Give Your Automated Checks a Voice

We have robots doing a lot for us now, well when I say robots, I mean automation, but robots sounded well cooler. We have them running automated checks for us, we have them deploying builds into production, we have them creating test data, spinning up machines and environments, plus much much more. We love tools, and rightly so, they're awesome, most of them.

However, the context for this post is automated checks. There offer us much more than pass and fail, but only if you ask it to tell you. I listed four things that I've used in the past, and how they've helped me.

Execution time

A lot of the projects I use to work several years ago were for digital agencies. Short to midterm projects, three to six months or so. I use to write automated checks as frequently as I could, as in such an environment the fast feedback was invaluable. This environment being regular last minute changes, hot fixes here, some over there. Something I'm not against, but you need to be able to deal with it. The downside of all these changes was some focused testing would always slip, in this case it was always performance testing. It wasn't a skill of mine, it still really isn't, but I know enough to get by now.

So I changed my approach. I started storing the execution time of all my automated checks. Sadly, there was no CI on this project, not that it's an excuse but this was about 6 years ago. So the automation was being ran from my machine whenever a new version was deployed. So after each run, I would add the time to a spreadsheet. I was probably running them twice a day I would say, so I soon collated a decent data set.

My thinking was that, this metric may inform me of spikes in the execution time, which could potentially be a performance issue, or a performance increase that someone may want to know about.

Did it work. It did, in that it found two issues. The first issue was actually related to the product. Some of the SQL statements had been refactored, with the aim of improvement, but sadly the opposite was seen. Now sure, on reflection we should have had other ways to have found this issue put we didn't, and reusing an existing artifact allowed me to find it.

The second issue, was caused by me! :D

I refactored some of my selenium code, and updated the version, and well it didn't go well, the execution time increased by 50%. Turned out I'd written some sloppy code, but also the release had a bug in it, which I was able to find, due to my spreadsheet informing me.

So I'm not telling you that you should do all your performance testing using the build execution time, that would be ridiculous, especially in 2016, but keep your eye on your build time, and specifically each component of the build, it may be waving a big sign at you, requesting you take a closer look. Plus, most of the CI will visually show you this data these days.

Assertions

"Expected true, but was false"
"Expected 6, but was 5"

I'm sure, just like me, you've all seen some similar failed assertions. Stop writing them. All the test frameworks I've used now allow you to pass in a message, use it!

So in the above examples, what was expected to be true? What was expected to be 6? A simple contextual message in the assertion can really speed up the debugging.

"I was expecting the number of users to be 6, but it was 5". A simple String.Format can achieve this.

Now some would argue that the name of the check should provide you some information on what the assertion relates to, sure I've seen that, but at the same time I don't think it does any harm to add a contextual message to the assertion. I know it's personally saved me a lot of time in debugging failed checks.

Tell me all you know

A common practice I see, is getting your Selenium checks to take a screenshot on failure. A nice pattern, the screenshot can be really useful in understanding the problem. But most applications have a lot more to offer you.

Take advantage of the code that the Selenium projects offers you. Hook into the event listeners to write things out to the console. Give the robot a voice. "I clicked button <locator>", I typed "name" in to element <locator>. "I waited for X seconds for <element>". These tell the story of the check, again all this speeds up the debugging process when they fail.

Application specific, does your application have log files? If so, get the failed check to pull those down to a central location, so you can quickly refer to them when debugging, instead of having to go and get them manually. I did such a thing, a nice trick I added was to only get a specific window, I used the time noted at the start of the check to determine this. Saved a lot of time traversing log files.
Also other application specific things may be useful, such as the user you may be logged in as. The version of the application being checked. The environment they were being executed against.

Why does nobody love me?

"I never get an attention, I'm lonely". Alright, I agree that's a weird thing for your automation to tell you, but what I'm getting at is, when was the last time this check was changed or had its value reviewed.

I've done it, I've had checks that lasted the whole duration of my employment before, I never looked at them, they were green, all gravy. Michael Bolton wrote a nice piece on green. However, this doesn't mean this check was returning me any value. With not reading it for so long, I probably couldn't have even told you what it was checking.
So get the automation to tell you. You could put a date stamp on each check, which you could then write a simple script to read over and flag any that are > X days/weeks old. You could use your version control tool to see when the last commit was.

