Allocating Automation Engineers Time
Update (6/26/17): I’ve updated to clarify amount of manual testing I’m referring to.
Update (10/17/16): I’ve clarified some of the terminology here in a new post.
People want to believe automation engineers are not software engineers. But, the same skills and environment that are needed for software engineering are needed for test automation. Automation Engineers need uninterrupted, consistent time to focus on their work and craft.
Let’s talk about allocating automation engineers’ time.
Often we decide to allocate a portion of a tester’s time to automation and significant portions to manual testing. Can this be done? Sure. Should it be done in most cases? Absolutely not. Especially when the person doing the coding for automated testing is new to coding. By “significant portions of time” I’m talking about asking an automation engineer to do manual testing about 40% or more of their time. Included in this are interrupts, where a manager or other interrupts development of automated tests to ask the test automation engineer to do something else for a bit. We all know the cost of interrupting developers, but rarely do we offer test automation engineers the same respect.
Coding takes long hours of uninterrupted focus. That’s true whether you’re a software engineer or an automation engineer. After 17 years of coding I still have times when I have to block off a day or more to focus. I’ll turn off my phone, email, and other notifications to avoid distraction and charge through a task. If after 17 years I still have to do it, what is it like for a person new to automated testing? A tester new to coding? They would need even more time and focus.
I’ll also say that the most valuable investment of time I made in learning to code was at the beginning. The time when I needed the least interruptions, the least context shifting was at the beginning. I was lucky, I got it. I worked very hard – many hours for years – and had great mentors and coaches (something I love doing for others now). I focused on learning everything I could about the craft of software engineering. That set me on a trajectory to being able to “code by nature” or whatever you want to call it.
Can automated testers be allocated less than 100% of the time to automated testing? Sure. Should they? Not in most cases. In fact, I haven’t worked with a client yet where their people were successful automating testing when they split time significant amounts of time with other activities. The clients who benefit most are the ones that allow automation engineers to focus on automated testing.