As a test automation consultant and technical trainer, I’ve assisted numerous testers in taking their first or next steps in test automation. Many testers have progressed from test automation newbies to seasoned veterans. But I’ve also witnessed a lot of them suffer.

Here are some of the fundamental reasons for these difficulties, as well as my recommendations for how to overcome them in order to master test automation.

Test automation absolutely requires software development skills

Test automation, as the cliche goes, is software development. Developing test automation solutions that are dependable, maintainable, and scalable necessitates solid software development skills, which implies test automation engineers should have a thorough understanding of how to build software.

This doesn’t just mean knowing how to create code in a language like Java, C#, or Python; it also means knowing how to use software development paradigms like SOLID and the four pillars of object-oriented software development (encapsulation, inheritance, polymorphism, and abstraction).

The issue is that understanding these ideas, being able to use them, and knowing when and when not to apply them takes time. Also, don’t be deceived by low-code tool sellers’ promises that their product doesn’t require you to be a developer to utilize. Typically, these tools are little more than an abstraction layer over the code.

While I have no objections to this type of tool (there are some excellent ones), it does not excuse you from following basic software development principles and practices. At your peril, disregard this counsel. You’ll ultimately paint yourself into a hole, dealing with a mound of difficult-to-maintain low-code automation.

My advice: If you want to improve your test automation skills, learn the principles of (object-oriented) software development. This will help you create better test automation solutions. Here are some useful resources to get you started:

  • Harvard University’s Introduction to Computer Science (CS50).
  • Angie Jones’ article “Applying Object-Oriented Programming Principles to Test Automation Design”
  • Sam Millington’s excellent guide on SOLID principles

Experience with just one tool, library, or language is not enough

There’s still work to be done once you’ve mastered your tool or language. You can’t be a flexible test automation engineer if you just know how to use one tool, library, or programming language, just like a carpenter can’t build a table with just a hammer. To determine which of these tools (or which mix of them) is the greatest choice for solving a specific problem, you’ll need to be familiar with a number of them.

This expertise isn’t limited to test automation software. You’ll probably need to know a little bit about the tools that allow your tests to run and be utilized often and efficiently in order for them to do so.

My advice: While learning how to use a single tool effectively is a good start (this involves knowing how to use good programming techniques) have a thorough understanding of at least one tool from each of the following categories:

  • Unit testing frameworks (JUnit or TestNG for Java, NUnit or MSTest for C#, pytest or unit test for Python, etc.)
  • API testing libraries (REST Assured for Java, RestSharp for C#, requests for Python, etc.)
  • UI testing libraries (Selenium, Cypress, Playwright, WebDriverIO, etc.)
  • Mocking libraries for unit testing (Mockito for Java, Moq for C#, mock for Python, etc.)
  • Mocking libraries for integration testing (WireMock, Hoverfly, etc.)
  • Version-control systems (Git is your best bet)
  • CI orchestrators (Jenkins, GitLab, Azure, DevOps, etc.)

That’s a large list, but the fact is that test automation success does not happen immediately. My greatest suggestion is to study not just about the instrument itself, but also about the ideas that underpin it (What does it do?). What is the mechanism behind it? What does it have to do with test automation in general?), since it makes learning a new tool (or even a comparable tool in a new programming language) a lot simpler.

You’ll get there eventually if you take modest steps. Even a thousand-mile trip begins with a single step.

Learning material often covers only the basics

There is lots of documentation available to assist you to get started with test automation, or whenever you wish to pick up a new tool or language. It makes no difference whether you want to study through videos, tutorials, blog articles, or books, or by attending a live training course. There will almost certainly be something that will assist you in taking your initial steps.

However, much of the content only covers the essentials, and real-life circumstances rarely resemble those described in articles or training courses. Content creators and trainers frequently do this on purpose; they want to teach an idea or principle, and doing so is much simpler when the example, exercise, or business case is short. When it comes to putting what you’ve learned into practice, you might find it difficult to see the forest for the trees. On a daily basis, the project or test automation suite you’ll be working with is likely to be significantly larger than what you’ve been working with during your learning process.

My advice: is to make a tiny problem out of a big one. Break the challenge down into little steps and finish them one at a time. Before moving on to the next stage, be sure you’ve completed the previous one successfully. Don’t be reluctant to seek assistance or a review from more experienced colleagues, and make an effort to comprehend not just how something is done when you finish a step, but also how that step contributes to the entire solution. Nobody expects you to know everything right away.

You could find it difficult to acquire your more senior colleagues’ time and attention. Senior automation engineers, as well as developers (don’t forget that they may frequently aid you), are hard to come by and usually have a lot on their plates. If you find it difficult to schedule time with them, don’t try to accomplish everything on your own for too long. Working together (pairing or mob programming) is a far more efficient approach to doing tasks and exchanging information and expertise.

Finally, a senior engineer’s most essential responsibility is to assist others in reaching their level.

Two steps to smoothing your transition

For many testers, becoming an experienced test automation engineer may be a lengthy and winding journey. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a test automation veteran if you follow the advice I’ve given above—focusing on patterns and principles rather than tools and tactics, and breaking down huge challenges into smaller, more manageable ones.

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