is working on yet another MVC, CRUD or eCommerce app.

TE: What turned your head when it came to progressive ideas around cross-functional teams and collaboration?

AS: I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a number of years, and cross-functional teams, despite popular belief, pre-date things like the agile manifesto. The thing that really turned my head were the Spotify Engineering Culture videos as these show a very adaptive, flexible way of scaling software delivery without having traditional silos. Those two videos are a must watch as far as I am concerned.

TE: You recently wrote that the key to quality software is peer reviews and automated tests. How does that manifest itself at Domino's? What can other teams learn from your experiences?

AS: The only way I have seen a sustainable increase in both velocity and quality is to have self-tested code using automated tests. We have a very high velocity at Domino’s and require a large automated test code base to ensure every release we do continues to have the quality we desire. We have done this by ensuring everyone is responsible for quality and for making sure we have automated test coverage, or feature toggles, for every line of code we write. We develop on trunk, which has its challenges. I personally am keen on moving to a topic branch/pull request model but there are some things we need to do first to enable this with our tooling etc.

TE: We're blessed in London to have a strong software community built over a number of years. Does Brisbane have a similarly active tech after-hours community?

AS: I believe the Brisbane tech community is still growing, but it would be nothing like London. There’s a testers meetup, and a dev-ops meetup but not a huge amount of cross-pollination going on. I personally am blessed with a large family of young children, and I have lots of non-tech related interests, so I don't spend a lot of time doing after hours tech community stuff. That’s why I write my blog, read a lot of other’s blogs and attend a conference once or twice a year.

TE: It's your first CukeUp! appearance, what are you most looking forward to at the conference this year?

AS: I love hearing other people’s stories, because it reminds you that others face the same challenges as you and it’s cathartic in that you know you’re not alone. Oh, and it’s in Sydney. I love Sydney; they have a great cactus garden in the Domain.

We love Sydney too. Alister will be speaking at Australia's first CukeUp! alongside the likes of Anne-Marie Charrett, John Smart and Matt Wynne this November. To learn more about the conference and to purchase your ticket find out more on our website.