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Focused on solving software problems

Richard Torkar is professor at the Division of Software Engineering, Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The main focus in Richard’s research is "search-based software testing", or testing of software systems in general.

Sometimes we need to create new technology to meet the target, sometimes it is enough just to complement existing technologyRichard Torkar, a newly appointed professor in software engineering, sees himself rather as an empiricist than as a theoretician. Sometimes he gets the question what his research focus really is.

"I usually answer them that my research focus is primarily about solving problems in the software field, but it can vary a lot in which domain," says Richard. "The most important thing for me is the utilisation, that the research smoothly and fast can be implemented in industry."

Ended up in the IT field after spending some time in the Swedish Army

Richard's interest in computers started early and in his early teens he started programming.

"But I didn’t have a clear plan, things have been rather random. After high school I did my military service and then I joined the military for a few years and worked as an officer. I also took part in the UN service during the war in former Yugoslavia."

In the mid 90’s Richard performed very well in a national university test and he started to think of university studies. The Swedish Army didn’t seem to be a good future at the time. He got accepted for law school, but for several reasons he stayed another year in the Swedish Army, before entering a programme in computer science at University West.

After his studies Richard started a company together with a couple of friends and when the company was sold, he was asked by a professor in physics if he wanted to become a PhD student in software engineering.

In 2006 Richard Torkar presented his PhD thesis: Om testing – automatiseringspotential inom programvaruteknik where he was looking at the more technical aspects of software testing and the applicability of automating software testing to a higher degree.

The work within the field inspired Richard’s interest in search-based software testing, which is Richard’s main research area today. There are two main tracks within his research, the first is about traditional testing research, and the other one is a larger project, Test Innovation Engine Sweden, TIES, which is about assisting companies in validating research results.

"One thing that makes the area of testing exciting is that all companies to different degrees have problems with their systems and need to increase the quality of software systems in different ways. There are so many things that need to be done!"

TIES is run in close collaboration with industry

In the TIES project current research results are applied in the participating companies, which means that the companies get access to very recent research in software development. At the same time they contribute to the research by providing data. A fundamental presumption for the collaboration is that there is a research question that constitutes the base of the project and that collaboration in that way becomes mutual.

"The tight collaboration between academia and industry that we have has been working very well," says Richard. "The companies let highly qualified people take part in the projects, they learn from each other and don’t see themselves as competitors since the companies operate in different areas."

One of the goals for Richard and his colleagues is to shorten the cycles when implementing research in industry – the implementing process would preferably take a few months instead of years, says Richard.

In TIES we are testing different way to shorten the cycles by having seminars, workshops and projects with engineers in industry. The companies need to find the best technology and the optimal system implementation for a specific requirement. We can help them speed up the process and to clarify the requirements by "behavioural testing" for example, where the system has to fulfill the requirements for a specific behaviour – "when I do this, I want this and this to happen".

"Sometimes we need to create new technology to meet the target, sometimes it is enough just to complement existing technology. Then we start the testing, validation and evaluation of what we have achieved. We both use earlier research results and studies made at other companies to design new technology and new work processes and also to provide the management a better foundation for decision making."

Richard Torkar also highlights the importance of the human factor for the development of software to function in a satisfactory manner.

"I have seen in my projects that the engineer often is a more important factor than the technology when it comes to how software development is done! As an example, we see studies where a number of different testing techniques are evaluated, but where you don’t see a significant difference in how well they work – instead the decisive factor turns out to be how good the human tester is."

The challenges are a driving force

Richard says that the driving force at work for him is partly based on the personal challenge – "that the things you decide to do will be successful" – but also on the prospect of doing interesting things. That includes teaching, where Richard is responsible for the course Empirical Software Engineering.

"To work as a teacher gives me a lot, the students are open-minded and to supervise doctoral students is another creative part, they are my colleagues and there is a mutual exchange of ideas and knowledge."

"In general I think it is a very creative environment at the Division of Software Engineering, the people here are having an open attitude and also great respect for each other."

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 7/31/2015

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