The Story of How SpecFlow Found a New Home (Part 2)

Christian Hassa

After it was announced that Tricentis had acquired SpecFlow from TechTalk, colleagues and friends kept asking me two questions: “Why Tricentis?” and “Why now?” The short answer was always: “We have known each other for a long time, and it was simply the right moment.” Keep on reading for the longer answer from the point of view of the SpecFlow team.

Christian Hassa, founder and Managing Partner of TechTalk
Christian Hassa
Christian Hassa, founder and Managing Partner of TechTalk

None of this happened by coincidence – the roots of our collaboration date back more than 10 years. I first met Wolfgang in 2003, when he was running a testing services company. As we were both based in Vienna, we had many clients in common, and discussed possible opportunities to work together. However, this was long before the Agile hype – these organizations were in perfectly shielded silos, and we never got through the silos to collaborate.

Fast forward to 2007: TechTalk (the company I founded) had grown and we were one of the first service companies in the region to apply Agile methods to large organizations. I met Dan North at an Open Space retreat in Arosa, where we discussed the challenges of continuous acceptance testing in Agile delivery, and Dan introduced his idea of Behavior Driven Development. I was excited at the prospect of trying out BDD in some of our projects.

TechTalk was facing two major challenges at the time – the need for a short turnaround time for specifications and, in particular, regression testing was work-intensive. We also realized that traditional automated testing would not help in the newly evolving Agile world. This encouraged us to try out Cucumber for .NET (Cuke4Nuke) in late 2008, and while the concept was promising, running a Ruby tool on Windows with .NET caused us a lot of pain. So we instead decided to implement our own native .NET version of Cucumber. Initially, the Cucumber team wasn’t too keen on a native .NET version, which is why we were asked to pick a different name, which is why we came up with the name “SpecFlow”. We later reconnected with the Cucumber team and SpecFlow became the official replacement for Cuke4Nuke.

SpecFlow was now official and live. Excited about our new baby, I attended Microsoft PDC in 2010 where I met Grigori Melnik, at that time leading the Patterns and Practices group at Microsoft. He listened patiently to my SpecFlow intro and concluded, “This is great, but you’re on the wrong platform. .NET enterprise developers are not ready for this yet; maybe in 10 years they’ll be ready for this.” At first I thought he just didn’t get it, but then I learned that Grigori had already written a paper on the subject together with Robert C. Martin.

In retrospect, Grigori was right – we had a steadily growing user base for SpecFlow, but it grew very slowly. In most of the cases, these initiatives were driven by local Agile experts who worked closely with their teams in a similar way as we did at TechTalk.

I then met Wolfgang again when his new company, Tricentis, moved into the same office building in Vienna. (Funnily enough, Tricentis also moved into the same Budapest offices where a large part of the SpecFlow team is based). Tricentis and TechTalk’s clients still had a large overlap, but while I was having a hard time explaining how Agile software delivery helps reduce risks and increase competitiveness, Wolfgang knew exactly how to pitch Tosca to the same target group. Tosca facilitated testing on huge core legacy systems, and I was impressed by Wolfgang’s technical expertise and ability to connect with senior management. It was clear to me that Tricentis was onto something.

By 2017, Agile was officially booming and had arrived in the enterprise space. SpecFlow had grown to a respectable user base, and we were starting to see more and more large organizations adopting it. In 2018, I heard from Wolfgang again. To my surprise, Wolfgang didn’t know that SpecFlow was our baby. In fact, he had first heard of it from a client on the other side of the world (Australia!). But once he learned that TechTalk had created SpecFlow, we started brainstorming ways to grow in the enterprise market. Knowing Wolfgang’s sense for trends in enterprise software development, I concluded that SpecFlow needed a strategic partner to support the next steps towards broader adoption. The time had come to sell SpecFlow and to partner up with Tricentis moving forwards.

One of my first tasks after the acquisition was to present SpecFlow at Tricentis’ executive staff meeting. One of the attendees was their newly hired Chief Product Officer: Grigori Melnik! He had predicted that SpecFlow was ten years ahead of its time back in 2010, and here he was ten years later, joining our venture. Once again, this confirmed to me that SpecFlow has found the right home to grow, and also that SpecFlow’s time had finally come.

Click here to read more about this story from the point of view of Wolfgang Platz, founder and Chief Strategy Office at Tricentis.

Stay tuned for part 3, where Grigori Melnik will share his side of the story.