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The Tricentis Story

Battling Software Test Automation Barriers with the Fervor of the Spartans

By Wolfgang Platz
Tricentis Founder & Chief Strategy Officer

The company of Tricentis was officially “founded” in 2007, but the Tricentis story really began in 1997. That’s when I joined forces with three colleagues to provide IT-related services for insurance companies. We performed a small amount of software development, but our primary focus was software quality assurance.

In 1999, one of the world’s largest insurers asked our company to help them adopt test automation. After trying out all the tools on the market, we settled on SQA Robot (later acquired by Rational, then IBM). However, after a 10-day honeymoon phase, we fell right into the maintenance trap that still afflicts test automation efforts today. Creating test cases was simple (for someone with my technical background, at least), but maintaining them was a nightmare that required a significant amount of time and technical programming. It was immediately clear that the client’s testing team could never keep up with all the maintenance required, so I decided to write an abstraction layer. We decided to call it Tosca Explorer (more on the “Tosca” name later).

This approach to test automation was a success from the start, and the client rapidly ramped up test automation. Over the next few years, we saw an increasing demand for this tool across enterprise clients throughout Austria and Switzerland. After their initial test automation initiatives failed (as always, they were caught in the maintenance trap), the companies reached out to us—seeking a different, more sustainable approach to test automation. At the time, I was acting as a project manager, test manager, and tool developer all at once.

By 2003, we recognized that there was a real need for this particular “business abstraction layer” testing tool. We also realized that it could thrive on the software testing market—beyond the scope of the IT services we were personally delivering. To launch this, we set up a very small development team that would focus their efforts on Tosca. In parallel, we also realized that we had to develop our own automation engine that could achieve the necessary steering quality and flexibility of test execution (rather than rely on third-party layers such as SQA Robot or WinRunner). We invested a considerable amount of research and development into this engine, then continued to deploy the extended version of Tosca across our client base, which had expanded into Germany as well.

We gained so much momentum by 2006 that I decided the time was right to start selling this product on the open market. During this time, my three colleagues decided that they wanted to take a different career path and moved into management consulting (the company was later acquired by SQS) and I dedicated myself to advancing Tosca and introducing it to the software testing tool market.

I knew that no matter how ground-breaking the Tosca technology was, we couldn’t realize its market potential without a professional sales team. This is why I reached out to Franz Fuchsberger in late 2006. We had previously cooperated on several projects in Austria when he was the Managing Director at Compuware for Austria and Central Eastern Europe, and we were both excited to join forces again to pursue this new opportunity.

In 2007, it was official: Tricentis was born.

On Scripting and Software Testing

I entered the software testing industry with a very technical background and I’ve always been proud of that. Nevertheless, I also recognized that the level of technical knowledge required by other testing tools presented a huge barrier to achieving acceptable test automation rates. So, I decided to use my technical background to develop technology that helped testers create and maintain automated tests—without having to deal with all the low-level technical details.

My goal was to take the driver, have a framework layer, and provide a business-readable abstraction layer.

Why was I so committed to providing a business-readable abstraction layer from the start? Because I was responsible for introducing test automation into a team of 20 novice testers who had zero experience with scripting. We needed to take the existing manual testers and help them become automation experts—without coding. This was the primary challenge then, and it remains a core challenge today. The business abstraction layer always has been (and continues to be) our secret weapon for helping enterprises successfully transition to test automation.

My own honeymoon period with script-based test automation tools lasted a brief 10 days. The first time I had to re-run the tests, all the false positives made it clear that this wasn’t a sustainable approach—and that was back in 1999. Why is there still so much reliance on script-based tools almost two decades later? I think one reason is that test automation initiatives are commonly launched by developers or other very technical team members. These people are not only comfortable with code, but are also able to wield it as an instrument of power. Yet, in most cases, test automation ultimately becomes the responsibility of testing specialists who are not programming specialists. They need a tool that helps them apply their testing expertise—not one that ends up obstructing and disrupting their ability to test.

Another reason is that there are just not enough solutions that move beyond the script-based approach. Model-based test automation (focusing on the business abstraction layer) requires extremely precise, powerful, and stable steering. Many exceptional situations arise when you’re testing and it’s technically much more challenging to handle such situations from a business level rather than at the code level. To provide simplicity at the business level, it’s essential to have extremely mature and sophisticated technology driving the back-end.

On the “Tricentis” Name

When it came time to select a company name in 2007, the whole company (22 employees to be exact) gathered to brainstorm ideas. Everyone submitted their ideas anonymously and we voted on the top three. The advocates for each of the top three were then asked to share the story of their proposed name.

Obviously, “Tricentis” won. But how? Well, to begin with, “Tricentis” met our technical criteria for a name:

  • The domain must be available
  • The word must be pronounceable in all the languages that our employees and customers use
  • The word must be simple to spell

Ultimately, though, it was the associated story (mine, I admit) that won everyone over. I talked about the Battle of Thermopylae: the story of the movie 300.

In 480 BC, there was a famous battle between the Greeks and the Persians. After taking control of the near and middle east, the Persians wanted to expand into Europe—but they had to conquer the Greeks to accomplish this. At the time, the Greeks were made up of various city states, the most notable of which were Sparta and Athens. Sparta had a very distinct warrior culture and philosophy: young men were bred to fight, and going to war was central to their culture.

When Xerxes, king of the Persians, was preparing to fight the Greeks, Athens reached out to Sparta and requested their assistance. Sparta agreed, and they joined forces. Xerxes planned to kill the Spartans first; he thought they were the easier foe because there were fewer Spartans than Athenians. He attacked in the south of the Peloponnesus (the Thermopylae), bringing an army of 11,000 Persians to take on 300 Spartan warriors. These 300 warriors ultimately lost the battle, but they held the huge enemy back so long that the Greeks were able to defeat Xerxes.

Thanks to these 300 Spartan warriors, Greek made it. “300” is trecento in Italian. That’s the story behind the “Tricentis” name.

On the “Tosca” Name
I admit that I named the tool Tosca simply because I’ve always loved the Italian opera Tosca.

You probably see a pattern emerging here: a company name based on an Italian word, a product name based on an opera composed by an Italian (Puccini) about a region of Italy (Toscana/Tuscany). Like many Central Europeans, I thoroughly enjoy the culture of Italy, and this is a fun way to blend it with some of my other favorite things: Austria, software testing, and of course, this dynamic and fast-growing company.