Remembering a friend and luminary

Adam Kolawa (1957 - 2011)

Earlier this year my longtime friend/boss/partner/hunting buddy Adam Kolawa died. We worked together since 1992, before the internet went commercial. Over the last nearly twenty years I learned a lot from Adam about software and testing as well as other things.

Adam had a strong vision about what could be done with software. He was a very logical technical person and believed that the way software is created can be improved greatly. I remember learning this early on. I started at Parasoft doing database work and tech support. We had this really cool parallel processing software called Express. With it you could run software on a heterogeneous network of machines, say an IBM machine running AIX alongside a Sun machine running SunOS, and even add in a Digital machine running Ultrix. Needless to say the setup of such software could be complicated.

At one point I realized that many of the same questions were coming to us over and over again, so I put together one of those funny FAQ things that you saw with open-source software. I carefully listed the basic installation and configuration problems that might occur with steps to handle them. I was so proud of myself and showed it to Adam. His response was true to his nature. He said “Great, now make it go away.” While he was a strong proponent of good documentation (PhD’s are like that…) he felt like such information should be unnecessary. So he guided me to go and fix the software so that as many of the problems from the list as possible would be handled directly in the software.

This principle guided all the innovations to come from Parasoft since that time. Parallel processing technology morphed into memory tracking and bug-finding, always on the quest to create better software, more quickly, with less effort.

Along the way Adam wrote numerous papers, articles, and even a few books. The most notable are Automated Defect Prevention: Best Practices in Software Management and The Next Leap in Productivity. The former should be required reading for anyone trying to run a software development organization. The latter is an eye-opening look into not only improving IT but turning it into an asset rather than a cost-center.

Adam was instrumental in nearly all the patents generated at Parasoft. He had a very out-of-the box way of looking at problems and coming up with new unique solutions. I always attributed this at least in part to his physics background – why shouldn’t a man comfortable with giving the weight of the universe feel like he can generate test cases automatically by having a parser read some source code?

I mention all this partially because it’s cathartic for me, but also because STP – Software Test Professionals is currently having an open vote on the Test Luminary of the Year. Take a chance, go read Adam’s bio, and if you think like I do that he made a lasting impact on the software industry, then why not vote for him? It’s a fitting legacy for a man who dedicated his adult life to the improvement of the software development process.

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