What does good test automation training look like?

As I’m moving away from by-the-hour work and more towards a hybrid of consulting, training, writing and speaking, one of the things I’m working on is slowly building up a workshop and training portfolio around topics I think I’m qualified to talk about. I have created a couple of workshops already, but so far, they are centered around a specific tool that I am interested in and enthusiastic about. This, however, has the downside that they’re probably targeted towards a relatively small group of interested people (not in the least because these tools are only available for a specific programming language, i.e., Java).

To extend my options with regards to delivering training and workshops, I am currently looking at developing workshops and training material that contain higher level and more generic material, while still offering practical insights and hands-on exercises. There are a lot of different approaches and possible routes that can be taken to achieve this, especially since there is no specific certification trajectory around test automation (nor do I think there should be, but that’s a wholly different discussion that I’ll probably cover in another blog post in time). So far, I haven’t figured out the ideal contents and delivery format, but ideas have been taking shape in my head recently.

Here are some subjects I think a decent test automation training trajectory should cover:

Test automation 101: the basics
Always a good approach: start with the basics. What is test automation? What is it not (here’s a quote I love from Jim Hazen)? What role does automation play in current development and testing processes and teams? Why is it attracting the interest it does? To what levels and what areas can you apply test automation and what is that test automation pyramid thing you keep hearing about?

Test automation implementation
So, now that you know what test automation (sorta kinda) is, how to apply it to your software development process? How are you going to involve stakeholders? What information or knowledge do you want to derive from test automation? How does it fit into trends such as Agile software development, BDD, Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery?

Test automation, the good the bad and the ugly
It’s time to talk about patterns. Not about best practices, though, I don’t like that term. But there are definitely lessons to be learned from the past on what works and what doesn’t. Think data driven. Think maintainability. Think code review. Think (or rather, forget) code-free test automation. Think reporting. Think some more.

Beyond functional test automation: what else could automation be used for?
Most of what we’ve seen so far covers functional test automation: automated checks that determine whether or not some part of the application under test functions as specified or desired (or both, if you’re lucky). However, there’s a lot more to testing than mere functional checks. Of course there’s performance testing, security testing, usability testing, accessibility testing, all kinds of testing where smart application of tools might help. But there’s more: how about automated parsing of logs generated during an exploratory testing session? Automated test data creation / generation / randomization? Automated report creation? All these are applications of test automation, or better put, automation in testing (thanks, Richard!), and all these are worth learning about.

Note that nowhere in the topics above I am focusing on specific tools. As far as I’m concerned, getting comfortable with one or more tools is one of the very last steps in becoming a good test automation engineer or consultant. I am of the opinion that it’s much more important to answer the ‘why?’ and the ‘what?’ of test automation before focusing on the ‘how?’. Unfortunately, most training offerings I’m seeing focus solely on a specific tool. I myself am quite guilty of doing the same, as I said in the first paragraph of this post.

One thing I’m still struggling with is how to make the attendants do the work. It’s quite easy to present the above subjects as a (series of) lecture(s), but there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Also, I think hosting workshops is much more fun than delivering talks, and there’s no ‘workshop’ without actual ‘work’. But it has to be meaningful, relevant to the subject covered, and if possible, fun..

So, now that I’ve shared my thoughts on what ingredients would make up a decent test automation education, I’d love to hear what you think. What am I missing (I’m pretty sure the list above isn’t complete). Do you think there’s an audience for training as mentioned above? If not, why not? What would you do (or better, what are you doing) differently? This is a topic that’s very dear to me, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Your input is, as always, much appreciated.

In the meantime, I’ve started working on a first draft of training sessions and workshops that cover the topics above, and I’m actively looking for opportunities to deliver these, be it at a conference or somewhere in-house. I’ve got a couple of interesting opportunities lined up already, which is why I’m looking forward to 2017 with great anticipation!

Looking forward to the 2017 conference season

Only a relatively short blog post this week, but it’s something that’s kept me busy for a while..

As we’re slowly moving towards 2017, and as I’m starting to reflect on the shift I’ve been making in how I fill my days and make a living for the last year, I think this is a good time to take a look at the conferences I would like to attend and contribute to in 2017. Delivering talks, or even better, workshops (I’ll get to that at the end of this post), has earned its place as one of the activities that nowadays are part of my work(day/week) on a fairly regular basis. So, what conferences to attend next year?

The ‘definitely’ category
There are a couple of conferences I’ll definitely attend or contribute to, either because they’ve proven their value or simply because I’m already listed to deliver a talk or workshop there:

  • AutomationGuild (January) – I’ll deliver a talk on testing RESTful APIs using REST Assured at the first edition of this online conference completely dedicated to test automation.
  • Romania Testing Conference (May) – I was supposed to deliver a full-day workshop on REST Assured at the first edition of a spin-off conference of RTC, but unfortunately the organization had to postpone the event. They were extremely kind, however, to extend their invitation to the 2017 edition of the original event, which is held in Cluj in May, so I’m Romania bound by then! Very much looking forward to that, as you can imagine, especially after the wonderful experience of my first talk abroad.
  • TestWorksConf (October) – The first two editions have been awesome and I’m already eager to see what the Xebia guys can come up with for the third edition. Maybe I’ll be a contributor again, but if not, I’ll definitely be there as a delegate.
  • Test Automation Day (June) – The other big conference in the Netherlands dedicated to test automation, this has been a ‘must’ for me for the last four or five years, and I’ll highly likely be there again next year. Hopefully as a speaker this time, something that’s still on my to-do list.

