Archive for April, 2009

Are Ladders Useful?

April 6, 2009

On the watir-general email list, George Sanders recently wrote

“It seems that I’ve been encountering more people within my workplace (and, alas, even within my own QA team!) that are not sold on test automation. From what I’ve learned so far, there seems that automation will never cover 100% of what needs to be tested, but this doesn’t negate the need.

Another frustration is that I’ve been tasked to write automation scripts as part of my year-end goals. However, I haven’t been assigned hours in my work week to do them! All of my script development has been after-hours and weekends (notice I’m posting this on a Saturday!).

Has anyone else run into naysayers? How can I convince the decision-makers that this is a worthwhile effort?”

I responded on-list, but want to improve my answer (and change my analogy). This conversation tends to be quite unproductive when it becomes “Is or isn’t test automation useful?” It’s a lot like “Are ladders useful?” Ladders won’t solve any problems on their own. There are plenty of problems that ladders will not help with a bit. Problems that are helped by step-ladders may only be made worse by a 20 foot ladder. Yet there are some problems where the right ladder well used will add tremendous value.

Similarly with testing, I like to look at what are the problems that need to be solved. Then I like to think about each of them, and consider solutions. Is one of your problems basic functionality breaking when code is changed? Unit tests might be a great solution to your problem. Do you suspect intermittent production failures are the result of concurrency issues? Likewise, automation-assisted tests might really help in reproducing the problem in house.

I think discussing the relative costs/benefits of automated browser-based regression testing is a good idea, and getting real experience reports helps a lot. Within this realm in particular — depending on many contextual factors —  there may be some problems that’re helped through automated browser-based tests and others where the cost is too high. 

Note, for some concrete examples of problems where Watir has been useful for me, see my post about a few of the most compelling cases where I’ve used Watir over the past five years.

Getting time added into the schedule for test automation is a different question, but one that might become easier if you’re able to focus the conversation around solutions to particular problems. (On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons — sensible and not — why test automation might not get onto the schedule.) In any event, focussing the conversation on specific problems and potential solutions for them is likely to increase the odds of a productive conversation.

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Some Benefits Of Being Part of Real Professional Communities

April 3, 2009

A sign of the times, I know a handful of great testers and coders who’ve been laid off in recent months. One I just heard about today is Chris McMahon. I first encountered Chris as a contributor on the Watir, Software-testing, and Agile-testing mailing lists. At the time, I was QA Manager for a company that was having a rough time filling a position for a very technical API tester and test automation expert. I emailed Chris, one thing led to another, and I had the good fortune to work with Chris for a period.

Several jobs later for both of us, he fell prey to economic downsizing today. I have to say I was very impressed (though not really surprised) to see what a stir it has made in the software testing communities I’m a part of. The impact is clearest in all the conversation about and testimonals for Chris on Twitter.

Is this because Chris is a very skilled tester? Absolutely it is…but there are other very skilled testers out there who just aren’t as known. He blogs, he has had articles published in several journals, and he actively contributes to multiple online testing communities. And by contributes I mean he engages in dialog, he offers ideas, he offers help to folks who ask good questions. On the Watir list, he claimed an unofficial spot some time back as the Answerer Of Off Topic Questions. When someone raises something that’s more of a ruby / test design / other library related question, he has frequently had something helpful to contibute, and he’s done so, even as he worked for the last year or so at a company that uses Selenium instead.

Being a part of a testing community has many benefits: Exposure to new ideas, meeting colleagues, a chance to have our ideas tested and improved via feedback, etc. — but this is a place where it’s particularly clear. It may turn out to be a tough time to be looking for a remote testing position, but the way Chris has chosen to live his professional life over many years seems to be reaping major dividends right about now.