Interview with Ashok Thiruvengadam
Founder & CEO @ STAG Software Private Limited

STAG Software is a global software test solutions company headquartered in Bangalore, India. They provide specialized solutions to accelerate product development, lower development & support costs and de-risk deployment, guaranteeing peace of mind to our customers. CleanSoft Academy (a division of STAG Software) provides specialized knowledge solutions to groom fresh talent for industry, and transform software professionals to reach the pinnacle of software excellence.
Hi Ashok! Could you please introduce your work with STAG Software Private Limited and tell us a bit more about what led to your founding the company back in 2000?
STAG software is primarily a focused test boutique: our entire mission is to see how we can help product companies deliver clean software. I was always kind of the opinion that the way we tested back then was based on just too much of experience, not as much as science. So in the early-late 90s, I spent quite a bit of time understanding how one can look at the act of testing and uncovering bugs in software from a more scientific/engineering approach, or a scientific way of uncovering bugs. And I'd experiment with these ideas in my prior company, VeriFone, and then I had some success rate. But it was not that much in vogue then, and I was keen to see how I could take it forward, and that's when I decided that I probably should focus on building a company and offering these to product companies. And that's how STAG software got founded. So what we do now at STAG is to primarily work with product companies to test their products; to consult and advise, and set up a much more meaningful scientific test practice; and also educate and do some masterclasses and workshops, to spread the notion of how to test scientifically.
What are the biggest changes, trends and innovations that have affected the software testing industry in the past nineteen years?
Let me outline this as about six points. Initially, I think the - way back in the early 2000s -the applications were really monolith, and now I think the big shift is, it's cloud based, platform based, SaaS applications. Number two: the testing was, in the early stages, very domain-rich and expertise on the domain was seen as a primary means to good testing. But I think now, we've moved more into tech-savvy kind of an approach, where applications are made up of multiple technologies, and then moved on to web and mobile. The third thing: is we have moved from long releases and long test cycles, to really short ones. And the fourth: is now have extreme amount of focus on automation, so that we can support the rapid releases. The fifth: I guess it's no more just about the functionality, it's really about a lot more non-functional aspects - they're worried about if it works on various devices, platforms, how does it - how is the UX, how is the usability, how is the performance, security and so on - which has become really paramount to success of the product and the application, or the platform. And I think lastly: it's just no more testing. I think we have kind of graduated beyond the notion of testing, and really looking at the notion of delivering significant value to the users and the customers. So it's no more the act of finding bugs, but it's about seriously delivering value.
What was your process behind developing Hypothesis Based Testing (HBT)? How has it impacted the industry?
The process of developing hypotheses-based testing was really based on being sensitive to typical problems in the industry, and constantly improvising, making changes. Sometimes it's improvement, sometimes it's a fall back, and then we learn and improve upon it. It was really not research-oriented development in that sense. It's kind of in the fifth version at this point in time, after about nearly two decades of work. So how have we impacted the industry? One: we have enabled testing to be much more logical and intellectual, and therefore we have groomed really some smart people, who have carried the torch into various organizations. Number two: we've improved the test practices in a variety of different organizations, so that they can be far more effective and efficient. And by practice, I don't really mean the process - there's all those organizations' process, but the practice of doing has always been the experience in a lot more organizations. I think we have moved it to a better realm of scientific and logical thinking. Number three: we have seen the pride the testers have, when they apply when they apply HBT itself. And lastly: with respect to organizations, we have seen about 3x improvement in the number of test cases, 2x reduction in the number of bugs, with absolutely no increase in the effort on the time related to testing. So it has been a fairly interesting ride, and we continue to innovate and at this point in time HBT is kind of taking of the new avatar of immersive session testing, which is primarily focused on applying mindfulness in the agile context.
What have been some of your biggest clients? What challenges do smaller software companies face when testing their products?
Some of my biggest clients have been companies like Broadcom, Altair, VeriFone, Infineon, and a couple of very interesting companies in Japan - the Unisys of Japan and Infocom of Japan. Now, as for the challenges that small companies face when it comes to testing, they are probably like this: number one, not having enough depth in QA area and therefore sometimes doing too less. Number two, are treating testing as an activity, and not really as a mindset, and therefore missing out on the opportunity of doing less, and actually building a better product from the beginning. Number three, taking a more simplistic approach that the technology is going to solve all problems, and therefore thinking automation alone will kind of test out the bugs - not understanding sometimes that it takes an intelligent human to uncover interesting issues. And of course, sure, small companies being sometimes tight on budget, probably don't have enough money to focus on the quality - they've kind of run out of money, building, ideating the project. And lastly, of course, thinking that testing is something at the end, and therefore on the code only, whereas it could have been done much better during the ideation phase, during the design phase, as much as it has to be done at a later phase, when the code is ready.
What's next for your work with STAG? What will be your main focus for the next year?
The focus for the next set of work at STAG, really is making HBT super nimble and agile. I've been working at it for nearly two years now, and have come up with a style of an HBT which we call an immersive session testing - or IST. And the focus of this is not just to exploit the scientific left brain thinking, but also: incorporating the methodology to include tools; to exploit the right brain creative side; and also to incorporate a certain notion of mindfulness in what we do, so that we can be far more immersed in how we test, and therefore deliver far superior results from what we do. Now, as an organization, the focus for the next year - and probably next couple of years - is really building a platform. I mean, we started this work about a year ago, and the platform is primarily to do two things: one, to enable a smarter QA approach to testing products/applications in a lot more agile manner, obviously, by using the immersive session testing style of testing. Number two, to enable a far better sharing of test assets, so that a tester can leverage the assets produced by the other people in the community, and leapfrog into the next orbit of testing. I think development has leapfrogged with the use of GitHub - where it becomes an interestingly or sharable repository with people, move forward with that, and hopefully some of those ideas will obviously incorporate some A.I. animal as we go forward.