The point being we should only have automated checks that are returning us value, so in my opinion for that to be the case, we should be regularly reviewing them, so we understand their value. This could just be a nice way of letting them help us with this process.

In the context I used this in, I opted for the source control approach in the end, I never ended up deleting any checks, however I did extend some to check more than they originally were. The best thing I got out of doing this though, was the regular review. When discussing risks on the project, all the checks were fresh in my mind, so I was able to mitigate some risks because I knew that we had some coverage from the checks, allowing me to plan my additional testing accordingly.

Conclusion

Think about what else your automated checks could be telling you, think about the data they produce that could be really useful in guiding your testing.

So there we have it, sorry it was a bit long. I hope it was an interesting read.

If you've extended your automation to tell you more than just pass and fail, I would be keen to hear about it. I may write some more examples up in the future, but these were the main four that initially came to mind.

Webinar Follow-up: New Testing Battlefields

I recently had the privilege to take part in a webinar, this webinar was on the topic of ‘New Testing Battlefields’, which in this context of this webinar and post are Mobile and IoT. The Webinar was arranged by Telerik. I was joined by three other testing minds: -

  • Jim Holmes – Jim was our host, but also active in the discussions, being a tester himself and currently doing some interesting work in the automotive industry.
  • Daniel Knott – Daniel is a tester mostly working on Android over at Xing. He is also the author of ‘Hands-On Mobile App Testing’.
  • Iliyan Panchev – Who is an ex tester, and know currently Program Manager for Test Studio at Progress.

I took some notes during the webinar, which I’m simply going to expand on during this post. If you want to watch the webinar before reading the rest, a recording is available over on YouTube.

Interfaces

I spoke a lot during the webinar about how in my opinion, most mobile applications are just interfaces to the main system, that system being the backend, behind all the APIs. This, again IMO, is the product, not the mobile app. In some cases the APIs could be viewed as being the product. But the point I was trying to make is that the best apps I used and worked on, are where the front end is as dumb as possible, keeping the majority if not all the business logic in the backend. As we will talk about later in the post, this also makes testing significantly easier, especially when looking to add some automated checks into your testing approach.
In such a fast moving industry this also allows you to try and stay ahead of the competition and keep up to speed with all the latest trends in UX, as you can redesign the app without having to focus as much on the business logic.

All companies are software companies

The theme at Davos 2016 this year was “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” referring to the advances of ‘economy-changing’ technologies. Unfortunately, I cannot find the post, but I recall hearing an interview with a CEO saying that all companies are now software companies, it appears that it’s software that is giving companies their edge these days. With this in mind, I think we’re at the beginning of this boom, and the interfaces and applications of this technology we are going to be testing if mind boggling. I personally embrace technology, so I can’t wait!

Internet of Shit

I was thinking about this during the webinar, and Daniel had the courage to bring it up, so I’m just adding a link here. If you haven’t seen this Twitter account, it’s brilliant, it’s hilarious, it’s also terrifying!!!

Mobile, it’s personal

We mentioned many user aspects during the webinar, mostly focusing on how a mobile device is personal. Firstly, users configure they devices any which way they like, not such a huge problem on iOS, but can be very problematic on Android. Some system settings, such as fonts, can actually change your app, amongst many other things.

Also we mention speed a fair amount, but it’s important. People are normally doing 10 things on their phone. Reading the news, whilst sending a tweet, whilst WhatsApping Dave and checking social media. So when they switch to your app, it needs to work, immediately, or they will leave. Now in the context of an app were they are multiple apps you can download, that’s is exactly what they will do. Delete your app and download another one!

Interruptions, we also explored how other apps, and the fact it’s a mobile phone can impact your testing. A user will receive a call whilst using your app, what does your app do? They get a notification from another app, and click it, when your app resumes, what does it do? When the users’ connection drops and recovers, how does your app behave?

We have some really interesting conversation around the above, but they were all in the context of testing mobile, and the short comings of most automation tools. However, this is OK IMO, as mentioned during the webinar, I love the quote from Dhanasekar ~ “It’s a sin to test a mobile app at your desk” to which I’ve adapted to “It’s a sin to only test a mobile app at your desk”. We have to get out there when testing our apps, out into a real environment. We need to test them on a real phone, with real other apps and a sim card so calls can be received. This is how a user is going to use your app. Simulating all this, is difficult, but more importantly very time consuming, time which most teams simply do not have.

