At this time of year, I like to look back at the interviews I’ve done and the people I’ve spoken to during the course of the year, to both consider follow-ups in the coming months and to see if there’s anything I’ve left behind. A couple of conversations I had in 2011 fall into the latter category.

I talked to a European startup called Betfair, which has created a platform for “day trading” on the outcome of horse races and soccer games. These outcomes can be bought, sold or traded even while the event is going on.

The reason for the call, though, was to learn about their strong belief in test automation. Euan Davidson, Betfair’s automation architect, said the company has built automation into its processes “since sprint one.” He said, “In the sprint, features are considered completed when the automation of functionality is proven.”

Euan said “lights-out automation” is when organizations run the tests overnight and check it in the morning. Betfair wants to achieve “lights-on automation,” which provides real-time feedback on changes to software. “You have to convince the product development people that if they accept an item of any scope, that it has automated testing,” he said.

He even has what he calls an “Automation Manifesto.” Among the items: Pay now or pay later with interest. “Automation is not a tax,” Euan said, “it’s an investment.” Also, “done” means all automated tests have passed, and Scrum teams should spend 20% of their time on automation stories, not 100% on product. Another is the “three times rule”: if you have the software doing something more than three times, that functionality should be automated.

Agile development is driving automation, but the point Euan makes is that it has to be something that’s baked into the development process early on, not something you try to tack onto software after it’s passed all the functional testing. “Over the last 10 years, test automation has grown. There are armies of functional testers that click through an application and manually rate defects. But it’s hard to get a standard functional tester to do automation. Their minds don’t work that way.” The whole team has to focus on automation from the outset for the initiative to be successful.

Then, I got a little bit of a history lesson from Sinan Karaca of InstallAware, which makes installation software for ISVs. Sinan was telling me about that prior to 1999, the installer market was dominated by InstallShield and Wise. But, he said, the game changed in ’99, when Microsoft dropped the Windows Installer requirement on the industry.

Windows Installer takes a declarative approach to software setup, Sinan said; the installation cannot be manipulated at runtime. “Microsoft opted for the most reliable engine rather than a flexible engine such as InstallShield and Wise, which had to adapt their tooling to Microsoft.”

InstallAware, he said, was built from the ground up to transcend Windows Installer by letting users write script packages that target Windows Installer, which allows for effective runtime branching and decision-making. Most of us, of course, simply want the application to load when we install the disc into our computers. As ISVs grudgingly move from disk to cloud deployments, installers may well become marginalized anyway. Perhaps this will become clearer in 2012.

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.