Test automation – Finding your starting point

The other day I had a job coaching of a colleague who, for his assignment, needs to start setting up test automation within an agile environment. He is very interested in test automation and the possibilities it gives you, however his knowledge on the subject, as well as on coding, is very limited.

In preparation for this first coaching session with him I was pondering where to start with him and I ended up starting with the, to me, obvious points :

  • just start with a first step
  • KISS
  • DRY

Just start with the first step

My colleague was struggling on how to start and more importantly, where to start with test automation. This is an issue I have faced myself often in the past as well. You have this huge task of automating a system laying ahead of you, there is so much to do and so little time. Where do you start?

Over the years I have come up with a simple strategy for that: just start with the basics and move on from there.

In other words, start with the basic functionality you will need for any test you are about to execute. In most systems that is setting up a simple sequence for validating the home- or landingpage, going to a login screen, validating that loads properly and then logging in.

Login screen


Once you have this start it often becomes easier and more logical to move ahead and start automating other functions and functionalities. In this particular case once logged in there is a landing page which consists of a dashboard, so we scripted the verification of all required items on the dashboard. Once this was done my colleague again was questioning, what do now?

Again, we kept it simple and straightforward, I asked him to name another functionality he often uses and which help add value to the test immediately and make life easier in testing in general. He came up with logging off.

Over the course of this hands-on coaching session we ended up writing several scripts, which when put together in a scenario ended up being a very simple and fast sanity check on the application under test, which can immediately be reused in Continuous Integration and on every new code drop they will be doing on any environment.

Keep it simple and don’t repeat yourself.

Once we got through the initial start we went on to two other very important things you need to keep in mind when automating (or writing any code for that matter): KISS and DRY.


Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple

KISS is well know to mean “Keep It Simple, Stupid” the main thing I generally take from this is the “Keep It Simple” part. For test automation it is important to keep things simple, you need to be able to maintain the suite, others need to be able to understand what you’re doing and why you did things in a certain way. Therefore, I rigorously stick to keeping things as simple as possible considering circumstances. I generally try to follow the KISS rule in all aspects of test automation: naming, coding, hierarchy, refactoring, running etc. Some of the ways this is visible is: I try to keep scripts short and concise, I try to ensure names of scripts clearly state what the script (supposedly) does, I try to keep variables I use clearly names (e.g. I try to stay away from statements like i = 1 , instead I give i a meaningful name).


DRY, or Don’t Repeat Yourself, is a well known practice in software development and should be used within test automation as well. I apply DRY both in the scripts and in my daily work. When starting with automation on any project some of the first things I generally put on my list of things to automate sooner rather than later are all functions and functionalities I have to use more than rarely. In other words, starting an application and logging in I generally automate as quickly as possible, even on a manual testing project!

Don't Repeat Yourself

Don’t Repeat Yourself

One of the reasons I am a strong advocate of test automation is that I am lazy. Why would I want to start an application and login to it manually and thus have to execute a whole bunch of things myself, several times (sometimes tens or hundreds of times a day) when I can automate that same flow in a few minutes and not have to deal with it anymore? Quite often starting and logging in of an application, when automated, is faster than when you do it manually as well, so it not only saves me from repetitive work, it also speeds up my work!

In other words, the DRY principle can also work outside of the testautomation code, in your daily work. If a task is repetitive, chances are you can automate it!

7 thoughts on “Test automation – Finding your starting point

  1. Hi Martijn,

    Good article, but when you reuse a function in multiple applications like open page, open browsers, select data from data base it can be that some variables are logical for one application but totally not for another one. How do would you apply your rules when you automation framework grows and you need to support multiple application and releases in parallel?

    • Marc.

      reuse generally limits itself to within one application, although login type functionality can often be reused.
      Select data will be very difficult to reuse across applications since you have to figure out a way to deal with different tables, tablespaces and names etc. so it would not make sense to try to reuse that.
      Multiple applications will require multiple test-sets. If the applications communicate with each other, so should the tests.

  2. The thing I have difficulty with is trying to reason value. Keeping it simple seems like a good starting point, but automating the homepage or logging into a system doesn’t seem like something that would provide value from automation. Unless each time we were logging in we were using different sets of credentials, testing different parts of the log in system. How do you reconcile finding your starting point and still providing value through automation? Or do you forsake one just to get started and then later move towards adding value?

    • The objective of this post was basically not looking at adding value but addressing a problem I often see with people just starting with automation.
      To answer your question, when automating I always start with something extremely simple such as login. I also start with applying data-driven-testing immediately. In other words, logging in immediately is available for any user you care to add to the data-set.
      Looking a bit more at the added value of logging in and validating a homepage or landingpage, even for the people working on manual, functional testing this provides added value. Rather than having to login manually they can start using test automation to remove some of the boring tediousness of having to do the same action, e.g. logging in, over and over again.

      The added value of test automation should not necessarily be limited to automating tests to cover regression testing, you can look at it in a broader view:
      * try to add value by making people’s lives easier and give them the login functionality (or whatever other low-hanging-fruits you can imagine)
      * improve the visibility and adoption of test automation within the entire team connected to the product you are automating

      In doing this, you gain more support from the organisation for test automation and thus get them to have a bit more patience in receiving the *big* added values of full scale automated regression testing

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