Understanding Test Automation Engineers and Their Job

Understanding Test Automation Engineers and Their Job

Software testing is an essential area of work in software development that is both wide and deep. It includes “any activity aimed at evaluating an attribute or capability of a program or system and determining that it meets its required results.” Anyone that has come to even a basic level of exposure to software testing has seen the abundant and, oftentimes, cryptic terms in this area, such as smoke testing, white-box testing, dynamic testing, regression testing, and stress testing, just to name a few.

Software testing is typically quite costly, both in time and money. It’s always a struggle to get adequate and the right types of testing done. If you ask any software development team, you’d probably never hear anyone saying that they have solved the software testing problem. There’s constantly a tough trade-off to be made to balance the budget, time and quality for every software team when it comes to testing their software.

In search of a solution, software teams put high hopes in test automation to help them reduce the testing time and budget while increasing the software quality. So, what is test automation? Here’s how Wikipedia defines it –

“Test automation is the use of special software (separate from the software being tested) to control the execution of tests and the comparison of actual outcomes with predicted 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.”

Given the benefits and promises of test automation, it’s not surprising to see the role of test automation engineer gaining significant popularity in recent years. Let’s take a deeper look at the work of test automation and the people behind this work.

Suitable Areas for Test Automation

There are specific areas of testing that are better suited for doing automated test, while in other areas automation just doesn’t make sense. Test automation doesn’t solve all software testing problems. Here’s a list of good usage of automation (where repetition and a large amount of task execution are required):

  • Functional testing
  • Regression testing
  • Load and stress testing
  • Unit testing
  • Cross platform testing
  • Smoke and sanity testing
  • Test data generation
  • Continuous integration

Not-so-good for Test Automation

Here are some areas where test automation is not appropriate (where human judgment and discoveries are more important):

  • Usability testing
  • Security testing
  • Exploratory testing

What to Look For in Test Automation Engineers

Since automation is made possible by the execution of scripts and programs in testing software and tools, the essential qualifications we’re looking for in QA automation engineers include:

  • Scripting and sometimes even programming knowledge and capability
  • Understanding of technologies (relating to both the software systems being built and test automation software)
  • Understanding of system environments and configurations (operating systems, IT infrastructure, virtual machines, containers, etc.)
  • Good grasp on customers’ needs and software requirements
  • Strong analytical thinking and planning ability
  • Understanding of software archicture, components, integration and APIs
  • Project management skills
  • Understanding of software development methodologies and process (agile, scrum, waterfall, etc.)
  • Quick to learn and apply new technologies
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills

QA automation engineers usually demand a higher salary than manual testers because of the higher technical (scripting/programming) skill level required. It’s not uncommon to see developers jumping between building software and test automation or taking on both roles simultaneously.

The Future of Test Automation

Test automation has become a must-have part in almost all software quality assurance effort. Its popularity and applications will only grow further. That’s why it’s important for us to understand test automation, how it fits in with the overall software testing strategy, and who can make it a success.


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