Becoming a Test Automation Engineer | Myths, Strategy & Plan

From prowling forums and boot camps, watching testing tools tutorials to choosing a programming language is all too familiar to test automation engineers.

Automated testing or test automation has grown by leaps and bounds. The demand for test automation engineers is unsurprisingly high across industries, increasing the difficulty of staying competitive. 

Whether you’re a manual tester looking to grow or just interested in the automation tester career path, this comprehensive guide is for you.

Who is an Automation Tester?

The roles of an automation tester

The profession itself comes with many names. Test automation engineer, test engineer or QA automation tester, the responsibilities and scope of work are the same.

Automation testers are individuals who execute testing initiatives using automated test scripts. Throughout the Software Testing Life Cycle (SDLC), they design, write, maintain, and execute automated test scripts in order to minimize bug escapes and release on time. 

Organizations employ QA teams to:

  • Work and interact cross-team with clients, product managers, developers, business analysts and IT personnel
  • Establish procedures to review requirements and build test plans, strategies, documenting, roadmap grooming and spending budgets
  • Shift left and participate earlier on in the product development stages to better grasp the codebase, architecture, coding conventions, etc.
  • Integrate testing tools with existing toolchains and technologies

Although the exact job description and responsibilities of automation testers can vary widely based on the industry and company, a good tester should have a more profound understanding of software testing in general. A deeper programming and technical knowledge will help you develop more advanced test scripts and cover more critical scenarios.  

Career Myths: Is Automation Testing a Good Career?

Automation skills are required for a tester’s career

As long as software exists, testing will always be needed to make sure they are fully functional.

According to a report from Mordor Intelligence, the 40 billion USD automation testing market is expected to grow at a 14.2% CAGR from 2021 to 2026. 

However, there are countless stigmas around the automation tester career. Below are a few common statements and our thoughts.

Automation Tester Myth #1: Developers Are Paid More – So That’s Better

Yes, it’s true that software engineers or developers earn more than testers. While that’s the cold, hard truth, this argument isn’t fair to lower the potential of the role of an automation tester.

It’s like choosing between working for a job that pays well, but you hate, or earning less for a profession but loves every single moment of doing it.

To see if software automated testing is a realm you’d have a future in, here are a few sample questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I like learning about the infrastructure and supporting technologies an application/software/system was built on?
  • Do I find passion in uncovering real-world scenarios and edge cases that an application/software/system might NOT work properly?
  • Do I enjoy learning from bug escapes and coming up with preventative measures through building automated test suites?
  • Do I thoroughly investigate the root cause and provide reasoning for every bug you log?

Of course, these are just to name a few. But if you’d answered “yes” to most of them, this might be a sign from the universe to press the pedal.

Automation Tester Myth #2: There Isn’t That Much to Software Testing

Testing sounds like an easy job, just a matter of catching bugs, right?

Congratulations,  you’re wrong.

The application code has been built, now think of a hundred ways where the code won’t do what it’s supposed to. Ensuring that issues won’t go under the radar after code has gone to production is a whole lot of learning of its own. The presentation (UI), business (API) and database layer need to be integrated and effectively communicate with each other also.

On a day-to-day basis, test automation engineers will have to touch base with technologies like:

  • Testing IDE: a scripting workspace to design automated test scripts
  • CI/CD: set up an automatically-triggered suite of tests to fire up whenever a build is ready to be tested
  • Application Lifecycle Management (ALM): logging issues and bug tickets to track on platforms like Jira

Automation Tester Myth #3: Testers Are Usually Weak at Coding

If you want to own the test environments, you cannot be scared of the technology stack. It's a common myth that testers are not good at coding, but times have changed, and test automation engineer finds and resolves issues by themselves. 

  • Automation testing requires expertise in writing scripts in several languages, including Java, Perl, Ruby, and many more.
  • Testers code complex SQL queries to validate or create test data for ETL testing or data validation.  
  • Testers also facilitate migration testing by converting the written code in one database to another. 

So, the fact is that writing bad code will impact your testing skills big time.

Coding allows an automation tester to write scripts to maintain, monitor, and prepare test environments. It's easier to know what would make the underlying code more testable if you have a fairly good understanding of coding. You can dig deeper into databases, web servers, operating systems or message queues with confidence to fix the issues.

What do Automation Testers Do?

In simplest terms, testers are just expected to automate repetitive or boring test tasks using automation tools, but there is so much more to it. What companies expect from you will heavily rely on their business requirements. They want testers who can apply critical thinking, discover flaws and contradictions, leverage different tools, and apply concrete testing techniques for well-implemented test automation. 

Since organizations across various industries want to accelerate their testing process through automation and facilitate rapid software or product releases, they are always on the lookout for testers proficient in cutting-edge technologies for software testing. 

  • You need a good understanding of the application domain and software testing concepts in general. 
  • You need better technical and programming skills to build automation frameworks and develop test scenarios. 
  • You need to define goals and select test cases targeting those goals.
  • You need to save the entire QA team's time by automating several repetitive test tasks such as report comparisons or extracting data from excel sheets.
  • Consistently interact with your team to discuss more ways to improve the testing process.