Tools

We hit on a few tools during the webinar, but my conclusion on the majority of mobile tools aimed at testing/checking are that they are very immature. But this isn’t surprising, the platforms themselves are immature. For example, iOS was only released in 2007, making it only 9 years old. It’s been in a constant stage of change ever since, which big architecture changes in most major releases, due to the very context of mobile and mobile hardware. It’s evolving at such a rate, change is inevitable. So this means the tool vendors are always playing catch up. There is hope though, tools from the vendors themselves (XUITest, Espresso) have become significantly better in the recent year, I hope this trends continues.

Proxies

I mentioned the importance of testing with proxies several times during the webinar, making the point to repeat it. It’s important. I find it virtually impossible to test a mobile application without using a proxy. The reasoning being is I need to see what data the app is getting. I need to see what data the app is sending. I need to see what APIs the app is calling, and when. A proxy allows me to see this information. It’s the most important tool when testing mobile/IoT IMO. Also from a testing context, it allows you to test multiple scenarios with ease, such as status codes and different length data, as you can alter the request leaving and arriving on your device.
If you haven’t tested using a proxy before, please try them! I use CharlesProxy on my mac, but Fiddler is also a great option for Windows.

Twitter Driven Testing

I first heard about Twitter Driven Testing from the Panda, Pradeep Soundararajan. He spoke about how he was testing a public facing website, and turned to Twitter to read what users were saying about his product. Of course, as with most things, there were positive and negative comments, but all this information turned out to be a great source of test ideas for Pradeep. This is something I’ve continued to do, however I’ve expanded beyond Twitter now, and look on forums and Facebook. But as we are talking mobile, I also take advantage of the app stores, the reviews people go to the effort of leaving there are gold for a tester, or someone looking to do some testing.

Doing some basic searches on social media for your product, see what people are saying about it, could lead to some very interesting testing.

Data Builder Pattern

Someone asked a question during the webinar about how to manage test data. I mentioned this is a place where I heavily relay on automation. I use a pattern called the Test Data Builder Pattern, I’ve blogged about this already, which you can read here.
In addition to this post I suggested adding a common interface to your data creation code now, such as an HTTP API. This would allow you to take advantage of this code from many interfaces now. So your automated checks could call them, you could use a tool like POSTMan to call them whilst testing, means you don’t have to keep repeating code that creates data.

Modelling

My final thing I made a note of was my advice to model your system. Initially a high level model, just have a box for interfaces, box for APIs and a box for databases. This allows you to see the system boundaries with ease. These boundaries can help identify where mocking could be introduced to assist with testing, but also to show where data is moving in the system. I encourage every to have such a model, they are a fantastic tool to assist conversions about the product.

So if you got this far, congratulations, I hope you enjoyed.

Software Testers Clinic - A Mentor Experience Report

I recently attended the first Software Testers Clinic, an initiative created by Mark Winteringham and Dan Ashby. You can read more about the idea on their website.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, especially the second half of the evening, where attendees were encouraged to actually do some testing. Now, as the sessions are aimed at people new to testing as well as people looking to expand their testing knowledge, the attendees are a combination of students and mentors. I was attending as a mentor. So the testing exercise was arranged so that 3 students were paired with a mentor. My first student was Demetra Cucueanu, a budding new tester, proving to all that it's never to late to try a new career. Demetra is actively seeking a junior testing position. The second was Bhagya Mudiyanselage and the third was Joe McGuinness.

The reason for this post is in response to the experience report created by Bhagya, you can read that here. An attempt to explain the approach I took with the students, as a mentor.

The challenge set to us was simply to test http://www.drawastickman.com. We immediately asked them how long we had, and were told about 30 minutes.

So before we got started, I asked them a simple question. Why are we testing this? Neither of us knew so we asked, the response was to learn more about testing. Drawastickman was simple a vehicle to aid that. We then briefly discussed the importance of knowing why we are testing something.

