Continuing the mission… and continually improving

In my previous post I described how my teammate JoEllen Carter (@testingmojo) and I have been pairing for an iOS UI smoke test automation spike. By working together, making use of a book, online resources, and examples sent by a colleague in another office, we were getting some traction. However, we ran into a lot of obstacles and some days were pretty discouraging.

Scaredy tester!
Scaredy tester!

For example, one day our tests failed, and we discovered the programmers had changed many element names. We had known our tests were fragile, but didn’t realize how hard it would be to figure out the new names and fix the tests. After that, we refactored our tests to take out hard coded strings and use variables. We defined all the variables in one place so we can easily change them.

I’m not sure if it was the partial solar eclipse or what, but one day all the scripts we had written quit working on my machine. In fact, I couldn’t even build the product anymore. That was extremely frustrating! One day when I was working from home, the programmer/PO and JoEllen used my work iMac while I screenshared, and we worked together via Zoom to get everything working again. If I hadn’t been pairing, and we didn’t have support from programmers on our team, I know I wouldn’t have gotten past obstacles such as that one.

Well, it hasn't seemed THAT easy! But this book helps a lot.
It hasn’t been THAT easy! But, good book.

We looked for more ways to make the tests easier to maintain. In a book we’ve been using, Test iOS Apps with UI Automation by Jonathan Penn, we read about using predicates. When we got some time with one of the programmers (who is also the product owner, and is championing our automation effort), he agreed using the searchWithPredicate looked like a better approach and helped us get a rudimentary version of it working. It lets you look for a particular value somewhere on the screen, without having to know the exact element (for which we often had to resort to numbered cells) where it should be. That way, element names can change but you can still find your text string. These are intended to be smoke tests, so that is good enough. JoEllen mastered searchWith Predicate on her own the next day, and added a couple of functions for it to our “test helper” file where our variables and other functions used by multiple test scripts are defined.

Another important effort has been figuring out how to get our tests into our CI. We found a ui-automation-runner that lets us run the tests on the command line instead of from Instruments. However, we didn’t know how to bring up the iOS simulator other than via xCode and Instruments. We set up a Zoom meeting with one of our iOS programmers in Toronto, and showed him what we were doing and what we needed. He said he could check in something that would allow us to bring up the simulator from the command line. The product owner put in a chore for this, and we soon had what we needed.

The same day we met with the programmer, my co-author Janet Gregory was in town and visited our office. I showed her our test scripts. She commented that some of the script names were confusing or misleading. JoEllen and I renamed the files so that the purpose of each is more obvious. For example, our test helper file is now called “ios_test_helper.js” instead of “tracker_ios.js”. We added “test” to the name of each test script, for example, login_test.js instead of login.js. Simple changes can help a lot!

Our focus has been on refactoring the tests for maintainability, and working towards getting the tests into our CI. We changed the tests to run with fixture data so they can run against a localhost. This wasn’t too bad since we’re using variables instead of hard coded strings. But we’ve been adding a few test cases as well. For example, we had a happy path login test, but decided we should verify that you can’t log in with invalid credentials. This required us to learn how to test a pop-up alert. I tried to figure this out on my own when JoEllen was in a meeting, but failed. When we paired on it, we struggled some, but (largely thanks to JoEllen’s talent for this stuff!) finally mastered it. Today, we zeroed in on how to mitigate one of the flaky simulator behaviors, too. It feels great to start to understand what the heck we’re doing!

Some days I have been quite discouraged, like when I couldn’t even build the product anymore, but other days I see we examplereally have made a lot of progress. Forcing myself to drive more has built up my confidence. We have a lot of examples now though, both in our own scripts, and the ones our colleague in Toronto sent us. I learn best from examples, so that’s helping me. I finally feel like I kind of understand what I’m doing. And I’m excited about our next steps, as we make these smoke tests part of our CI, where they can give us more confidence about future releases.

I appreciate the positive feedback I got on my previous post. These are the kinds of experiences that Janet and I and 40 other contributors share in our new book More Agile Testing. I hope you will share your experiences – please put links to your blog posts in the comments here!

Other news:

Speaking of More Agile Testing, Janet and I did an interview with Tom Cagley, which is available now on his SPAMCast. We talk about what’s in the book and about our agile testing experiences.

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