The ‘hopefully’ category
There is one European conference outside of The Netherlands that I’d like to attend or contribute to one day. And why shouldn’t that day be in 2017?

  • Software Testing Forum (June) – I must admit that the location of this conference is what first put it on my radar. I love Italy, its culture, its language and not to forget its food and wine, but the event itself has started to get my attention as well over the last couple of years. I’ve recently been in touch with the organizing committee to see if I can apply to deliver a workshop there, so here’s to hoping that turns out positively!

The ‘I wish’ category
Some day, some day, I’d like to attend (or even better, speak at) one of these conferences:

  • StarCanada (October) – I love Canada, plus I’ve always wanted to attend one of the big Star* conferences, even if only once. Travel and lodging aren’t exactly cheap, though, plus it would cost me at least a whole week of not being home, which isn’t exactly ideal with small children, so this will probably not happen for the next couple of years.
  • WeTest (twice a year) – Pretty much the same reason as the previous one: I love New Zealand. Plus from what I’ve read on the web and social media, the organization and quality of this conference is of a pretty high level. Unfortunately, so is the amount of hours I’d have to spend on the plane, so this will probably not happen in 2017 either..

What else?
So, my dear readers, is there a conference I might have forgotten? Some hidden gem you definitely think I should attend or even apply to contribute to? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Oh, and coming back to my preference on hosting workshops over delivering talks: I love to give talks on topics I care about, but from my experience, I love hosting workshops even more. The smaller crowd and longer time frame allows me to make better contact with and pay more attention to the attendees, and to get some interesting discussions going. This to me provides more value than the larger (yet somewhat more fleeting) exposure I get when delivering a talk.. Plus I think participants get more out of a workshop too because of the hands-on learning experience, as opposed to attending a talk and picking up a couple of interesting and thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom. So if you know of an interesting conference that does workshops too, please let me know!

Open sourcing my workshop on WireMock

For those of you that want to jump to the good stuff directly, you can find the workshop slides, exercises and everything related here.

A couple of weeks ago I was given the opportunity to deliver another workshop before TestNet, the Dutch software testing community, as part of their fall conference. Half a year ago, I did a similar workshop for their spring conference. That workshop was on RESTful API testing using REST Assured, which I decided to make open source a little later on. I’ve received some positive feedback on that, so why not do it again?

This time, the conference was centered around test automation. The subject of my workshop this time was closely related to the main theme: stubbing test environment dependencies using WireMock.

The title slide for my workshop

Delivery
As with most workshops that day, mine was set in a classroom-style space. I had somewhere between 15 and 20 participants, which I think is pretty much the ideal group size for a hands-on workshop that involves writing code. Not so many that I can’t give proper attention to all questions asked, but not a group so small you start to doubt whether the upfront investment has been worth it. As those of you who have prepared and delivered workshops before, you know that preparing them takes a lot of time. Spending all those hours and then only having two people turn up, one of whom is a coworker and the other one seems a little lost, is a bit of a bummer. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case for me, at least not this time..

The levels of experience of the participants (semi-pro tip: know your audience) ranged from people having some prior experience with stub and mock development to people that had never in their life written a single line of code before. An interesting mix, to say the least!

Workshop contents
As said, the main subject of the workshop was WireMock. I started out by telling people a little about the difficulties with regards to keeping test environments up and running and properly configured in these times of parallel development, Continuous Delivery and Testing and distributed applications. I then introduced WireMock, which I’ve done here on this site before as well. Then came four cycles of me presenting a WireMock feature, followed by exercises where the participants could try this feature out for themselves. I chose to highlight the following WireMock features in the workshop:

  • Writing a first, basic stub
  • Request matching options
  • Fault simulation
  • Creating stateful mocks

For each set of exercises, I prepared REST Assured tests that the participants could run to see if their stub implementation was correct. Call it test driven stub development if you like. This approach worked remarkably well, it definitely saved me a lot of time answering questions in the ‘is this correct?’ vein. Test green = stub good, test red = stub needs improvement. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Here’s an example of an exercise and the test that determines the correctness of the solution:

public void setupStubExercise101() {

	/************************************************
	 * Create a stub that listens at path
	 * /exercise101
	 * and responds to all GET requests with HTTP status code 200
	 ************************************************/
}

@Test
public void testExercise101() {
        
    wme.setupStubExercise101();
	         
    given().
    when().
        get("http://localhost:9876/exercise101").
    then().
        assertThat().
        statusCode(200);
}

How it turned out
Fine, I think. Time flew by and I didn’t experience any major faults, missing or incorrect slides or things like that. The experience I’m slowly gathering by doing this more often is starting to pay off, I think. I received almost exclusively positive feedback on the workshop, so I’m a happy guy. Also, everybody seemed to have learned at least something new and enjoyed the process too, no matter whether they had prior stubbing or even programming experience or not, and that has been the most important result of the morning to me. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity for delivering this workshop.

Having said that…
All workshop contents, that’s:

  • The complete set of slides
  • All workshop exercises and their answers
  • Matching REST Assured tests to verify the stubs created

can be found on my GitHub page. As with the previous workshop I’ve published in this manner, feel free to download, adapt, extend and then deliver the workshop to your liking. I look forward to hearing your experiences.

And in case you’re interested in following a WireMock workshop, but do not want to deliver this yourself, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll be happy to discuss options. Also, this workshop can easily be combined with a workshop on REST Assured for a full day of API testing and stubbing goodness.