Thursday, June 23, 2016
Reviewing "Context Driven Approach to Automation in Testing"
I recently had occasion to read the "Context Driven Approach to Automation in Testing". As a professional software tester with extensive experience in test automation at the user interface (both UI and API) for the last decade or more for organizations such as Thoughtworks, Wikipedia, Salesforce, and others, I found it a nostalgic mixture of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), propaganda, ignorance and obfuscation.
It was weirdly nostalgic for me: take away the obfuscatory modern propaganda terminology and it could be an artifact directly out of the test automation landscape circa 1998 when vendors, in the absence of any competition, foisted broken tools like WinRunner and SilkTest on gullible customers, when Open Source was exotic, when the World Wide Web was novel. Times have changed since 1998, but the CDT approach to test automation has not changed with it. I'd like to point out the deficiencies in this document as a warning to people who might be tempted to take it seriously.
The opening paragraph is simply FUD. If we take out the opinionated language
shallow, narrow, and ritualistic
pandemic, rarely examined, and absolutely false
what's left is "Tool use in testing must therefore be mediated by people who understand the complexities of tools and of tests". This is of course trivially true, if not an outright tautology. The authors then proceed to demonstrate how little they know about such complexities.
The sections that follow down to the bits about "Invest in..." are mostly propaganda with some FUD and straw-man arguments about test automation strewn throughout. ("The only reason people consider it interesting to automate testing is that they honestly believe testing requires no skill or judgment" Please, spare me.) If you've worked in test automation for some time (and if you can parse the idiosyncratic language), there is nothing new to read here, this was all answered long ago. Again, much of these ten or so pages for me brought strong echoes of the state of test automation in the late 1990s. If you are new to test automation, consider thinking of this part of the document as an obsolete, historical look into the past. There are better sources for understanding the current state of test automation.
The sections entitled (as of June 2016) "Invest in tools that give you more freedom in more situations" and "Invest in testability" are actually all good basic advice, I can find no fault in any of this. Unfortunately the example shown in the sections that follow ignores every single piece of that advice.
Not only does the example that fills the final part of the paper ignore every bit of advice the authors give, it is as if the authors have chosen a project doomed to fail, from the odd nature of the system they've chosen to automate, to the wildly inappropriate tools they've chosen to automate it with.
Their application to be tested is a lightweight text editor they've gotten as a native Windows executable. Cursory research shows it is an open source project written in C++ and Qt, and the repo on github has no test/ or spec/ directory, so it is likely to be some sort of cowboy code under there. I assume that is why they chose this instead of, say, Microsoft Word or some more well engineered application.
Case #1 and Case #2 describe some primitive mucking around with grep, regular expressions, and configuration. It would have been easier just to read the source on github. If this sort of thing is new to you, you probably haven't been doing this sort of work long, and I would suggest you look elsewhere for lessons.
Case #3 is where things get bizarre. First they try automating the editor with something called "AutoHotKey", which seems to be some sort of ad-hoc collection of Windows API client calls, which according to the AutoHotKey project history is wildly buggy as of late 2013 but has had some maintenance off and on since then. I would not depend on this tool in a production environment.
That fails, so then they try some Ruby libraries. Support for Windows on Ruby is notoriously bad, it's been a sticking point in the Ruby community for years, and any serious Ruby programmer would know that. Ruby is likely the worst possible language choice for a native Windows automation project. If all you have is a hammer...
Then they resort to some proprietary tool from HP. You can guess the result.
Again, assuming someone would want to automate a third-party Windows/Qt app at all, anyone serious about automating a native Windows app would use a native Windows language, C# or VisualBasic.NET, instead of some hack like AutoHotKey. C# and VisualBasic.NET are really the only reasonable choices for such a project.
It is as if this project has been deliberately or naively sabotaged. If this was done deliberately, then it is highly misleading; if naively, then it is simply sad.
Ultimately, this article is mostly FUD, propaganda, and obfuscation. The parts that are not actually wrong or misleading are naive and trivial. Put it like this: if I were considering hiring someone for a testing position, and they submitted this exercise as part of their application, I would not hire them, even for a junior position. I would feel sorry for them.