Boris Beizer Memories
Saddened to hear of the passing of Boris Beizer. My most distinct memories of him were his presence at Software Quality conferences in the 80s and 90s. He intently listened to speaker presentations and could be counted on to ask hard questions during the talks. He could also be seen networking with vendors and presenters alike in the hallways at breaks his glasses tucked above his forehead and constantly falling down as he was admonishing someone (usually for good cause) because of a pronouncement in their presentation that Object Oriented code would not be testable, or a vendor assertion that 100% test coverage assured bug free code. He set the bar for credibility in the yet to be respected software testing profession. He made it abundantly clear that computer programmers generated bugs and were not necessarily software engineers by law in most US states.
Back in this era there were the Box Wars. Boris's advocating that Black Box testing was most important and Tom McCabe's claiming white box testing was the key to success. Arguments about the virtues and shortcomings of each method were passionate. Agreement on the best way to test something has never been a characteristic of our field. Disagreements and resentments being a key ingredient for advancing the state of the art. The White Box/Black Box philosophies eventually evolved into Unit Testing and System Testing, both now considered essential. Boris was a prolific author of some of the leading books about software testing and quality. I still cherish mine and find these test design techniques timeless. Boris was gracious in his writings to give credit those whom he had referenced. He also authored two science fiction novels.
If you ever wanted a thorough review of a paper, book, presentation, or software product, Boris was the guy to have review it. Twice in my career I asked Boris to review software; he did not disappoint. He practiced what he preached. His ability to surface the most obscure corner cases was astonishing. His interest included which algorithms were used and the pros and cons of each. While he was an advocate of formal methods, he could be counted on to strike terror into the hearts of vendors at the exhibition hall just by walking by. If your exhibited tool or technique impressed Boris, he was also quick to praise it.
My most personal memory of Boris was spending a day sailing with him on the San Francisco Bay. He knew everything there was to know about boats, sails, motors, rigging, and weather. Then when the topic turned to bridges he knew all about those as well. Books, movies, sports, electronics, radio, physics, chemistry, mathematics, wine, whatever the topic du jour was, Boris knew about each one deeply. It was as though he had a pair of google glasses and was browsing the internet on each topic while speaking. But this was pre-internet. This knowledge was all in his head! He cracked encryption methods just for joy of doing it before cyber security was a field. He was a true renaissance man.
Boris unwittingly is also responsible for causing some of the most creative advancements in the software testing field by inspiring the younger generation of testers to prove him wrong. Boris relied heavily on his understanding of science and logic to forge testing techniques, but for those who did not have an education in the sciences, new approaches were required. There was only one Boris Beizer, and he could not be on everyone's test team. James Bach comes to mind as an example of one of those who proved effective testing was possible without all the science, using the focused resources of the human brain, application exploration, and learning. Both approaches have merits, and both are essential for mission critical applications.
Boris became the closest thing our field has ever had to a rock star. He only traveled first class in an era before mileage upgrades. He only stayed at the best places and drank the best wines. He was not one to trifle with when listing accounting regulations for travel. If you needed his help it was going to cost you, but the value he brought always far exceeded that cost.
Last time I talked to Boris he was building ship models, no doubt highly accurate and detailed, and enjoyed his retirement pursuits. He made a huge contribution to software testing and software quality fields either directly by sharing his gifts or indirectly by challenging us to do better. He was one of my mentors, and I am glad to have spent some quality time with him. Someone like Boris Beizer does not come along very often. He would have been a giant in any field he chose. I am grateful that he chose software testing. His contributions to our field formalized it and elevated it from a penalty box for unsuccessful developers to a profession on par with and valued as highly as any in the software industry. Thanks Boris, Greg