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Automation is validation

Posted by Mike Longin on October 28, 2009

At a presentation I did earlier this week one of my coworkers made the comment

Automation is for validation, testing requires hands, eyes, and a brain

I have heard similar comments before but I thought that this was worth repeating.  When you create and run automation, you are validating against what you already know.  The script (whether its above or below the UI) was based on some known state and values.  For the most part the automation can only tell you when something expected did NOT happen.  The majority of scripts will not tell you when something unexpected did happen.

For example if I have a login page that takes a user name and password.   When I fill in the user name and password, and press a button I log in.  Now if someone were to add an additional step to my login process, any automation I have would obviously catch that.  However if someone added something that did NOT affect login to the login page then most likely my scripts would NOT catch that.  These things could include changes to the UI, popups, new text, or possibly something more malignant.

This is where the basic difference between automation and testing come from.  When you test you not only are working with base data and expected results, but you have the ability to comprehend the unexpected. What extensive automation really does is allow testers more time to look into the unexplored areas of the system.  More time can be spent on exploratory testing since your regression suite is handling all of the expected tests and scenarios.  By spending more time doing this you are liable to find all of those edge case scenarios that your customers are guaranteed to find.

So in sum it all up, automation is a hugely important part of the development process, but to help identify that what is working hasn’t broke not to “test”. When it comes to testing, it takes someone (or maybe one day something) that can identify the unexpected and can appropriately identify what to do about it.


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