Automation testing allows organizations to improve product delivery times or comply with current security standards. Several SaaS enterprises hire automation testers for detailed reporting capabilities, simplifying testing, improving bug detection, speeding up the testing process, reducing costs, and reducing human intervention.

So, automation testing can be a great career option, but only if you are willing to put in the time to set the foundation right and get in-depth expertise in creating test scenarios.

How to Become a Test Automation Engineer?

To become a test automation engineer, you'll need to have a strong foundation in programming concepts. You'll need to know how to write code and understand the basics of how software testing works. The testing profession requires you to have a wider grasp of the entire software development process. 

To set the basics right, you can join several free or paid online courses, take classes, or read books to learn the basics of software testing and programming concepts like data types, error handling, program flow, and more.

Being well-versed with manual testing is an added advantage when developing automation test scenarios. If you want to advance from manual testing with automation, check out these five simple steps to switch from manual testing to test automation.

Domain Knowledge 

We can list a few universal skills that every automation test engineer must have, like good problem-solving and analytical skills, the ability to pay close attention to detail, write clean and concise code, and work effectively as part of a team. But in order to respond to unique specifications and create structured test scenarios, you need to think like the end-user. 

A flawed understanding of a domain or product can hinder your ability to discover bugs, create test models, and ensure high test coverage. It’s all good to possess the highest level of technical skills such as Linux, SQL Server, and mobile apps. But profound domain knowledge is what enables you to catch up with the increasing complexity of vertical market software and end-user requirements. 

If a testing automation engineer knows the ‘why’ behind a business, they can create more precise test scenarios and spot countless bugs, only visible to someone who knows the industry.

 

Technology 

The technology you choose to automate your tests depends on your project and preferences. Organizations use various approaches to automate different types of applications, including

  • Web applications: assuring consistent performance and functionality across multiple versions of devices, browsers, and operating systems
  • API or Web Services: developers nowadays rely on several services and APIs to add extra functionality to their web apps/websites
  • Mobile applications: adapt mobile applications to respective versions users are operating on
  • Desktop applications: the way that macOS, Windows, Linux and other operating systems process information differs.

Here are a few tools automate testers prefer more over everything else while testing for each of these technologies:

 

Programming Languages and Tools

Coding knowledge and tools automation testers should know

The easiest and safest option would be going with the general population. But be aware that you’ll also need to accommodate your automation testing skills with 1-2 more languages, whichever your System Under Test (SUT) is programmed with, so that the designated developers can review your test code whenever needed.

A point to note is that the rise of low-code and no-code solutions are not meant to replace the need for programming. Similar to the need for both manual and automated testing, low-code testing tools is to lessen the amount of work done compared to full-code approaches. 

From validating responses between APIs and databases to providing more technical details on those CSS errors, these all require a good understanding of popular programming languages.

Nevertheless, ranking in terms of popularity, these are the most frequently used languages:

  • Java
  • Javascript
  • Python
  • Groovy
  • Ruby
  • C#

While you can write automation scripts in any language, it’s more reasonable to use a tool to help you with the process. But how do you pick the best one? 

Throughout your automation career, you’ll likely write scripts in various languages and test multiple applications.

Sometimes a single tool can be your answer. But for most of your TAE career, you may have to deal with a combination of tools for different levels of risk (unit, integration, end-to-end, etc.) and platforms. 

Rather than relying on less than optimal criteria for tool selection, you should consider a few critical things to picking a functional testing tool, including

  • Defect category(the database layer, the business logic, the graphical user interface or GUI), 
  • Who will be doing automation (programmers, testers), 
  • Programming language and development environment
  • Setup and test-data management process
  • Version control and CI system
  • Supported platforms and tagging  

Try these to find a tool that integrates with the technology stack you are working on and speeds up the testing process.

If you are still confused about what different tools exist for an automation test engineer, spare some time to check out our list of the 15 most common automation testing tools.

Turning Into a Sought-After Automation Tester

Strategy and Plan

An automation tester should be curious, communicative, and especially a team player. When you step into a new role as an automation test engineer, an important part of your job will be to collaborate with product owners, developers, and product analysts to define testing strategies. People are often mistaken that an automation tester will eliminate the need for manual testing in agile and fast-paced working environments. 

When building and planning an automation strategy, find answers to: 

  • Who will be involved in the test automation process
  • What tools you will need
  • How test automation will fit into the current release management model
  • How will you shortlist test cases
  • How are you planning to execute tests and track the results

Read more: How to Design and Implement a Top-Notch Test Automation Strategy

Willingness to Learn

Most automation engineers are self-taught since the profession demands constant scrutiny of new things. If you are willing to learn test automation, there are several books, online courses, and videos that can leave you with tons of information. 

And if you want to learn from the experts, don't forget to check out Test Automation Webinars from Katalon.

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