So we got going by me asking "What do you know about drawastickman.com?". Turns out we/they knew very little, the obvious is all we knew, "it's a website". So I introduced them to the concept of a Scouting/Recon session. I was first introduced to the concept in the book Explore It! by Elizabeth Hendrickson, fantastic testing book if you haven't read it yet. The session is intended to help us set the context a little, specifically around the application. Ideally you would spend a full session doing this, so about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

I believe it's very hard to testing something you know nothing about, and I mean nothing, all we had was a url. So I encouraged the students to spend 5 minutes, just exploring the application. Looking for things they can identify with. For example, immediately after looking at the url they realised it's a game. Joe immediately saw a link for a native mobile version of the game, could be an interesting avenue to explore. Bhagya went straight into the game, to see if she could get a basic understanding of how it worked. Demetra explored the sites navigation and discovered numerous forms that she thought could be interesting to test. Plus a whole lot more.

After 5 minutes, I asked them to explain to each other what they have discovered about drawastickman.com, and I collated the list on a nearby whiteboard, I loves me a whiteboard. I then recapped with them about how quickly we were able to get a better understanding of this application. We went from a url, to a 10-15 item list of things we actually knew about the website.

I then suggested to them, they pick something from their list or the main list to explore further. Something that was of interest to them. Explaining to them how this approach now sets the focus of their testing, it frames it. I introduced the idea of charters to them, again repeated my encouragement for them to read Explore it! We could have continued to explore and just shallowly tested things as we came across them, however I was keen to see them attempt to test an area deeply. So they all selected an area to explore further. The reason I was keen for this, was I attempt to relate it to testing in their jobs, where I assumed they would need to test deeply.

I shadowed them for about 5 minutes, watching them all test, and a pattern emerged. No notes, or very little. So after another 5 more minutes of testing, I stopped them to discuss what they had learnt after just 15 minutes of testing now. They had all learnt a lot, however my earlier observation had come to fruition, they were eagerly telling me about what they have found, but the majority of it was from memory. There was even a few confirmations of this, such as "there was this one thing, but I've forgot".  So we had a brief discussion about the importance of taking notes whilst testing, and how they can help guide future testing, but also aid you in telling the story of the testing you have done thus far.

They continued to test, a which point I decided to take the approach of chatting to them individually, to see how they were finding the approach of using charters. This gave me the opportunity to offer some one to one feedback and directly suggest some resources to them based on what they had done or were doing. Also giving them the opportunity to quiz me.

One of the topics that came up was, when do we move on to the next charter? Time was short, so we had a brief discussion about it. We discussed the idea of feeling like you've found enough information, or that you've exhausted all the ideas you had. This allowed us a brief moment to discuss the relationship between charters, test ideas and actual tests. We then very briefly hit on the idea of heuristics and some popular mnemonics, I suggested some resources for them to explore, including Karen Johnson's card deck and Test Insane's MindMaps. Also with drawastickman being a public application I suggested exploring social media for comments on the game, as well as reviews in the app stores. These can be a fantastic source of test ideas for public facing applications.

The final discussion we had was specifically related to testing drawastickman.com. If you're not familiar with it, you can draw a character with the touchpad or mouse, and the site will bring it to live, depending on what you draw. The discussion was about reproducing bugs, how could we reproduce issues we observe, seeing as re-drawing the exact same stickman would be tricky. So we discussed some ideas, such as recording the screen and using a mouse cursor recorder. Highlighting the use of tools.

That's pretty much that. I feel in this instance that my mentoring/coaching went rather well. I could have perhaps let them test a bit longer than I did, however all the students seem really engaged on learning more about charters and sessions. I had a lengthly discussion with Joe specifically about using sessions in the workplace and encouraged him to google Session Based Test Management.

I tried my best to be the facilitator of discussions, instead of telling them what to do. Allowing them to ask me why I was suggesting X. Such approach also allows me to collate more information from them, which my highlight a different approach I could take. Without the discussion though, it isn't really mentoring/coaching, it's telling.

As a sole tester at the moment, it was great to be able to mentor and coach some testers, while they actually tested something. I really enjoyed the event.

I would encourage anyone in the London area to check out a future Testers Clinic, regardless of your testing level, as you can participate as a student or mentor, both full of potential learnings. The link to their site is at the start of the post and details of the next meetup are on their home page.