Translation Please: The Integration Part Of Quality Assurance Work

It’s been a long and winding 8.5 years since this column last focused singly on the matrix of pain known as “integration.”

Back then, we paired it with a second word — “issues.” It ran on Oct. 30, 2000, and mentions these vestiges of cable past: The DCT-5000, WinCE, AT&T Broadband, Diva and Intertainer. It ended with this elegant dodge: “Integration takes time. Try to respect the journey.”

And here we are, deep into that journey.

Integration is about getting different software globs, from a mushrooming list of companies, to work perfectly in isolation — and when strung together. Quickly. “Service velocity” is the name of the game.

These days, though, integration is a subset of a bigger bucket of work, known as “quality assurance,” or “QA.” QA is a discipline. It’s about making sure new products meet design expectations, without bringing other services down.

QA starts with unit testing, which means checking lines of code in a single service or device. Then integration testing, to hook that product into every other peripheral system it may touch. Next is end-to-end system testing, in labs. Final step: Field testing. Then, off it goes, with a nervous blessing from QA people.

For them, it’s “that calm panic of waiting to hear nothing,” notes Kevin Caldwell, VP of QA for Time Warner Cable. They know they tested it every which way. They know they found and killed plenty of big and little bugs.

Yet they recognize the impossibility of testing every possible thing that could go wrong. So their knuckles are white, most of the time. QA is a good thing. It keeps the phones from ringing for the wrong reasons. It’s the next big curve in the industry’s shift from hardware to software and it’s really, really hard.

So, get to know your QA people. They’re the closest thing you have to a map in the ongoing journey that is “integration.”

on May 12 for a Video Translation Please on this topic, from Time Warner Cable’s ATG East labs in Charlotte, N.C.