Part I: Is Quality Assurance Automation really a “silver bullet”? Who thinks so?

First Installment of “The Myth of 100% QA Automation” Series

Automation

The phrase “QA Automation” evokes many different thoughts from Performance and Load, to Regression and API testing, but what exactly is Quality Assurance Automation? Wikipedia defines it as, “the use of special software to control the execution of tests and the comparison of actual outcomes with expected outcomes. Test automation can automate some repetitive but necessary tasks in a formalized testing process already in place, or perform additional testing that would be difficult to do manually.”

What does the online community say about the state of Quality Assurance?

Either as a cost-reduction or resource maneuver, automated testing is gaining prevalence and some believe that Manual QA analysts’ days are numbered. Let’s dive into the claims and recent actions taken by area companies and debunk these QA Automation Myths. Looking at the two-year old article entitled “How DevOps is Killing QA” by DevOps.com, they clearly state:

  • “If you work in software quality assurance, it’s time to find a new job.”
  • “Software quality was in the hands of QA — the developers now own the responsibility”.
  • “For QA, the trend definitely does not look good.”

That doesn’t seem too promising. What might a previous Google Engineering Director have to say on the subject? In short, “Test is dead.” Alberto Savoia, presented the opening keynote at Google’s 2011 Test Automation Conference (GTAC). This may be an older example, but it’s still filled with related rhetoric claims:

  • Hiring of testers is down.
    But is it? If we look to Indeed.com, a recent search for Software Quality Assurance positions within the Pittsburgh area yielded results of up to 1,200 open positions.
  • Testers are being commoditized.
    Most of us know that outsourcing of QA talent is usually a short-lived mistake. We should seek to elevate the role of QA by differentiating ourselves through expert-level white box testing.
  • The users will find the bugs.
    Is this really your plan of action? There’s a big difference between software startup mentality and an established business with real risks on the line, like healthcare!

What are we experiencing with our customers?

As a client example, let’s consider a hardware manufacturer based in Robinson Township that provides PC software solutions. Recently, they forced all Manual QA Analysts titles to include the word “automation”. As a SQA Analyst/Engineer, the only available title going forward is SQA Automation Engineer with manual quality assurance being completely eliminated. The impetus is that C-level decision makers want to incorporate continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Despite the decision to move away from manual efforts, no automation progress has been made in over a year.

In a different client scenario, a divisional VP of software development organization that offers data analytics services in Pittsburgh sought to replace Manual QA with Automation. Management wanted 100% upfront automation with no manual testing whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is highly complex software with many different testing paths and analysts had no test case library, no BAs, and poorly-written requirements. The organization was wholly unready to employ any automation with this very immature QA department. Yet, the scariest part about this scenario is that lives were “on the line” with this software as organ transplants could be disrupted by bugs in their programming.

What does this mean for the Manual Quality Assurance Analyst?

You might be asking yourself, why should I (or my organization) care? Well, simply put:

  • Your job could go away and those without programming experience may suffer.
  • You may be involved with the “silver bullet” solution.
  • You may be asked to achieve the unachievable.
  • You may be asked to provide your opinion.
  • You may be a leader who needs to make business decisions with this information.

You’ll need to be prepared for any outcome. As Chelsea Frischknecht (author of The Place of Manual Testing in DevOps) explains, “There have been a number of publications, talks, and threads on social media platforms lately about the possibility that testing is a “dying profession.” Testing is not a dying profession. It’s a fantastic question though because every tester should be prepared to have an answer ready, especially these days.”

In this installment, we’ve established that there is a belief among some in the industry that automation is a panacea. We’ve illustrated examples from those who are making these claims and specifically, what they believe is happening. What is important here, is being educated, so you (or your organization can respond appropriately) to a changing QA environment. In the second part of this series, we’ll debunk the individual claims and discuss their validity.

Do you have questions about the ideal software pipeline for automation? We’d be happy to share examples that we’ve found that work for many companies, just like yours. Contact us today!

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