Automated software testing has shown to be a force multiplier in the rapid delivery of software. The credit for that goes to teams having a solid and executable strategy and governance, but also to the automated tests themselves. Creating quality tests by choosing the right automated software testing tools that are utilized by an experienced team is the triumvirate upon which software success is built.
Types of Automated Software Tests
The process of automated testing involves writing test scripts, or a set of instructions, that tests certain features of the software. These tests are called test cases, and the goal is to identify problem areas. When the execution of test cases is complete, a report is generated that generally shows the tests that were run along with an identification number of some type, a scenario, the expected result, and the actual result or a pass/fail grade. In viewing a test case report, it’s easy to see how test cases can quickly accumulate which is why it’s important to audit test cases and retire obsolete scripts. Automated test cases can be implemented as a checkpoint before deployment. The quality of tests is dependent on the quality of the test script. If, for example, a scenario mentions selecting the About Page from a dropdown menu that hasn’t been built yet, that test will fail and will have to be run again.
The process of writing test scripts is a good way to determine if automated testing is the choice you want to make with certain tests. You might decide there is too much complexity in the user interface and manual testing will provide better results. Regardless, keep in mind that automation tests work as well as the scripts written for it, whereas manual tests are only as good as the test automation engineers.
Tests range in size from those testing small components (unit tests) to those reviewing how the system as a whole works (end-to-end). As a means to expand test coverage, many test automation engineers employ the testing pyramid strategy that covers three types of tests of various sizes and the frequency of those tests. The goal of the testing pyramid is to increase test coverage. At the bottom of the pyramid are unit tests that test small components that have no external dependencies and can be run quickly and frequently. Moving up the pyramid, next are the integrated tests that take a bit longer to run and test the software’s compatibility with external components such as APIs. End-to-end tests rest atop the pyramid and test the entire application. Top-of-the pyramid tests tend to be complex and time-consuming, so they aren’t run as frequently. Outside of the pyramid test suite are additional tests such as acceptance testing, which tests user behavior components and performance testing that tests the software under a heavy load such as when many tasks are performed simultaneously on a website. Another is functional testing that tests certain features within an application to determine if they work as outlined in the requirements document. This type of testing is inclusive of testing APIs, client/server communication, user interface, and the like, and it isn’t necessarily concerned about the code, so it mostly involves black box testing. If you choose to run just one test, a smoke test may be your best bet as it tests basic functionality quickly and gives you an idea of how the system functions overall.
The testing pyramid has proven to be popular for the last few decades because of its sheer practicality. However, test automation engineers have taken note of the evolving testing diamond. The pyramid is beginning to expand in the middle (creating more of a diamond shape) in response to the scaling of unit tests for integrated components. As testers move up the scale, confidence grows, so the middle area where integrated testing takes place most often, is now being thought of as the sweet spot of testing. It’s here that test automation engineers find that testing is not time consuming, results are delivered quickly, and they get good test coverage with a relatively high level of confidence. Since so much time is spent testing at the integration level, this shift is enabling test automation engineers to work more efficiently.
Automated Software Testing Tools
Choosing the best automation testing tools is a bit like recruiting for a corporate position; you want candidates with many skills, who are available at the right price, and are highly reliable.
The first step in choosing the right automation testing tools is determining which types of tests you are going to execute and in which type of application (e.g., website, web app, mobile app, etc). This will help you identify tools that have the features you need to run the tests. Your budget will also be a determining factor in which types of tools you use. Commercial tools are widely available, and they are known for being reliable, robust, and easier to use. Depending on your needs and your budget, you can choose to be vendor agnostic and move forward with a hybrid approach of both open source and commercial tools. According to the Tricentis survey, the biggest impediment to functional testing is time. That’s why many teams are now shifting toward easier to use and deploy automation testing tools.1
Once you’ve selected the tools, you can start to build your test automation framework which is where test standardization will reside. A framework encompasses the “tools and rules” that will guide the pursuit of building test cases. The process of building a framework includes documenting coding standards, test libraries, reporting tools, reusable methodologies, and training which pays off in higher efficiency, lower costs, and a more organized testing program. As with tools, several open source and commercial testing frameworks are available. A framework should be chosen based on a review of where your testing program is now and where you would like it to be in the next few years based on the types of projects most common to your organization.
Roles and Responsibilities of the Test Automation Engineer
As it goes, most of the talk around automated software testing is, well, about the tests themselves. But what about the team behind the tests? As already outlined, the number of actual test automation teams is decreasing. Many organizations respond by having either their business users or developers perform test automation. This solution can be successful to a certain extent, however, it’s not scalable across multiple teams. An alternate solution that is being met with tremendous success is creating the role of test automation engineer.
Building a team around test automation requires that you examine the types of traits you want in your staff, and these characteristics should lend themselves to the real-time collaboration afforded by automated testing. Obviously, you want members of your team to be experienced with different testing tools, frameworks, and methodologies and have experience with testing at all levels with organizations of different sizes. In addition to basic experience, you’ll also want your team members to have a certain mindset that a successful testing program requires. They should be able to maintain a balance between speed and quality, keep current with different software versions and understand the implications of not doing so.
They should be proactive in helping to build a culture of quality and should be open-minded and flexible about the tools and processes that go into such a goal. Team members should have hard and soft skills and be committed to not just using automated tests, but creating and maintaining an environment where automated testing plays a major role in consistently delivering quality software.
The umbrella under which tests and tools operate is a broad one, and it must be consistently optimized. The good news here is that there are numerous tests and tools to choose from, but it can be difficult to determine which are best for your team now and which will work in a future context. This is a good opportunity to assess the types of projects your organization works on and determine where efficiencies can be gained. If you’re currently working with a testing pyramid, you may find that moving toward the testing diamond works better. During this assessment, gaining some perspective on who you want to work with these tests and tools is important. Focusing on the recruitment of experienced, collaborative, and quality-focused team members will only enhance the implementation of your testing program.
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