what is test automation?
September 16, 2019

What Is Test Automation?

Continuous Testing

Agile and DevOps are the new models for modern software engineering. These continuous delivery models have shuttled the industry through tremendous changes in the way code is being developed, tested, and used by businesses and consumers.

This is especially true when it comes to testing. New software releases are being delivered faster and more regularly than ever. It’s become crucial for companies with any level of digital footprint to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their testing to keep up with their competitors. Almost every organization today offers some type of software — whether it’s a mobile banking app or an online flight check-in tool.

That’s why testing at every stage of the delivery pipeline — known as continuous testing — has become an integral part of the way today’s software companies operate. Testing code only at the end of a development cycle simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

To improve testing efficiency and accuracy (and to stay competitive in a flooded SaaS and app market), many DevOps companies are turning to test automation.

Test Automation Explained

Software testing involves many steps and major coordination efforts by business analysts, project managers, developers, and testers.

From manually developing test scripts to stabilizing every environment, there is a heavy load of communication and organization required. Traditional, manual testing is time intensive, requires multiple human resources, and in many cases is limited, due to skill limitations and the error-prone nature of human-led test execution.

As a result, test automation was developed to meet the need of overworked and stretched-thin development and testing teams.

What Is Test Automation?

Test automation is a method in software testing that makes use of special software tools to control the execution of tests and then compares actual test results with predicted or expected results.

Test automation, when executed well, relieves much of the manual requirements of the testing life cycle. And while today it is the preferred testing method, organizations face barriers when trying to implement automation.

The creation of automation scripts is a significant barrier. Businesses struggle to step from basic automation to enterprise-level automation. Testing environments must be stable and reliable enough to support automated testing at scale. Because test automation executes tests faster and more often, teams must also have tools to manage the significant volume of data that is created.

Scaled test automation simplifies the entire testing process — from developing and organizing test scripts and environments to tracking and sharing results across teams. More than just tracking tests, however, most automation test tools actually help with important tasks like creating test data and setting up test environments.

The End of Manual Testing?

Now let's examine automated testing vs. manual testing. Does test automation mean the end of manual testing? Not at all. Test automation will never replace the power of human eyes to locate and fix bugs in software.

Rather than replacing human intuition and problem solving, test automation is about automating the right tests. By giving developers and testers back valuable time, they can focus on more important tasks like creating new features, solving tricky bugs, and delivering higher-quality software.

Certain types of testing — especially for usability (e.g. font size, color, navigation) and exploratory testing — absolutely require a discerning human to make sure the user experience is super smooth. Because let’s be real — even if your software tests perfectly on paper, it’s no use to anyone if it’s a nightmare to navigate.

Choosing Which Tests to Automate

The truth is that many tests can safely be automated. Think of all those common, highly repeatable tests that make even the savviest testers out there want to gouge their eyes out by the end of the day.

Most unit, integration, and performance testing can easily be automated — developers and testers only need to intervene when the results don’t match up to expectations.

Tests that are a perfect fit for automation share a few basic characteristics:

High Volume and Repeatability

It’s a waste to create an automated test script that only needs to be run once. Test automation is designed for running time-consuming test scripts that need to be repeated over and over again. Testing different OS/browser combinations or high-volume batch testing overnight are solid automation choices.

Determinant Outcomes

Test automation works best when tests are both repeatable and have determinant outcomes. That is, the results should have fairly predictable outcomes that a test script is 100% capable of catching. Stress and load tests fit nicely into this category.

Business-Critical Tests

For tests that can cause an interruption in service and potentially damage one’s business, test automation can help ensure new features don’t break existing ones. Smoke tests, sanity tests, and regression tests are good candidates for automation — especially when they need to be tested across every version and release of an application.

Remember, test automation is more than just automating tests. It can also be used for automating tasks like setting up test data and environments. Some test automation tools out there can even build test scripts before code is written — simply by defining the desired functionality first.

How Test Automation Software Works

No matter what test automation tool you’re using, the same basic process applies:

1. Preparing the Test Environment

Establishing a base state for the test environment is the first step. This typically involves creating realistic test data and setting up one or more environments. During testing, data will be manipulated and/or the system will be put into a specific state. Afterward, there has to be a base state the system can return to.

