There's no doubt that software is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and more versatile by the day. Consumers now expect top-notch performance, an intuitive user experience and cross-platform functionality. In order to deliver these attributes, developers, designers, testers and stakeholders have significantly adjusted their internal workflows so that they're leaner and more agile. When it comes to QA management in particular, test automation has proven itself to be an extraordinarily efficient tool for executing repeatable test cases such as regression tests.
Not surprisingly, the effectiveness of automated testing has raised some questions about the role of manual testers. For example, wouldn't it save more time and money if everything was automated?
The answer to this question is a resounding no. it's important to realize that manual testing isn't going anywhere. As technology becomes more innovative, a case could even be made that their role will be more important than ever. Consider the example of virtual reality. In the coming years, haptics, three-dimensional displays and a variety of other cutting-edge technology will slowly become integral components of developers' workflows. User experience will be critically important to the success of these technologies, and as such, manual testing will continue to play a central role.
Nevertheless, test automation will play an increasingly important role as the years go on. The most immediate question testers should consider, then, is this: How can we help with test automation?
Be willing to collaborate with automation experts
In today's project development environments, roles are notably less rigid than they ever have been. Developers, testers, designers and stakeholders typically work collaboratively and transparently, which eliminates finger-pointing and creates a shared accountability model.
Zoom in further, and the same can be said for the relationship between different testing experts. Ideally, a chasm should not exist between manual testers and automation experts. In fact, in many modern organizations, even the actual developers may do some of their own testing as they build. Furthermore, it's worth nothing that any test case that is automated must first be run manually. To make this process go as smoothly as possible, it's important that manual testers collaborate with automation testers.
A word of caution, however: According to a post that appeared in Lazery Reflections, it's important to "let manual testers be manual testers." This does not mean giving them an entirely siloed function, or excluding them from automation – that would defeat the purpose of agile project management. Rather, it means acknowledging the need for manual testers and sympathizing with the intricacies involved. At the end of the day, it's a QA tester's knowledge of exploratory testing and user experience testing that will make him or her so vital to an organization. These professionals should never feel over-burdened with automation tasks, much in the same way that they should not be removed from automation efforts entirely. It's about finding a middle ground.
Provide input to current processes
To that end, it's important for manual testers to be actively participating in discussions about what test cases can and should be automated. At the front lines of QA, manual testers often have a good sense for what test cases are generally repeated often. It's important that manual testers step in and inquire if these test cases can be automated. This is a great way for manual testers to get their feet wet in understanding the process in broad strokes. More importantly, it helps to ensure that the entire QA team stays involved in automation efforts.
Again, there will always be a need for manual testing, so the importance of these professionals should never be undermined. However, the more manual testers know about test automation, the easier their jobs will become. This is particularly true for organizations that might not have dedicated automated engineer. It's not unusual for a single automation expert to serve multiple teams at a time. This can result in a knowledge gap in that engineer's absence. Manual testers who have a decent grasp on automation will be able to continue functioning, and may be able to remediate problems as they arise without the help of the automation engineer. In years to come, having a knowledge base in both automated and manual testing will be central to agile test management.
Listen and learn
According to TechBeacon contributor Yvette Francino, the more test automation knowledge that any person working on an agile team has, the better. This is especially true for testers.
"Yes, exploratory testing is important, and testers have certain skills that many developers do not, but the fact remains that automation testing continues to rise," Francino wrote. "Testers can't afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the modern-day tools and techniques that are being used in development shops for test automation. This doesn't mean they're being asked to become data entry clerks or programmers, but it does require testers, like any other technology professionals, to be open to learning new skills and willing to grow and change with the times."
While it's true that the need for manual testers will never go away, it's also true that these QA professionals should start doing what they can now to help out in the automation process.