Getting a junior up to speed on test automation with FitNesse

Last week we had the privilege of having a junior test engineer working with us for a few days to see what it would take to get him fully up and running with test automation as we have implemented it at our customer.

Our intern, as I introduced him at our client, has a solid eduction in Civil Engineering and lacked any kind of knowledge of test automation or writing software. He has just finished his first project as a junior tester, which was testing a data warehouse migration.


What drove us to try this was simple: curiosity and questioning of my personal coaching and explaining skills. Thus far I have had the feeling that I somewhat failed in showing how easy the setup of FitNesse with our custom fixture is to anyone who is not part of a management group. With this engineer I wanted to confirm whether this was me not explaining things clearly or people not following what I explained properly (e.g. me explaining things in the wrong wording).

Starting point

Our “intern”, as said, has little or no hard IT knowledge. He is one of the junior test engineers that came out of the group of trainees Polteq Test Services hired at the beginning of the year. With his degree in civil engineering he is for sure a smart guy, but considering he has never been on the construction side of software, he had some ways to go.

Considering that he had no prior knowledge of either the FitNesse/WebDriver setup nor the environment we are working on, we started with a morning session of explaining and overflowing him with information by answering the following questions.

  • What do the applications under test do?
  • What is the service oriented architecture underneath?
  • How does this all tie together into what you see when you start using the applications?
  • What is FitNesse?
  • What is WebDriver?
  • How do these two work together?
  • What is the architecture of the Fixture?
  • What is a fixture and how does that relate to WebDriver and FitNesse?

After this session he was set to work with FitNesse. The main thing that slowed him down somewhat was the getting used to the syntax as we force it through the use of our custom Slim fixture. At this point he still had only a minor base knowledge of what the application under test does or is supposed to do. Based on the existing functional testcases he managed to fairly rapidly automate a set of testcases, or more specifically, transform them from base functional descriptions into Slim tables which will run successfully as a test.

The result

Writing the testcases was easy work for him, he picked up the base syntax really fast and managed to pump out some 15 working tests in a very short period. It was time for a bit of a challenge.

Considering he had never written a line of code in his life I thought we might as well check to see how fast he would pick up writing a simple wrapper in C# around an Advanced Search page, which includes a set of dropdowns, textfields, radiobuttons and checkboxes which can be manipulated along with a submit and reset button.

The first two methods we wrote out together, him typing while I was explaining what is what. Why do you want the method to be public, why does it need to be a bool, what are arguments and how do you deal with that in FitNesse.  Where do you find the Identifier of the object you are trying to get the wrapper around, what do you do when there is no ID, how do you extract the xpath and make that work well. Once we got through the first few methods I set him at work to figure it out for himself.

The first question I received after a while was: ok, so now I’m done writing these things out in code, then what? How can I now see this working in FitNesse? After making an extremely feeble attempt at explaining what compiling is and deciding to just show where the compile button is, he then set to work to verify in FitNesse that his code indeed is capable of reaching and manipulating every element on the search page and getting to a sensible search result.

Take away

What did I learn in this week? For starters that when coached close enough it is very simple to get someone without experience up and running with FitNesse the way we set it up, which is good to have confirmed again, since that was the aim.

Another thing we have seen proven is that adding new methods to the fixture is dead-simple, changing the ID’s of objects on the pages should not lead to too much hassle maintaining the fixture. For the Base class quite some developer knowledge is still required, but once that part is standing expanding the testable part can be done with some of coaching. So technically we would need to start handing over maintenance of our Base classes to someone within Development and hand off maintaining the rest of the fixture to someone within the test teams here.

One of the things we might consider in making maintenance easier could be to split the leaf-nodes, e.g. the page level, off from the base and helper classes in order for these two to be complete independent of one another, which means that the developer can add and refactor in the base, without breaking the current functionality, once done refactoring or adding stuff, the new DLL can be used to talk to.

Maybe I am getting carried away with making things modular now though…

Overall, good to see our idea of making things easy to transfer indeed seem to work well, although I do not want to say that this one week was enough to hand over everything of course!

Based on this week I have started to explain things to the test team internally, which does seem to indeed be an improvement. I do believe that having this week gave me a chance to play around with the ways in which I explain stuff, especially on a non-technical level.

Erwin, thanks for being here and listening to my explanations, following instructions and asking questions! It was a joy working with you this week.

One thought on “Getting a junior up to speed on test automation with FitNesse

  1. Hi,

    Great Post indeed… Can you please explain the steps to be followed so that it will be helpfull to all people… I am very new to fitnesse so just downloaded and started exploring, Please eloborate more,,, or please explain this question – How do these two work together?Fitnesse+webdriver

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