Asif: Tell us about your journey with your multiple startups and successful exits. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Alon: I’m a multi-time entrepreneur and an experienced software engineer. To date, I’ve built three venture-backed companies and one bootstrap company.
My most recent exit experience was also my most successful. I founded BlazeMeter, back in September of 2011, and we were acquired by CA technologies in October of 2016.
I’m sure many of you would agree that the life of an entrepreneur is a magical, yet lonely position with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Not that you would want to change places with anyone, but being an entrepreneur is definitely a double-edged sword.
I believe the most significant challenge facing entrepreneurs is building the right team because a startup is not likely to survive with anything less than a passionate group of top performers. As entrepreneurs we have a serious challenge attracting these top performers where they have so many other opportunities.
In my opinion, most 9-5 and other ‘stable’ positions are great, but they aren’t exciting. Life has exciting periods but they are typically few and far between. But a startup’s journey is exciting. And people are looking for excitement in their lives.
Top performers will want to join you because of your character and because of your vision. They will want to be part of something that is greater than themselves.
Your core startup team will need to know why they are coming to work every day. They need to understand the “greater-than-themselves” picture. They need to be able to visualize it to convince themselves to jump the ship of stability and really integrate their passion and skills into your vision and stay for the long term..
Asif: The automation industry is seeing a rising importance of Big Data and AI. How do you see these emerging technologies impacting the QA and software testing sector?
Alon: The most significant change in the QA and software testing sector, that started around 2010, was the move from Center of Excellence (aka CoE) to test-automation and shift-left testing.
2010-2020 is going to be discussed in history as the Decade of Automation.
Anything that could have been automated was automated. If it couldn’t be automated then it belonged to the category of TOIL and was avoided as much as possible.
Together with Agile and Devop, test-automation drastically changed the QA and software testing sector. However, I believe a far more significant change is still ahead of us and it involves big data, ML, AI and autonomous “everything”.
Just compare the QA and software testing sector to the (Autonomous) Vehicle sector, where you see a clear path from manual driving, through computer-assisted driving to autonomous driving.
I expect the same underlying technologies, which are big data, ML and AI to affect the QA and software testing sector in much the same way, which is already leading to autonomous testing.
When we think of what will happen next in the autonomous vehicle industry, it’s evident that the responsibility for driving will move to the autonomous vehicle itself.
If we draw a parallel from the autonomous vehicle industry to the QA and software testing sectors, we can easily see the path where responsibility for application-quality will move to the applications themselves.
Applications will become quality aware.
Quality-aware applications will continuously improve their quality by surfacing faults, so developers can fix them before going live. They have a sense of quality, as it is perceived in production, and represented by regression. The shift to quality aware applications will be gradual, however one can expect decreasing time and resource investments in testing over time.
Asif: Tell us about your motivation towards continually innovating new products and pursuing new startup ventures.
Alon: For me, being a developer is much more than an occupation or a profession. It’s a way of self-manifestation. It’s a way to build and create. I see myself more as an artist than as an engineer. A painter paints with colors. A sculpture works with clay. Me, I paint with code and sculpt with servers and storage.
Being both an entrepreneur and a developer enables me to practice my art in the form of building products and companies that provide value to developers and I imagine that it gives me the same feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that an artist experiences when their art is shown in top galleries.
So following the somewhat recent acquisition of BlazeMeter by CA technologies, and having spent the last three years as a business unit executive, that itch to create and to build came back. So, I decided to jump out of stability and back towards risk and excitement…and my new company which is currently in stealth is launching very soon!
Asif: What would your advice be to budding tech entrepreneurs who are looking to scale and fund their ventures successfully?
Alon: Today, when I talk to entrepreneurs, I ask questions like, What is your vision? What makes you special? Where is the exciting story?
While it’s obvious entrepreneurs know their vision, many times they find it hard to explain. It seems too obvious to them. But it is obvious to them and only to them.
A vision is like a blank canvas. While entrepreneurs see the picture in their mind, others don’t. Like a painter with a vision of a picture, only they know what will be splashed onto their canvas. Anyone else that tries to paint the same vision will end up with an entirely different picture. Not only is it impossible for someone else to paint the picture in the entrepreneur’s head, any time someone else tries (as ideas often seem easy when hearing about them but it’s the doing and creating that is the hard part), it defocuses from the goal and creates confusion.
The entrepreneur is not only the creator of the vision, but the storyteller. And everyone needs to understand the story to contribute to its creation.
True success is the communication-to-manifestation of this vision.
An entrepreneur’s core team then become visionaries in a sense as well. They need to understand the vision’s big picture and be able to communicate it as well – through code or content. When the team scales, the vision becomes the “North Star” to follow and the core team become storytellers to their ‘disciples’ and so on and so forth. The vision is also how teams bond and work towards a goal and happily continue during the ups and downs of startup life.
But until the vision is clear, it is the responsibility of the entrepreneur to clearly articulate the vision and repeat the goals on a regular basis. In my experience, there were times when I pitched the company’s vision several times a day – to employees, customers, investors, journalists – every single day.
My advice to any entrepreneur is:
“Your vision starts as an alternative reality. It only lives in your head. If you believe in it – it will manifest into a reality. It is your job to make everyone else believe in it as well. If you, your team members, your investors and your customers will believe in it – the magic will give way for a unicorn to appear.”
Asif: What are your thoughts when people ask if their jobs are going to be replaced by either AI or robotics? What advice would you give them?
Alon: BlazeMeter was one of the first companies to coin the term shift-left-testing as well as continuous testing. The paradigm behind shift-left-testing is that the responsibility for testing moves from QA to developers. When developing a testing product, I was constantly confronted with this question of “will there be any QA jobs in the future” coming from QA engineers. My answer then and my answer now are the same.
In the past, QA engineers did everything themselves and were considered a bottleneck. Quality as a profession is complex and requires education and experience. The advancements in technology are set to help organizations scale their quality activities.
I truly believe that organizations that can transform their QA staff to quality enablers will win over organizations that will simply replace QA with developers or automation.
I encourage QA engineers to move from the concept of Center of Excellence to a Center of Enablement. Become the quality enablers of the organizations. I was fortunate enough to see many such transformations during my time at BlazeMeter and again at CA technologies.
I’m confident that QA engineers can become the heros if they become the enablers that make quality scale without friction.
Asif: Can you name some AI/ Entrepreneurship resources (i.e. books/videos/courses) that have influenced your thoughts the most?
Alon: I believe everyone should have a basic understanding of machine learning. I’d recommend Stanford / Coursera Machine Learning course by Andrew AG as a “must-have” for everyone that is either close or plans on getting close to machine learning.
In general, entrepreneurs MUST practice continuous learning.
Asif: What are your views about MarkTechPost.com?
Alon: I wasn’t familiar with MarkTechPost before, but after reading a few articles and interviews I became inspired and a fan! Keep on doing great work.