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Automation QA and the Importance of Always Knowing Your Why

Leo C.7 min readMay 27, 2024Technology
Automation QA and the Importance of Always Knowing Your Why
Leo C.7 min read
Contents:
How did I start with automation?
Benefits of QA automation
QA automation tools I have experience with
The annoying things with QA automation
Some bad QA automation practices
Automated testing only finds what it's programmed to
Don't worry, it's not all so gloomy with the QA automation

QA automation can sound like a promised land, offering efficiency and precision that seems too good to be true. But while it can indeed be a game-changer, it's not without its quirks.

Quality assurance engineer Jan Jaap Cannegieter said, "Many testers know everything about certain tools or programming languages, but they can’t tell me what they test and why they test it. And that is a bad thing."

While automation testing has significant advantages, it also comes with challenges. In this blog post, let's examine the benefits QA automation engineers have and some bad practices they can encounter.

How did I start with automation?

I began automation when our team received a project that required automated testing from the quality assurance (QA) team. At that time, manual testing was my primary method, and while it was effective to a certain extent, it became clear that automation was necessary to meet the project's demands and maintain software quality.

One of the first tools I experimented with was Cucumber. It was recommended due to its simplicity and effectiveness in behavior-driven development (BDD). Using Cucumber allowed us to write tests in a language that both technical and non-technical team members could understand. This meant better communication and collaboration.

Benefits of QA automation

1. Saving time on repetitive tasks

One of the most immediate and noticeable benefits of automation is the time saved on repetitive tasks. In manual testing, testers often spend hours executing the same tests repeatedly, especially during manual regression testing. Nothing drags on like waiting for your tests to finish. This process can be slow and easily lead to mistakes.

With automation, we can write test scripts that execute these repetitive tasks automatically. Once the scripts are in place, they can run as many times as needed without additional effort. This frees up valuable time for testers to focus on more complex and exploratory aspects of testing, ultimately increasing productivity and efficiency.

2. Reducing the human error

Everybody can make mistakes, right? And manual testing is prone to human errors. Testers can miss steps, make mistakes in data entry, or overlook issues due to fatigue or distraction. These errors can lead to inconsistencies and unreliable test results.

Automated tests, on the other hand, are consistent and precise. Once a test script is written, it will execute the same way every time, ensuring repeatability and accuracy. This consistency helps identify issues reliably and reduces the risk of errors that can occur with manual testing. As a result, the overall quality of the software improves, and confidence in the testing process increases.

3. Improved test coverage

Automated testing allows us to achieve better test coverage than manual testing. Automated test scripts can be executed across multiple environments, browsers, and devices simultaneously, which would be incredibly time-consuming and impractical with manual testing.

This comprehensive coverage ensures that more parts of the application are tested and potential issues are identified early in the development process. Automated tests can also be designed to cover edge cases and complex scenarios that might be overlooked in manual testing, leading to a more reliable software product.

4. Faster feedback loop

In software development, the timing of the feedback you get is everything. Automated testing provides a faster feedback loop by running tests quickly and delivering immediate results.

This rapid feedback helps in identifying and addressing issues early, reducing the time spent on debugging and rework. Consequently, it accelerates the development process and ensures that high-quality code is delivered consistently.

QA automation tools I have experience with

Cucumber

Cucumber is a tool that supports Behavior-Driven Development (BDD), allowing tests to be written in plain language that stakeholders can understand. It's a great way to start automation testing. This feature can improve communication between technical and non-technical team members, making it easier to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Another advantage is the readability of test cases, as Cucumber uses Gherkin syntax, which is easy to read and understand. However, the initial setup of Cucumber can be time-consuming, and it often has slower execution compared to other tools. Additionally, maintaining test scripts and feature files requires continuous effort.

When to use? Cucumber is ideal for projects where collaboration between developers, testers, and non-technical stakeholders is important. It is particularly suitable for applications where user behavior and interactions are critical to test.

Cypress

Cypress is known for its speed and developer-friendly approach, offering fast execution of tests due to its architecture and real-time reloading. It is easy to set up and integrates seamlessly into the development workflow, providing an excellent debugging experience with detailed error messages and stack traces.

However, Cypress has limited browser support, only working with Chrome-based browsers, and its smaller community can limit the availability of resources and plugins.

When to use? Cypress is best for modern web applications that require fast and reliable testing, and it is particularly suitable for developers who want an integrated and developer-centric testing tool.

Playwright

Playwright offers robust cross-browser testing capabilities, supporting multiple browsers such as Chromium, Firefox, and WebKit out of the box. It has a powerful API that provides a wide range of features for complex scenarios and supports parallel test execution, which can significantly improve test speed.

