Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't Start With Automation

I’ve lost track of the number of times new testers have asked me some variant of “I’m new to testing. What automation tool should I start learning?”

I really appreciate their excitement about automation—especially since I’ve made automation my wheelhouse—but it’s not the thing new testers should focus on!

Testing’s a craft with a whole lot of tools, most of which are between one’s ears. You need to focus on developing your skills as a craftsperson, not just jumping on the automation bandwagon. (Please, do join me on board, though. It’s a great wagon to use for parts of your testing ride!)

As a newcomer, there are a tremendous number of things you can use to build up your testing skills. In no particular order, here’s a few things I’ve pointed people to over the various years.


  • Elisabeth Hendrickson, aka @TestObsessed on Twitter. Funny, wise, calm, extremely thoughtful tester. Her Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet is caramelized unicorn bacon drenched with awesomesauce.
  • Michael Bolton (@MichaelBolton) is a great thinker and writer in the testing space. He’s strong coffee and very opinionated, but I’ve gotten a lot out of reading his material. Much of Michael’s writing is at DevelopSense.
  • James Bach (@JamesMarcusBach) I’m really not a fan of James’s personality, but he’s done a lot of great thinking about what testing’s really about. Read with an open and skeptical, questioning mind. His deck on test cases is a great read.
  • Lisa Crispin (@LisaCrispin) and Janet Gregory (@JanetGregoryCA) are both smart folks who you should follow.

Other people who I’m not taking enough time to describe their awesomeness, but simply list. All are easily discoverable on Twitter, Google, etc.

General testing folks

  • Matt Heusser
  • Michael Larsen
  • Alan Page
  • Trish Khoo
  • Paul Carvalho
  • James Lyndsay

Automation geeks (who are also great testers, btw)

  • Adam Goucher
  • Richard Bradshaw
  • Dave Haeffner

Please keep in mind: these folks are a starting point! Many are folks I know personally and respect, and they’re pals. Expand beyond this list!

There are plenty of great books to read; these are a few titles that really stick out:

  • Beautiful Testing
  • ExploreIt!
  • Agile Testing and More Agile Testing
  • The Art of Agile Development
  • The Art of Unit Testing in .NET
  • Specification By Example
  • A Practitioner’s Guide to Software Test Design
  • ATDD by Example
  • Lessons Learned in Software Testing
  • Experiences Of Test Automation

Find testing groups near you, or start one! Look to some of the various online testing communities. Weekend Testers is a great start!

Some conferences are great, so are a waste of time and money. But I’m slightly opinionated…

  • CAST
  • EuroStar
  • STP Conference

Branch out to good developer conferences where there’s a welcoming, encouraging atmosphere. I’m biased, having been on the Board of Directors, but CodeMash is one of the best conferences you could hit for cross-polinating.


  • Elisabeth Hendrickson’s blog Test Obsessed. She’s stopped posting since moving out of the consulting space; however, her writing is gold. Just. Plain. Gold.

Don’t Stop Here

Testing is about curiosity. It’s about sharing information with your team, organization, and customers. It’s not about “assuring” quality—you as a tester simply can’t do that. You can be part of a team that delivers great quality.

Go out. Explore. Learn.

THEN go get started in automation.


Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris McMahon said...

Don't forget the Open Source world. You can start exploring a world class automation *and* exploratory testing environment created by me and Željko Filipin at

Jim Holmes said...

@Chris: Thanks for calling out Open Source! That's a great addition.

Darrell said...

Great article Jim. A fellow colleague directed me to your blog. He knew I'd like it because I'm often telling people new to testing that automation is HOW you want to test something but if you don't know WHAT to test, no automation tool is going to help you.

I'd also recommend pairing with a good tester (manual or automation) to learn how to be a good tester.

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