Fool Me Once


Linda Hayes is a practitioner and proponent of test automation, but she recognizes that much of testing remains manual. The unexpected twist, though, is that she lays the blame for automation's chilly reception squarely on the shoulders of early approaches to automation—namely capture/playback. In this article, Linda takes a look at automation's history and offers some suggestions for its future.

As someone who has made a career out of test automation, I find it downright embarrassing that the majority of testing is still performed manually. You might think—as I have been tempted to—that this is simply the result of uninformed or apathetic management's refusing to commit the time, money, and resources to make it happen.

But you and I would be wrong, because billions of dollars have been spent on test automation tools, training, and resources. Virtually all companies of any significant size are not only aware they need automation but also desperate to have it.

So, what's the problem? It's all those billions that already have been blown—er, spent. Those who championed the expenditures are not eager to claim failure. And it's not as though all was lost; the test management and reporting capabilities of test suites often survive because even manual tests need to be managed. But automation itself has remained elusive, and the managers who approved the purchases are left wondering why it takes so long and where is their return on investment.

What Went Wrong?
Sad to say, but we automation pioneers have only ourselves to blame. In the early heydays of automation, we convinced customers that capture/playback was a quick and easy answer to automation. Just turn on the recorder, perform the test as always, and presto! A script is magically produced, and your test is automated. What could be easier?

Manual testing was easier, as it turns out, because no one had factored in the extra coding to make the scripts actually work and the maintenance overhead. Customers quickly discovered that it took more effort to keep their scripts current than to revert to manual execution. Add in the expense of specialized scripting skills, and automation cost more, too.

What makes this an even bigger tragedy, aside from the wasted money and effort, is that the pace of application development has continued to accelerate and the associated risk of failure has grown exponentially. Test coverage has never been more important and yet has never been lower. Manual testing simply cannot keep up.

So, here we find ourselves in the new millennium, trying once again to convince management that automation is the answer, but with new technologies that address the shortcomings of the now—discredited capture/playback tools by reducing or removing the need for script code and related skills and minimizing the inevitable maintenance. The problem is that they have heard this song before.

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