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VMblog Expert Interview: Diffblue Automates Java Unit Test Writing - Freeing Up To 50% Dev Time


Even with the rolling layoffs of engineering and other staff in Silicon Valley, various experts claim the world needs at least more than half a million new developers and that there will never be enough to meet demand. Remember, software is eating the world! So enterprises turn to new technologies to help them create more code, faster. One of the most promising new approaches is through Artificial Intelligence (AI). GitHub Copilot might be the most famous example. But a startup in the United Kingdom (spinout from Oxford University) is already increasing Java developer productivity by up to 50%. It turns out that half of an enterprise Java developer's time is devoted to things other than writing production code - like writing unit tests. Diffblue writes those tests automatically - with Reinforcement Learning AI - about 250X faster than any developer can. And they're both human readable and self-maintaining as your codebase evolves and grows. I recently caught up with the new Head of Marketing at Diffblue, Peter Yabsley, to learn more.

VMblog:  What problem are you solving?

Peter Yabsley:  Businesses face a huge economic problem: there is far more software to be written than there are people to do it. Automated code creation will play a major role in the future of software development. Today, nearly all code is written by hand - which seems deeply ironic when you consider how much of it is meant to make its users more efficient.  And at least a third of it - often much more - is repetitive, error-prone and tedious to write. Unit  tests are a classic case in point.

Unit testing is a highly visible pain point for most enterprises. It's recognized as essential to high-quality software but delays delivery and drains development resources from ‘productive' work (writing functional code). Nine out of 10 software developers in a recent survey say they need to find a solution to testing bottlenecks. What's more, developers don't like writing unit tests: at least 39% would prefer never to do so again. Diffblue now automates that effort for Java teams, unlocking enormous time and cost savings for its customers, and increasing the overall amount of useful software they can deliver. Automating unit testing doesn't just result in efficiency and productivity gains: it also reduces business risk and increases developer happiness.

The issue of Java developer productivity is especially pressing because it remains one of the most important coding languages in the world, with a global base of developers counted in the millions. Large enterprises are particularly reliant on Java, and the size and complexity of applications in such organizations make effective unit testing extremely difficult. Diffblue Cover lets those enterprises be faster, more agile and less exposed to the risk of software failure in an increasingly competitive market.

VMblog:  I see you also raised another round of venture capital funding?

Yabsley:  The benefits of our AI engine mean we're getting traction with more and more high-profile customers like Citi. We had already raised more than $31 million in venture funding but we decided to go for another $8 million in a round led by AlbionVC. They ‘got' our story and it was an up round, unusual in this funding climate. The new investment reflects how interest in the AI-augmented coding space is growing as developers, IT leaders and analysts recognize the value AI tools can deliver. Over 1.2 million users took part in the technical preview of GitHub Copilot before it went GA and almost 2 million unit tests have now been written by the free Community Edition of our product Diffblue Cover. Gartner says that ‘Test automation, increasingly powered and enhanced by artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) technologies, becomes an indispensable building block'. And AI was a core theme for Devoxx, the European Java developer community event, in October 2022.

VMblog:  What new capabilities are you announcing to expand your product?

Yabsley:  Diffblue Cover is the world's first solution to automatically write complete, human-readable, high-coverage unit tests for Java applications. It can operate completely autonomously and writes as much code in hours as a developer could in a year. We've expanded the Diffblue Cover platform with four new features - Reports, Optimize, Refactor and Replay - which build on the AI for Code engine at the core of the product. They give enterprises running Java more ways to leverage the power of unit testing for faster delivery of high-quality software. Cover Reports provides a unique overview of the state of unit testing, so you can understand where risk remains and what to do about it. Cover Optimize accelerates unit test execution to give developers faster feedback on their PRs, which has a big impact on their productivity and development cycle times (we've seen it speed up CI runs in a large codebase by over 50%). Cover Refactor improves your existing code by making it more testable, automatically increasing test coverage. And finally, Cover Replay automatically shifts more testing left, transforming slow functional tests - particularly for complex, data-driven applications - into fast unit tests that accelerate development.


Published Monday, November 21, 2022 2:02 PM by David Marshall
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