Zoe’s talk at the conference was entitled “TEST || die”; she talked about how she got into testing PHP itself and her hopes for the future. There is little activity on the PHP QA mailing list and a great need for more tests to be written so that changes to fix known bugs or add new features will not break existing functionality. She is disappointed that more people aren’t already involved in writing tests as it’s a really good entry route into being more involved with the core of the language and the entry level for it is much lower than submitting patches for PHP itself. I caught up with her the next day to ask how she ended up here and championing this cause!
How did you get started with PHP?
I was a manager at IBM for some time and the nature of my job meant I had little time for coding. I picked up PHP because it is easy and quick to learn when I wanted to write a tool.
Why did you start writing PHP tests? What made you decide to help PHP in that way?
One of my colleagues (Graeme Johnson) went to the PHP International Conference last year and met Derick and Marcus there. Graeme came back with the message “PHP needs more tests”. I was just moving out of mangement and had 9 months to fill before I went to University – I needed a project that was going to be useful to someone, self-educational and that IBM would be happy for me to do. Writing PHP tests met all those criteria. I’ve always been a better tester than anything else – I think it’s a combination being able to see the way users will do something and be able to read code enough to understand what the developer meant. I suppose that other factor that influenced my choice to do this was that I’m a fanatical supporter of open source development …. but that’s another subject
You’re taking a year out, what are you up to?
I’m going back to university, taking an MSc in Software Engineering at Southampton University. The course will cover Java but maybe I’ll get to do PHP as part of my course as well. It’ll be good to bring my technical skills (which got rusty when I was a manger) up to date with subjects like OOP.
Have you made contact with any groups in the PHP world?
I do keep up with the mailing lists – internals, QA and the CVS list. I do also sometimes use the #php-pecl channel on IRC. In the real world I go to the London PHP User Group meetings as well, they’re really interesting. There is a broad range of people there and you find out which companies are using PHP. People often show off their various applications there too, I’ve seen some really good ones.
Do you have a particular support network?
When I started out writing the tests for PHP I did feel really alone. Once I started submitting tests though, I started getting feedback from the internals guys like Marcus Boerger and Tony Dovgal. It’s really scary at first, working with people that are very expert developers working on complex software … but they really appreciate the input and responded well.
How did you come to be speaking at this conference?
When I saw the call for papers I submitted the proposal and they offered me a quick talk slot (15 minutes in the evening). There was nothing special, I just thought the subject was important and went for it.
Have you got much speaking experience?
The last time I presented at a conference was 30 years ago! I was really nervous but actually I quite enjoyed it once I got there and I have had lots of practice at presenting inside IBM and to IBM’s customers – but somehow it’s not the same.
Can you tell us a bit about your talk for those that weren’t there?
The point was to raise the profile of testing PHP. We really don’t have enough test coverage for PHP, but people don’t see it as an area they can contribute to. It’s seen as being difficult but its not! Maybe because I’ve managed a lot of software development I have more of a “bigger picture” awareness, it’s really clear how important this is to the future of the PHP project.
You’ve had a long technical career AND children, how has that worked out for you?
I have always been determined to have both, even though having dependent children of any age makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. I have twins who are now at university and I’ve worked for IBM since they were 10 months old; it helps that my husband has always been around and done his share. When I went to work for IBM I made arrangements for working hours that fitted in with my family and I stuck to them. I don’t know what my colleagues thought of it but it worked well and IBM are a really good employer. They have fantastic maternity arrangements and also make a big effort to bring in women from all sorts of backgrounds and to raise their awareness of the possibility of a technical career. I think being a woman can be an advantage – people will always explain things to you, and we’re better at asking for help.
You’re trying to get people writing tests for PHP – where do we start?
Go to qa.php.net and there are instructions on what is needed for a test for PHP. To find out what areas need tests writing, visit gcov.php.net for the current test coverage of the various libraries. We are considering making this simpler by having a list of testing priorities that people can pick from. At the moment you have to submit tests to the QA mailing list main PHP CVS repository if you have access, but there has been discussion around making an intermediate “safe” area to submit your tests for review by other testers before they go into the main tree. If your test is then used, we’d let you know and make sure you were credited for your contribution.
You’re trying to single-handledly get PHP tested and overhaul the process for submitting tests. Do you know what you are getting into?
Yes! But I really do feel that this is a really, really important factor of the project, and trying to help is important. Actually – it’s not single handed – my colleague Raghubansh Kumar has submitted over a 1000 test cases, Rob Nicholson has added some too. Tony Dovgal, Marcus Boerger and Derick Rethans have all reviewed the tests and made helpful comments, Nuno Lopes fixed run-tests.php pretty nicely too. So, I’ve had lots of help.