The Long Road to Test Automation: An Interview with Dorothy Graham

In this interview, Dorothy Graham, a software test consultant and coauthor of four books, discusses the fact that many teams still have a long way to go with test automation. She explains why getting started in automation can be daunting and details which tools might be best for your testing needs.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with some more interviews, so thanks, everyone, for hanging with us on these interviews this afternoon. I have with me Dot. Dot, thanks for joining me today.

Dorothy Graham: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Jennifer Bonine: It's very nice to have you. So you gave a couple of sessions. You had a tutorial.

Dorothy Graham: Two tutorials.

Jennifer Bonine: Two tutorials. Two tutorials. I was busy. And then did you have another concurrent session as well?

Dorothy Graham: Yes, I have a session and a lightning keynote.

Jennifer Bonine: And a lightning keynote.

Dorothy Graham: They're keeping me busy this year.

Jennifer Bonine: I know, right? Wow, you had a full dance card here, on all this stuff you were doing. So maybe give a little overview for the folks. Obviously they saw, maybe, your lightning keynote if they tuned in yesterday, but they, probably they didn't get to see your tutorials or your sessions. So let's maybe talk a little bit about what you were talking about in the tutorial and kind of the feedback you're getting from folks as they're hearing the information you have to share.

Dorothy Graham: Okay. Well, the first tutorial I did, which was on Monday afternoon, was about generic technical issues and problems in test automation. And Seretta Gamba, who contributed one of the chapters to the Experiences in Test Automation book, when she saw all the other chapters, she thought to herself, "patterns," and so she wanted to write a book about the patterns. And we decided to work together on it, and we couldn't really do it as a book because they're so interconnected. So we've made a wiki, and the wiki is just called, or, which is a bit longer.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, very cool. Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: And in there we have various categories of issues, which are problems and things that you need to do, and patterns, which are ways to solve those problems that have worked well for other people.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Dorothy Graham: And we classify them into four types: process, management, design, and execution.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, nice.

Dorothy Graham: It's free for anybody to look at. One of the things that we'd like to have is if people look at it and they say, "Oh, yeah, I think I applied that pattern, and this is how I did it." For them to contribute. Because at the bottom of every issue and pattern we have a section for people to put their experiences.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, nice.

Dorothy Graham: And we have a few of those, and we'd like to get more.

Jennifer Bonine: That's a great idea. So for all of you watching out there, you can obviously go there now, at for test automation patterns, so if you guys are seeing some of the same things, a feedback mechanism where they can actually give you their feedback ...

Dorothy Graham: That would be great. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, and have an ability to contribute to the community, so to speak.

Dorothy Graham: Absolutely, yeah. And it's sort of an asset for the automation community to use.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that's great.

Dorothy Graham: We've had really good feedback from people saying they found it really useful. The best feedback we ever had was somebody gave a presentation at another conference and it was about patterns, and Seretta and I were both there and we thought, "We better go and attend this." And they had in fact been using our patterns. We had no idea. And they came up with one of their own, which is now added in.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, nice.

Dorothy Graham: It's called Verify, Act, Verify from the Raydex team.

Jennifer Bonine: That's amazing. It must be fun.

Dorothy Graham: So that's fabulous.

Jennifer Bonine: It's fun to see, right?

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, it is.

Jennifer Bonine: You create something and you see people actually using it and getting value out of it. That's great, that's what you want.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah. It is great.

Jennifer Bonine: So hopefully all of you out there are Googling that and looking for it right now and going out and taking a look at that site. So obviously the patterns is a key, and lots of interest, I'm sure, in automation just in general.

Dorothy Graham: Yeah, there's a lot of interest in automation, still. I mean, ten years ago I thought by this point everyone would be automating, but in fact the other tutorial I gave was about getting started in automation. Although not everybody there had not done any automation, most of them had done less than two years, but either they were getting started, they were trying to get restarted, they were wondering if they were going in the right direction. There's still a lot of people who have more to learn about automation.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, that aren't as far as you would think they would be. You know, for folks out there that say, "We really haven't done much and I know we need to do it. I just, I'm struggling, it's overwhelming sometimes," right?

Dorothy Graham: That's right.

Jennifer Bonine: So things sometimes seem overwhelming, of where do we start, or how do I start, or what should I do? And they get stuck because it seems so big to bite off. Any advice for what people can do if it's seeming overwhelming or too big or where do I start? Because obviously they didn't get to see it, so is there any CliffsNotes they can get?

Dorothy Graham: Well, I can recommend a couple of books.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect.

Dorothy Graham: Which I've written, coauthored, both with Mark Fewster, on automation. One is called Software Test Automation, which was published about fifteen years ago.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, wow.

Dorothy Graham: The first part of the book is about how to do automation well, and the second part is case studies, and when we came to update the book a few years ago, we decided to start with the case studies, and that developed into a book on its own, which was Experiences of Test Automation.

Jennifer Bonine: Experiences of Test Automation.

Dorothy Graham: Which I've already mentioned was the start of the wiki.

Jennifer Bonine: Which was the start of the patterns, right? So it all grows and ties into one another.

