Will Automated Testing Ever Replace Manual Testing?

With the emergence of the cloud and DevOps, modern software development has experienced a fundamental shift. Gone are the days of the big, infrequent software releases. Software development today consists of a schedule of constant, fast-paced, iterative change.

To keep up with this constant change, more and more companies are turning to automated testing. This development is working out well for everyone — good automation can dramatically speed time to market.

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But is it possible for automation to completely replace manual testing? I can say with confidence, never. In fact, there are many instances when manual testing is preferable over automation. For this reason, it is of great importance to determine which testing processes should be automated and which should be (or remain) manual tasks.

What tests can be automated?

Back in the days of the big release, automation was an afterthought — usually put in place to help manage regression testing. Now automation happens earlier and earlier in development, starting with continuous integration of code checked-in by developers.

Automation should be put in place for repetitive tests. Doing so frees up testers to engage in more exploratory testing. Building automated tests into a release pipeline increases efficiency and creates a safety system that checks new features before they are integrated into the live product.

Current tools allow for automated testing of web services, APIs and the data tier. Test suites can query a database, mine information out, and use it. Functional automated workflows can be leveraged for load and performance testing. Perhaps most interesting in this toolset is the development of self-healing scripts capable of determining when data is no longer valid and causes a failure.

Given the wide variety of automated tools available, the entire functional context of an app could be automated. But it’s important to measure resources against returns and make sure the ultimate decision makes sense for the organization.

What should be automated?

Automation should be focused on the testing of critical features, core functionality, and high traffic areas. By doing so an organization can ensure the continued performance of the product even when new features are rolling in. Manual testing can be integrated with these processes to catch all changes.

It is important to remember your automated testing suite is not set in stone and is, rather, a constantly evolving process. Automated tests should be reassessed on a regular basis to determine whether they are still offering real value for the organization. When found, obsolete tests should be cut.

Effective automation handles the mundane side of testing. This provides two key benefits:

  • Gives confidence to stakeholders that the product continues to deliver on its core functions
  • Frees up testers to think creatively and uncover issues that automation can’t find

Common pitfalls in automation

The best way to implement automated testing is to make it part of your planning process from the beginning. When doing so keep in mind two points:

  • Automation is not regression support
  • Automation cannot completely replace manual testing

Organizations should be wary of committing to long-term licensing deals for automation tools, particularly when working on mobile platforms. Instead, efforts should be made to leverage the open source community and avoid getting locked in.

Used correctly, automated testing can free up resources, boost efficiency, allow for more focus on product improvements, and deliver an excellent return on investment.

Happy testing!

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