The non-manual, unautomated tester

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I’ve been struggling with the division of manual and automation testing, practically since I started testing – about 3 years ago. I’ve switched sides couple of times, probably sharing all the false expectations that people have even today, claiming to be on any of the both sides. After all I decided for myself that I won’t pick a side, that testing is something that’s above the approach that we use to perform it. Occasionally, I will speak with people and they will ask whether I am manual or automation tester and I will explain that I don’t fit any of these descriptions and what my attitude towards testing is. But often I notice a problem.

Manual and automation turned from job descriptions to a way testers define themselves.

It was probably the 100-th time when I listened to somebody asking for advice “how to switch from manual to automation” when it struck me – people actually define themselves as being part of a tribe, they seem to see that glass wall that’s stopping them to use tools in effective way. Which often leads to absurd claims like: “I can’t write code, because I work as a manual tester” or even a better one – “I want to work as an automation tester, so I don’t have to do repetitive tests manually”.

Let’s see a simple mind map of what testing consists of, what actions do we perform, while testing:

test activities mind map


So, as we can see in the picture above there’s one area where software testing can benefit from automating in a really effective way and that’s the actual testing performance. Of course, aggregating results and creating reports can also benefit from automation, but I don’t consider a pile of data, no difference how it is arranged, a valid report about testing, unless it contains some sort of analysis of the process, some part with conclusions, with pros and cons, etc.

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I think you might start to realize what I mean, if you don’t, you might want to take a look at an old article of mine called Test automation – the bitter truth.

So, let’s think of some conclusions.

Automation is not manual testing on steroids.

No matter how deep in love you are with idea that a script will perform your job instead of you, I will have to make you unhappy, it won’t. Unless… you downgrade the quality of the job you perform that bad, that it is totally replaceable by any programmatic script. I can guarantee you that, if you consider testing to be only the “test execution”, yes, it will be possible to be fully automated, guess what – it will be also full of crap.

Machines will not overtake humanity, Skynet is not coming for you.

Like it or not, in testing there’s plenty of “brain work” to be performed, if you want to be successful in testing and want to deliver high value testing services, you should do the “brain work”, no matter how loud you scream it drains all your energy out. One advice – get used to it, this happens everyday, anytime, to any professional that has a creative job, this is what creativity is supposed to do – many professions – surgeons, engineers, writers, painters, scientists, developers AND TESTERS do it every day. Yes, they might use tools to facilitate their job, but they are not defined by their tools. It is useful to think of testing tools in the way we think about any other tools – as an extension of the human body, not a replacement of it.
Imagine a blacksmith – he uses a hammer, it’s a tool, but he’s not using it because it will help him work less, it’s totally the opposite – he uses it because it will help him achieve more, work better, more effective, but the creative part of his job, the expertise, the experience still remain property of the blacksmith, not of the tool.

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By saying “I am an automated tester only”

I feel that the so-called “automation only” people try to skip the responsibility of owning their testing. Owning the creative and analytical part of their testing. In exchange their prefer leaning on tools and technology, looking for the root cause of poor testing in the tools they use and blame them instead, or the technology or the environment. They seems to call that “flaky tests”. But they are not flaky tests, they are crappy tests, it’s flaky logic that stands behind them. It’s like asking a fish to climb a tree and then blaming the fish for sucking at tree climbing.
In order to be successful and productive, we should know the limitations of our tools and one of the limitations of the automated tools we have today is – they are not humans and they can not replace them.

By saying “I am manual tester only”

Saying “I am manual tester only” seems like an admission of the fact that a person lacks technical knowledge, coding skills and perspective how to develop them, just because they feel insecure. So, they are willing to take one of the two options:

  1. Stay in that small labeled box, called “manual tester” and complain their asses off how much of an dying breed they are and how “big bad automation” will wipe us all.
  2. or try to look for that “magical shortcut” that will skyrocket them into “automation testing” where they will somehow automagically remain relevant and up-to-date, without doing any effort.

There’s no shortcuts and, of course, there’s nothing stopping you to use any tool, you don’t have to go to a ninja school to be able to use them. Develop the skills and get rid of titles and labeling, focus on results and none of the above will seem relevant to you.

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Final, final conclusion

I am really not aware when was that historic moment when a white bearded, magician looking, prophet of software testing, struck his staff in the ground and divided the testers into manual and automation testers. And I still don’t quite grasp on the idea why should anyone consider himself being one or the other.

We are testers, we perform testing – it’s an important job, it’s a complex job and as any complex job it will greatly benefit to use tools to facilitate it. That’s it.

So, tell me, will you remain in that small square having only role written in it and no meaning, or you will try to reach your full potential as a professional tester?

Hope you enjoyed the topic guys, will love to read your opinions on it. 🙂

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Senior software engineer in testing. The views I express here are mine, they don't represent any position held by any of my employers. Experience in mobile, automation, usability and exploratory testing. Rebel-driven tester, interested in the scientific part of testing and the thinking involved. Testing troll for life. Retired gamer and a beer lover. Martial arts practitioner.

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16 thoughts on “The non-manual, unautomated tester”

  1. Nice topic. Soon manual testers are replaced by the automation testing, many new big companies switched to automated testing to save cost and labor but it takes time to get in process the whole thing.

  2. Great article! Unfortunately, a lot of testers/QA, especially so called “automation” ones forget to look at the big picture. Definitely, testing is a complex job, consisting of many activities besides test creation and execution. As a result, they underestimate or even neglect all the “manual” / human-related activities.
    However, I totally agree that it’s beneficial to know a programing language and how to use different tools, but knowing only them doesn’t make you a good tester.

  3. Hi, Victor. Thanks for the article.
    I am totally agree that each good software tester should have basic test automation skills as well as overall technical knowledge.

    Regarding “test automator only”.
    The main point here is that good and valuable test automation (reliable and fast) requires more than basic programming skills. And it is not possible for the QA engineer to know programming on the same level as full-time developers
    As a result – many companies create a separate role completely for test automation / tools creation – e.g. Software Developer In Test / Test Automation Engineer.
    In my opinion test automation engineering is just a separate path for software developer career (more focused on quality). What is your own opinion on this question?

  4. Thanks for writing this article, I enjoy reading it and will refer to my tester collegues, especially activities diagram. Many of testers used to forgot that testing is not only test execution and there is many opportunities missing.

    My vision is – Everything what can be automated(with ROI>0) – should be automated. Rest we can test by other methods, or not test if we ok to take that risk.

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