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Test automation engineers: How to build partnerships that matter

Greg Paskal Director of Quality Assurance – Automation, The Dave Ramsey Show

Automation engineers generally work solo or in small teams. This is why it's important to know how to leverage others' skills, which can help with all types of work such as test script development, virtual machine management, and promotion of the automation that we build.

In other words, being an effective automation craftsman means being exceptional at building valuable partnerships that open up opportunities for innovation and adoption of our work.  

Investing in just a few of these key partnerships will result in your company leveraging test automation more successfully, while allowing you to enjoy your role as automation engineer and to keep your sanity intact.

Remember, partnerships are built between people, and no one wants to be manipulated or used, regardless of the outcome. Build these partnerships genuinely, getting to know the people behind the roles they fulfill.

Here's how to build quality partnerships, understanding why each is important.

Technology and quality assurance leaders

There's something about test automation that compels leaders and technologists alike to try to force it into the realm of perpetual motion. With best intentions, the automation engineer is often pointed toward the goal of automating everything in sight, or at least the entire regression suite.

The truth is, building great test automation means building the right test automation. Since your leaders are likely to be the gatekeepers for the work you'll fulfill, they'll be among your most valuable advocates for success, ensuring that you're automating the right things.

Take time to talk with leaders about your automation strategy—what makes for a good automation candidate and what doesn't. Share the important reality that once automation is built, it will require ongoing maintenance and updates, just like any other software.

With these partnerships in place, you will have advocates who can keep an eye out for great test automation opportunities, while setting realistic expectations for countless groups that will want you to automate everything they can throw your way.

Tip: Having a sound manual test strategy leads to having a successful automation test strategy. Consider a manual test strategy such as Minimal Essential Testing Strategy (METS), which encourages prioritization of manual test cases.

Manual test engineers

Automation engineers are often directed to automate the test for an application, but then are given no manual test cases to base the automation upon. Building a great partnership with the manual test engineer will help create the automation that actually tests the application.

The manual test engineer should identify critical test cases and include step-by-step details, which can be translated into meaningful test automation steps. The automation engineer should then verify that the selected critical tests are good candidates for reliable test automation before development begins.

To build this partnership, share with the manual test engineer that the automation you're building will be a tool to give them insights into the health of the application. Treat this partnership as if the manual test engineer is your customer, using the tools you've built to better test the software.

I've always found this to be a valuable and beneficial partnership.

Tip: You'll discover that rework of test automation is kept to a minimum if you build strong partnerships with the manual test engineers. They'll be highly motivated to provide you accurate test steps to build automation because they will reap the benefits of this precision.

IT department

This is a recurring problem: Test automation runs well on one machine yet acts flaky on other machines. I decided to approach our IT department with this challenge, and together we partnered to build a solid, virtual machine solution that could be accessed via remote desktop by our testers.

When approaching IT, make certain to communicate that the partnership you are building with it will result in better-quality products. IT is often the unsung hero of many companies. Its staff typically work tirelessly to meet endless requests, but also hold the keys to some incredible resources, talents, and technologies.

I've found that communicating how their work helps me help the company save time and produce better software has yielded some of my strongest advocates for quality success.

Tip: Take time to include IT leadership in communications about wins from your test automation efforts. Be certain to highlight where partnerships with IT have provided significant advantages. It's a great way to share the credit it deserves while strengthening your partnership further.

Architecture team

The architecture team at my employer shared information about something called the data lake, which stores data that can be turned into meaningful visualizations.

This gave me new insight into the tools and capabilities our architecture team could open up for our test automation efforts. This resulted in real-time reporting and historical metrics related to our automated tests.

Approach your partnership with your architects as a group to stay in the loop with. They're typically considering new technologies to be brought into the company. Make an effort to catch up a few times a year and learn about these new tools and capabilities.

Tip: Share the technical challenges you're working through. The architecture team may be able to direct you to existing solutions or find something that can be brought in to meet your needs.

Human resources and the social media team

Human resources is always interested in things happening within the company that would be attractive to great talent they would like to hire. HR often leverages the social media team to share this information as a means to show progressiveness and innovation within the industry.

I've found this group very interested in our work and how it reflects well on our company brand. Your partnership with human resources and social media teams can be built on the premise that they want to promote and communicate what your team is doing.

Consider technical papers, conferences, and recruiting events that they might like to have your assistance with. These teams are typically very friendly and a pleasure to work with. They can ensure that others are learning about the cutting-edge work that the test automation team is involved in.

Tip: Learn about this group's social media tools and #hashtags. Consider including them as you communicate your test automation efforts and quality craft broadly.

Partner up for fun and profit

Keep an open mind to various partnerships across your company. Ensure that the relationships are genuine and sincere, and you just might be surprised at the benefits and opportunities that unfold.

Drop me a note sometime. I'd enjoy hearing about the partnerships you're building and what's resulted from them. Also, share your experiences with other readers in the comments below.

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