September 9, 2015

Should You Have a Dedicated Automation Team Within Your QA Department?

To stay in touch with what is happening all around the software testing community, my weekly diet consists of many a blog. None helps me more than Sauce Labs and their Official Sauce Labs blog. Sauce Labs was founded by the creator of the first version of Selenium, before it was Selenium WebDriver. Besides being a great tool to use, so that you don't have to manage yourself all the browsers, platforms, and environments Selenium Grid can offer when automated tests are performing browser testing, Sauce Labs also sponsors the open source product, Appium, used for mobile testing.


On "The Official Sauce Labs Blog" they have a new entry: 

Should You Have a Dedicated Automation Team Within Your QA Department?September 1st, 2015 by Israel Felix 
If you’ve led or managed QA teams that have included an automation test team, you’ve probably been in a situation where you had to decide whether you should keep them on board. Normally the decision needs to be made when there is a change in leadership, wherein the new management comes with a mandate to consolidate groups and reduce costs. This situation also tends to arise when working with startups or small companies when they are ready to put together or augment their QA teams. So should you have a dedicated automation team? 
Typically, there are two camps with regards to dedicated automation teams. There are those who believe that we should have dedicated automation teams, and those who believe that QA engineers should handle manual testing and automation testing. From my experience working in QA within both small and large companies, I almost always prefer to have a dedicated automation team. However, there are a few scenarios where having a QA team that takes on both roles might make sense. 
Time to Market 
For automation to be done right, it needs to be a full-time job. From developing the framework and creating the libraries and scripts for different platforms to executing and debugging failures — it will all simply consume too much of an engineer’s time and compromise the actual testing and release date. As you already know, time to market and keeping a release on schedule is top priority, so testing needs to get done, no matter what. 
If you don’t have a dedicated automation team, automation will most likely suffer as a result of engineers being consumed with manual testing, and reporting and duplicating bugs for Development to fix. If we ask engineers to prioritize automation, manual testing could suffer as a result of engineers spending too much time with automation-related tasks; therefore, they are unable to complete testing on time.
At my workplace, we have two Software Quality Assurance Teams: Manual QA and Automation. Both teams are quite new here in Boston -- The Boston office only has been around for two years. The QA department in Boston consisted of a few automation engineers writing automated tests to cover the basics of placing an order, and writing the initial testing libraries that wrapped logging error handling functionality around the basic Selenium WebDriver commands. When I joined my company back in March 2015, the Manual QA department was just being started. I helped out with manual testing as I was ramping up to speed in automation. When I switched over to doing automated testing full-time in June, that department was just being started. From experience, let me tell you, when you are performing manual testing at the same time as you are attempting to develop automation scripts, something always suffers.

When you are a manual QA Engineer responsible with testing all the new functionality that is being developed, basing your test plans and test cases on brief sketches of software requirements that seem to evolve minute-by-minute, you don't really have time to sit back and mull over the best way to automate the new functionality before it even has been developed... Especially when you are still in the process of building out your testing framework, and trying to get up to speed and familiarize yourself with all the previous automated tests, match what you develop with the existing coding styles, learn Java programming on the job, etc. etc.

To answer the question raised in the blog, "Should You Have a Dedicated Automation Team Within Your QA Department?" I would say, absolutely yes!

If you are a manual tester, you need to match your pace with the developers in the (normally) two week software development sprint. You are writing quick test plans when developers are developing their code. You are reviewing testplans when they are reviewing their code. You are testing their code as soon as it is pushed from their development environment to your testing environment. It takes a lot of focus to keep up with the possibility of changing requirements or daily releases to production each day. Focusing on anything but that may reduce the quality of the work you are doing.

As an automated tester, I find that my experience helping out with the manual testing back then has seriously helped me in my automation efforts now. When writing automated tests for using promotional codes with our eCommerce application now, it has helped that I was the manual tester for that functionality  when it was being built months ago. In spite of the great background I acquired, swapping back and forth between being a manual tester and an automated tester almost killed me! I could be considered a junior developer, still getting up to speed in coding professionally. It takes a lot of time and effort to ramp up.

I am glad for the manual testing experience I acquired in my first three months at work, but now that I am writing automated tests for the first time and am helping contribute to the testing framework, manual testing is thankfully no longer my focus. During the day, I mimic other automated tests that others have written, modifying them to fit my needs. During my evenings and weekends, I research Java and the Selenium documentation, figuring out why the automated tests work the way they do. If I still wore a manual testing hat, either the automation would suffer, the manual testing would suffer, or both would suffer.

-T.J. Maher
 Sr. QA Engineer, Fitbit
 // Manual tester, 15 years
 // Automated tester for [ 6 ] months and counting

Please note: 'Adventures in Automation' is a personal blog about automated testing. It is not an official blog of Fitbit.com

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