However, Playwright has a steeper learning curve due to its more complex API, which can be challenging for beginners. It also requires significant system resources, especially when running tests in parallel.

When to use? Playwright is ideal for comprehensive cross-browser testing and is particularly suitable for applications with complex user interactions and scenarios.

The annoying things with QA automation

1. Lengthy test execution times

Automation tests, particularly those that interact with the graphical user interface (GUI), can take a long time to execute. Since these tests simulate user actions, they often need to wait for UI elements to load and respond, which can significantly extend the test execution time. On big projects, running tests for the entire system in bulk on a server can lead to test runs lasting up to 24 hours.

Waiting for these tests to be completed can disrupt the workflow, especially when quick feedback is required. This prolonged execution time is not only annoying but can also delay the entire testing process.

2. Initial setup time

One of the first hurdles in implementing automation testing is the initial setup time. Configuring the testing environment, selecting the right automated testing tools, and writing the initial set of automation test scripts can be time-consuming.

This setup phase requires careful planning and a thorough understanding of the testing process, which can delay the start of actual testing. For instance, integrating an automated test framework into the existing software development lifecycle often involves significant adjustments and coordination with the development team.

3. Maintaining test scripts

Maintaining test scripts is another challenge that can become tedious over time. As the application evolves, test scripts must be updated to reflect changes in the codebase, user interface, and functionality.

This ongoing maintenance requires a dedicated effort to ensure that the automation tests remain relevant and accurate. The need for regular updates and debugging can disrupt the focus of QA automation testers, as they must constantly verify and adjust their scripts to align with the latest software changes.

4. Unreliable test results

Automated tests can sometimes produce unreliable results, leading to false positives and negatives. These unreliable test results can be caused by various factors, such as timing issues, dependencies on external systems, or flaky tests that behave inconsistently.

These issues can be frustrating and time-consuming, often involving running the tests multiple times to isolate the problem. This not only slows down the testing process but also undermines the confidence in the test automation's effectiveness.

5. Tool compatibility issues

Tool compatibility issues are another significant annoyance in automation testing. Different tools have varying levels of support for browsers, operating systems, and other software components.

This can lead to situations where a tool that works perfectly in one environment fails in another. Ensuring compatibility across multiple platforms can be a complex task, requiring advanced programming skills and a deep understanding of the tools being used.

Some bad QA automation practices

1. You are over-relying on automation tools

Never rely too heavily on automation tools without understanding their limitations. While automation can handle repetitive tasks efficiently, it cannot replace the critical thinking and intuition of a QA automation engineer.

Blindly trusting automation testing can lead to missed defects, as automated tests only check what they're programmed to look for.

2. Neglecting test maintenance

Another bad practice is neglecting the maintenance of test scripts. Automation testing is not a one-time setup; it requires continuous updates to keep up with application changes.

Failing to maintain test scripts can result in outdated tests that no longer reflect the current state of the software, leading to false positives and negatives.

3. Ignoring manual testing

Ignoring manual testing altogether is a major mistake. While automation testing is great, it can't match the detailed understanding and exploratory testing that a human can do. Relying solely on automation tools can lead to overlooking usability issues and user experience flaws that only manual testing can uncover. The best approach is a balanced approach that incorporates both manual and automated testing. Each test run should be accompanied by the manual test happy path regression testing to ensure that all visuals are working as they should.

Automated testing only finds what it's programmed to

While automation testing offers significant benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy, and test coverage, manual testing remains an essential part of the QA process.

Human insight and supervision will always be irreplaceable. Manual testers ensure that the application functions correctly and delivers a satisfying user experience. Balancing automation and manual testing allows QA teams to use the strengths of both approaches, which leads to more comprehensive and effective software testing.

automation testing

Don't worry, it's not all so gloomy with the QA automation

Despite the bad practices and annoying aspects of automation QA, there are many bright spots. Let's not forget that some innovative minds have advanced the field of QA. For instance, Kent Beck, the creator of Test-Driven Development (TDD), changed our approach to automated QA testing. Similarly, Jason Huggins, who developed Selenium, greatly enhanced automated testing capabilities. These people have paved the way for more efficient and effective testing processes.

One of the greatest benefits of automated testing is the time it frees up for you to focus on self-improvement and education. Remember Cannegieter’s words from the beginning, so never forget to use your head; you can't just stop thinking because you're doing automation. Automated testing is just a way to free up repetitive tasks, giving you more time to learn new things and focus on more interesting and challenging aspects of testing.

Of course, every methodology has its bad practices, but it's important not to put all your eggs in one basket. At Devōt, although we focus on automated tests, we understand when a project needs human input.

If you have any questions about QA automation testing at Devōt, feel free to reach out to us.

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