2. Running the Test Script

Tests run according to specifications set out in the test script. Automated testing software manages and tracks every test across all environments. Test automation tools run tests accurately and tirelessly — day or night — without any risk of error caused by human fatigue.

3. Analyzing the Results

Once the testing software has finished sniffing out every bug, results are highlighted as either a pass or a fail. If there was any problem during the test (or the results were inconclusive), developers can review a complete log to find the problem in the test script and/or manually rerun the scenario.

The Three Personas in Test Automation

In DevOps and testing there are three personas to be familiar with. Depending on the persona, there will be different technology and methods required. The skills that vary between each persona require creation of test automation in multiple methods like low/no-code, codeless, BDD, and code-based.

1. Business Tester

A business tester is a stakeholder from the business team. Almost always this type of tester has less technical skill and the testing they implement is manual and exploratory. Business testers are valuable because of the human and contextual knowledge they bring. The business stakeholder is often responsible for codeless testing.

2. SDET (Software Developer in Testing)

A software developer in testing has significant code knowledge and experience in testing. They can create functional and nonfunctional code-based test automation scripts with tools like Selenium and Appium, among others. The SDET is always accountable for the code-based testing.

3. Software Developer

The software developer tester creates unit and build acceptance tests. Software developers also operate in code-based testing. They also work in UI and UX tests, which are manual.

Not All Test Automation is Equal

It is important to note that not all test automation software is created equal. The above process outlines the best practices and best-case scenarios for test automation.

However, some automation software vendors do not offer test reporting features. Other solutions don’t have robust test script creation tools. When selecting your test automation solution, be clear about the essential features required for optimal test automation. Otherwise, you could put yourself at risk for a number of testing challenges.

Furthermore, some apps are more complicated to test than other. Mobile apps can be more or less complicated than web applications. Industries like healthcare and automotive often have specific and regulated requirements, which creates complicated test conditions.

For success, the automation solution must match both the application and industry.

Benefits of Test Automation

It's true that there are some challenges in automation testing, but there are many benefits as well. Test automation is an essential part and an enabler to Agile and DevOps processes, and it conforms to Test-Driven Development (TDD) and behavior-driven development (BDD) models to ensure that code is tested well before it’s handed to the testing team. Here are a few other major benefits of adopting test automation tools:

1. Reduced Testing Fatigue

Test automation limits the potential for human error — especially for those mind-numbing tests that have to be repeated over and over again.

2. Faster Bug Discovery

Test automation gives developers the chance to see problems while code is being written, not just at the end. Coding this way helps eliminate duplicate code and keeps code simpler, cleaner, and easier to scale. Test automation allows shifting more testing into the build cycle and early in the development phases to uncover defects as early as possible.

3. Improved Risk Mitigation

If an automated test fails, code can be fixed immediately — well before it makes its way to production. This not only keeps costs down, but it helps DevOps managers make better decisions before releasing software updates.

4. More Efficient Software and App Testing

Test automation allows testing on multiple platforms in parallel. This is especially beneficial for batch testing at night or other types of time-intensive, high-volume testing.

5. Better Manual Testing

As we’ve already mentioned, test automation gives real-live humans more time to test parts of software that machines can’t.

Highly-targeted manually testing brings critical, human intuition to the table. Manual testing is done only where it’s needed — such as ad hoc/exploratory testing, visual and UI testing, and reviewing test results.

A More Automated Future

Test automation is a perfect solution for common, repetitive, and high-volume testing. Coordinating and managing testing are now becoming much easier thanks to automation testing tools that can track and share testing results from a single, centralized location.

Test automation also leads to much more thorough test coverage because more testing can be accomplished. While there is definitely manual work still involved in testing, test automation aims to improve the accuracy and coverage of testing for vendors competing in an increasingly fast-paced software market.

Perfecto’s automation solution offers accessibility, non-functional performance testing, usability, and unit testing which are the key features that build a high-coverage test suite.

To learn more about how Perfecto can simplify and improve testing at every stage of the development cycle, start your free trial today.

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