Monday, August 30, 2010

Alchemy, Not Magic

I once had a conversation with a tester that went something like this -

"We need the automation to be able to recover from errors. I don't know what those errors will be, or what steps will need to be performed to address those errors, but the upshot is that the automation needs to get the AUT back into a good state before continuing."

I explained that in order to build this kind of logic, at least some knowledge was needed of what constituted an error, and how the error was to be addressed. They rather heatedly told me that if the automation couldn't "just know" that it was not going to be helpful.

Here's the thing. We need to set reasonable expectations for test automation. Automation can make testing easier, and can speed up tedious processes. However, automation is not some magical, omniscient force that can interpolate how your application works and how to best recover from problems. If it could, we wouldn't need testers or developers - all our software would write and test itself. Anyone who tells you that automated tests will just magically resolve themselves with no direction on your part (they might be cute and use the word "automagically" - watch out for those people) is someone who's selling something, or is clueless.

Automation is a tool. It's not magic. It's not smarter than you are. It's only as smart as you make it, and it can only do what you tell it. Your automation can never, and will never "just know" how to test your application. The computer is a stupid box. It's just fast. If you don't tell it what to do, it will do nothing, although it will do nothing very quickly.

In short, automation is not magic, it's more like alchemy. It can be complicated at times, but the end result of making the testing process smoother/easier/faster is akin to turning lead into gold.

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