Dorothy Graham: And that book is all people's experiences. They're all real stories. Lots of different types of tools, lots of different industries represented. Most of them successes, but not all.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, anything you're seeing in terms of trends around—obviously you deal with automation in general—around package solutions and tools versus open source or any things in that space?

Dorothy Graham: It's interesting, because the open source tools are certainly a lot more prevalent now than they used to be, but I think they're still a bit distrusted, especially by large organizations who want them ... I suppose the comfort level of having a company that they can go to with support and things like that. So, some people are saying that the commercial tools are gonna disappear, but there again, people have made predictions like that before.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, right.

Dorothy Graham: I'll believe it when I see it.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, yep.

Dorothy Graham: But certainly open source tools are a lot more prevalent, and if you're only starting in automation, that's a very good way to start.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Is just to experiment by using a few open source tools and see what you really need, see what you want, see what works for you, even if you're planning to go for a commercial tool.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. Lower barrier to entry when you can just take a tool and try it and don't have to have the expense.

Dorothy Graham: That's right. And experiment with it.

Jennifer Bonine: And do the experimenting and see what works for you. And that's another thing, too. So are you seeing lots of different ways to do this, right? So lots of tools out there, packaged, commercial tools versus open source, but not one-size-fits-all, lots of different methods for how to go about that?

Dorothy Graham: That's right. Yeah. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "What's the best tool?" I'd probably be able to afford a car.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: It's not like that, it's like saying, "What's the best car?"

Jennifer Bonine: Right. It depends. What do you want?

Dorothy Graham: If you want a sporty car, you might like a Ferrari, or if you're a classic car buff like my son-in-law, you might like an old Model T Ford, but if you've got four children and three dogs, neither of those is gonna be a very good solution.

Jennifer Bonine: Nope, not a good solution.

Dorothy Graham: So you might want a van. And that's the same with the tools. It's not one-size-fits-all.

Jennifer Bonine: No.

Dorothy Graham: The other thing is, it's very important when you're doing automation to know why you're doing it.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: "It's fashionable" is not a good reason. Or "everybody's doing it" is not a good reason. It needs to be something that's gonna bring value to your organization, so you need to understand, why do we want to automate and what do we want to automate and what benefits can we get out of it? And how can we tell?

Jennifer Bonine: Yep, no, and that makes sense. You know, for folks out there who say, "Well, we're trying to evaluate the tools or trying to figure out what one fits us," right, so, kind of like when you're purchasing a car, what's important to you, what do you need to have? What are you trying to achieve? What's the goal? Any places to go to help them with evaluating objectively the different options that are out there to understand what's the right one for me?

Dorothy Graham: There's a lot of information on the web, and also in our first book we have sort of checklists for what to look for when you're buying a tool and things like that.

Jennifer Bonine: So maybe check that out?

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And then see what people have out there. That's the beautiful thing now. I was saying this earlier, is it's funny, when I was in school and at the university, I had to go to a library and I had to find a book and then I had to check it out. And some of those books would be years old, but now, people just Google everything, right? So everything's instantaneously updated. You have access to much more information, so knowing how to do your homework, find the research, but the bigger problem is, when you find it, is it true? Right?

Dorothy Graham: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Is the information factual, or is it fictional information, right? There isn't that validation process of not everything you read is true, kind of a thing. Right?

Dorothy Graham: Well, that's it. We almost have too much information now.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Dorothy Graham: Because you cannot read all of the blogs. You cannot read all of the articles. So being selective and going to trusted sources.

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. So selective, trusted sources. Those are things probably you'd recommend, then, in terms of as you're looking to do the research and the homework.

Dorothy Graham: Shall I put in a plug for the TechWell articles? They're articles.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes. The TechWell articles are a trusted source. They've been vetted. So all of you that don't know, that haven't gone out there, the TechWell website has a wealth of information. Lots of the speakers you're seeing here and that we're talking to also do articles, blogs, information that's out there that you can get from them. So a good place to start, probably. And then obviously some of the books that Dot wrote. There's a couple of those that you should probably check out as well.

If anyone wants to get more information or has questions, because we're already out of time, where can they find you?

Dorothy Graham: I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter. Probably the best would be to email me at [email protected]

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. That sounds good. Now you know how to find her.

Thank you, Dot, for being with us. I appreciate it today.

Dorothy Graham: Thank you very much.

Jennifer Bonine: And go check out some of those sources. And we'll be back in just a minute with another interview.

Dot GrahamIn software testing for more than forty years, Dorothy Graham is coauthor of four books—Software Inspection, Software Test Automation, Foundations of Software Testing, and Experiences of Test Automation—and is currently working with Seretta Gamba on a test automation patterns wiki. A popular and entertaining speaker at conferences and seminars worldwide, Dot has attended STAR conferences since the first one in 1992. She was a founding member of the ISEB Software Testing Board and a member of the working party that developed the ISTQB Foundation Syllabus. Dot was awarded the European Excellence Award in Software Testing in 1999 and the first ISTQB Excellence Award in 2012. Learn more about Dot at

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