Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Conversation with a Test Engineer

By Alan Myrvold

Alan Faulkner is a Google Test Engineer working on DoubleClick Bid Manager, which enables advertising agencies and advertisers to bid on multiple ad exchanges. Bid Manager is the next generation of the Invite Media product, acquired by Google in 2010. Alan Faulkner has been focused on the migration component of Bid Manager, which transitions advertiser information from Invite Media to Bid Manager. He joined Google in August 2011, and works in the Kirkland, WA office.
Are you a Test Engineer, or a Software Engineer in Test, and what’s the difference?
Right now, I’m a Test Engineer, but the two roles can be very similar. As a Test Engineer, you’re more focused on the overall quality of the product and speed of releases, while a Software Engineer in Test might focus more on test frameworks, automation, and refactoring code for testability. I think of the difference as more of a shift in focus and not capabilities, since both roles at Google need to be able to write production quality code. Example test engineering tasks I worked on are introducing an automated release process, identifying areas for the team to improve code coverage, and reducing the manual steps needed to validate data correctness.

What is a typical day for you?
When I get in, I look at any code reviews I need to respond to, look for any production bugs from technical account managers that are high priority, and then start writing code. In my current role, I focus my development effort on improving the efficiency and coverage of our large scale integration tests and frameworks. I also work on adding additional features to our product that improve our testability. I typically spend anywhere from 50% to 75% of my time either writing code or participating in code reviews.

Do you write only test code?
No, I write a lot of code that is included in the product as well. One of the great things about being an SET or TE at Google is that you can write product code as easily as test code. I write both. My test code focuses on improving test frameworks and enabling developers to write integration tests. The production code that I write focuses on increasing the verification of external inputs. I also focus on adding features that improve testability. This pushes more quality features into the product itself rather than relying on test code for correctness.

What programming languages do you use?
Both the test and product code are mostly Java. Occasionally I use Python or C++ too.

How much time to do you spend doing manual testing?
Right now, with the role I am in, I spend less than 5% of my time doing manual testing. Although some exploratory testing helps develop product knowledge and find risky areas, it doesn’t scale as a repeated process. There are a small amount of manual steps and I focus on ways to help reduce this so our team does not spend our time doing repeated manual steps as part of our data migration.

Do you write unit tests for code that isn’t yours?
At Google, the responsibility of testing is shared across all product engineers, not just Test Engineers. Everyone is responsible for writing unit tests as well as integration tests for their components. That being said, I have written unit tests for components that are outside of what I developed but that has been to illustrate how to write a unit test for said component. This component usually involved a abnormally complex set of code or to illustrate using a new mocking framework, such as Mockito.

What do you like about working on the Google advertising products?
I like the challenges of the scalability problems we need to solve, from handling massive amounts of data to dealing with lots of real time ad requests that need to be responded to in milliseconds. I also like the impact, since the products affect a lot of people. It’s rewarding to work on stuff like that.

How is testing at Google different from your experience at other companies?
I feel the role is more flexible at Google. There are fewer SET’s and TE’s in my group at Google per developer, and you have the flexibility to pick what is most important. For example, I get to write a lot of production code to fix bugs, make the code more testable, and increasing the visibility into errors encountered during our data migrations. Plus, developers at Google spend a lot of time writing tests, so testing isn’t just my responsibility.

How does the Google Kirkland office differ from the headquarters in Mountain View?
What I really like about the offices at Google is that each of them has their own local feel and personality. Google encourages this! For instance, the office here in Kirkland has a climbing wall, boats and all the conference rooms in our building are named after local bands in the area. The office in Seattle has kayaks and the New York office has an actual food truck in its cafeteria.

What’s the future of testing at Google?
I think the future is really bright. We have a lot of flexibility to make a big impact on quality, testability and improving our release velocity. We need to release new features faster and with good quality. The problems that we face are complex and at an extreme scale. We need engineering teams focused on ensuring that we have efficient ways to simulate and test. There will always be a need for testers and developers that focus on these areas here at Google.

Interested in test jobs at Google?


  1. I think software testing tools are very much useful in every IT related companies.Thanks for sharing the information.

  2. Great post, thankyou for sharing. Always interesting to hear from the Google TE/SET's.

  3. Snehal
    Please provide more information on recruitment process at Google


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