Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thoughts around test automation framework

Today, I like to mention my thoughts around test automation.

Test automation is something that I'm passionate about. I like to continue to learn and make myself better at designing, implementing, and maintaining test automation. Throughout my career, I've seen good successful test automation, and yes, I've seen some bad ones as well. And yes, I've made lots of mistakes and bad decisions. I also have some success stories. Here are some things I consider worth noted.

Goal of test automation is value added to the project team not test automation itself. At the beginning of my career as an SDET, I was very passionate about writing a good automation framework. I read many books about coding.  And I watched lots of YouTube videos about coding practices and design. I was just crazy about being good at writing code. I was obsessed with design patterns. I felt like I knew what a good test automation should be. I challenged senior SDETs on existing automation framework and loved to have serious design discussion with test architects at the company.

As I experience more and more, I started to realized that it's not just about writing well designed, maintainable, scalable and beautiful code. It's actually about understanding the role of test automation in a project or a company and provide maximum value out of it. I started to consider various things when I design test automation framework, such as project timeline, short term and long term solution, coding skills of other SDETs, area of focus, what dev team needs, context of the application or system, testability, lab test infrastructure and etc. Sometimes I had to come up with automation in a couple weeks from scratch with coverage of priority 1 test cases. Sometimes I had to modify existing test automation framework to make it easy for inexperienced SDETs or even for manual testers to use. Those work indeed were the right choices for that given situations. It's possible to write easy to use automation framework. It's possible to build test automation starting with short term solution and transform it into long term solution without major design change. The true masters of test automation understand how to write well designed, maintainable, and scalable code. But that's just a foundation. Their adaptability and execution can bring maximum value to the company in any given situation.

Now, I'm getting some feedback on my test automation framework from other SDETs. "Jae-Jin, I believe we should never use hard-coded value in out automation" or "Jae-Jin, why you don't refactor those repeating code?" "We should use XML for all inputs" Well, I can imagine how those Sr. SDETs felt when I challenge them. My response is "well, let's discuss about that..." Fun.. Fun.. Fun

Don’t forget “Framework” part of test automation framework. So what is framework? To me, framework is an agreement. The agreement on a certain development way or convention the team will use to implement the software. Of course, this agreement is mostly introduced by architects or more experienced engineers. Then what are the benefits of having framework? Obviously, the engineers can be on the same page when it comes to implement the feature. It helps communications among engineers like in code review. And It’s hard for a new comers to make mistakes since the framework defines what code goes to where. The most important outcome of using framework to me is “as more and more feature(for dev) or test cases (for test) comes in, the volume of the code will increase, but the complexity of the code will remain the same.” This is the beauty of using framework.

A good example of development framework would be MVC framework. When a developers create a new feature, they will follow the MVC framework and put codes in the right place. Model for data representation. View for presentation layer. And Controller for orchestration and actual business logic. So when you design test automation framework, you should have some sort of agreement that everyone understands. If you don’t have “framework” nature in your test automation, you might not have test automation framework. You just have test scripts.  Take a look at your test automation. Is it a true framework?

Writing test automation framework requires discipline. Why? It's a bit different from writing production code. Just simply think about it. For production code, there are whole dedicated testers and test teams testing that code. But there is no other test team to test test automation framework code. We're writing code to test other code, which means test automation should be more correct and right. How can we achieve this without someone testing test automation code? Actually this is a big challenge for SDETs out there.

OK then what's the advantage? Generally speaking test automation code does not have as high expectations as production code in performance,  algorithmic efficiency (big O) and memory utilization. Test automation does not always required to handle exceptions or errors gracefully. And normally the test case codes are specific intent and specific expected outcome, and sometimes test execution code can ignore things that are not in scope of that particular test case. So we need to be able to utilize these facts when we're writing test automation framework.

Here are my disciplines. I discipline myself not to be fancy with my test automation code. I know I passed all those crazy interview questions to join the company. I know I am capable of writing complicated code with very efficient algorithm. But when I write test automation code, I discipline myself not to be fancy and go simple. For example, let's say I can implement n-square solution and n-log-n solution for a given problem. If n-square solution is more straightforward to implement and easy to understand, I will go for n-square solution. Yes, this is really hard for me too. But it is important that I write less error prone code.

I discipline myself to minimize the usage of conditionals (if, switch statements). Again, it is to reduce complexity of the code. I've seen crazy test automation method that takes 7-8 boolean, enum, objects as parameters. Oh.. man.. the complexity of that code had gone worse and worse. I rather have two separate method than have one method with boolean parameters. It looks fine at the beginning. But as time goes by, boolean parameters becomes enum parameters. One parameter become 2-3 additional parameters. There are some cases where it is necessary. But most of case, I rather choose redundancy over complexity. And if you try to write code without conditionals, it becomes more object oriented programming.

I discipline myself to be open-minded. I let test cases drives automation structure not my preference. I discipline myself not to be obsessed with my own design. When new test cases comes in and it does not fit in current automation design, I will not force the test cases to fit in current automation. I will change the automation structure to fit in new test cases. In other words, I will not let complexity of code grow because of new test cases. I will change the automation structure or design to keep the complexity about the same level.

Well, I'm getting sleepy.. happy testing!  


Musaffir Lp said...

Enjoyed reading the article :)
Thanks for sharing

Unknown said...

Nice article

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