Changing The Automation Game
Over the past year, Zeenyx has become a trusted partner of Loop.STS. The man responsible for Zeenyx? Zeenyx’s co-founder and automation guru, Brian Le Suer. We sat down with Brian to discuss how he got started in the software testing industry, what changes he has seen throughout his tenure, and what the future of automated software testing holds.
Brian is a charismatic man with a world of experience in automated testing. Yet, he did not intentionally pursue a career in this field. In fact, his undergraduate degree was in English literature. Upon graduation he found himself writing technical manuals. These technical manuals required him to use the software. He started to find bugs within the software and would send them to the development team. After six months of doing this, they asked him to join their team. Starting as a QA engineer, Brian also completed a Master’s in Computer Science. He found his passion for automated testing and has continued to follow it to this day.
Talking to Brian, you can sense the overwhelming knowledge that he has about automated testing. His confidence stems from his experiences working as VP of development at a major software company and starting his own automated test consulting agency, StarQuality. It was as a consultant that Brian found automation tools on the market were falling short.
What we found was that while people wanted to do automated testing, they really couldn’t be successful because they didn’t know how to program or they didn’t want to program. We knew we had to figure out a way to make this easier.
The automated tools available at the time didn’t simultaneously have ease of use and maintainability. Reluctantly, Brian admits with a laugh, they started to build a universal agent which has grown into a full automated testing solution called AscentialTest.
AscentialTest is a tool designed to increase software testing productivity and ensure a smooth automation process. When pressed if automated testing has changed over the years, Brian replied that the core problems are still relevant.
The same issues we faced back then are the same today. Maintenance is everything when it comes to automated testing.
AscentialTest came onto the market to deliver that. Brian and his team at Zeenyx created a tool that reduces the learning curve while increasing productivity. Brian states, “Our mission hasn’t changed. We want tools that are easy to use that you don’t have to have a programming background for. But more than anything else, a tool that allows you to maintain a test very very quickly.” AscentialTest delivers that.
Some of the challenges in automated testing that AscentialTest has faced are the dreaded recorders. According to Brian recorders were, and continue to be, fraught with problems. They record things clients did not want to be recorded, are difficult to maintain, and set bad expectations. He believes that SQA did a terrible disservice to the software testing industry when they convinced people that recorders were the best option for automated tools.
We don’t want people to fall into bad habits when using recorders.
Zeenyx’s biggest challenge is undoing the expectation of recorders. To hear Brian’s views on recorders makes you realize why no one in the software testing industry should even consider them. He expounds that even the most sophisticated recorders do not work accurately. Testers end up building linear tests that are not maintainable. Brian stresses that the most important facet of automated testing is maintainability. If you can’t maintain a test, what is the point of automation?
Brian saw the complex issues that were brought to automated testing via recorders. He and his team resolved that AscentialTest would be better. And it is. Zeenyx has put in the energy and careful consideration for the features it has developed. “We wanted a tool where you did not need to be a programmer”, Brian explains, as he enthusiastically talks about AscentialTest. When asked what makes AscentialTest different from the other automation tools, he presents the many virtues of using AscentialTest.
This isn’t just some founder bragging about his product– AscentialTest has some pretty cool features. Instead of recording, AscentialTest found a more creative and viable option. Users can create steps using point and click. These actions are then generated by their interactions with ‘snapshots’ or smart application images. Most actions are all generated through drag and drop. The drag and drop feature generates actions and in turn, builds a reusable step.
Further expansion on the reusable step is needed because of its impact on automated testing. It provides the ability for users to create tests from reusable building blocks– these so called ‘steps’. If there is a change in the application, only the impacted steps need to be altered. The rest of the tests that carry out that step are then automatically updated. Thus, the holy grail of automated testing, test maintenance, is protected.
Zeenyx saw organizations struggling to maintain tests over time and pouring in resources to try to do so. Companies spent time and money creating frameworks that would have to be redone with each new version of the target application. It also created an issue of companies being reliant on that framework developer forever.
What happens when that developer disappears? They build this intricate framework that requires a coder and if they ever decide to leave that company, the company is now lost.
AscentialTest is unique in that it has no framework to build or maintain. This guarantees there is no risk of companies being dependent on coders. The risk of a complex automation system rendered unusable after a senior engineer leaves is gone.
When asked why Zeenyx does not display the return on investment of AscentialTest on their website, Brian responded “We don’t attempt to provide estimates of ROI, mostly because they are nearly impossible to do. They are so dependent on the domain itself.” He voiced that some applications are easy to automate with high ROI because of their limited but varied number of paths. When there are those kinds of tests, the company immediately gets a huge return on investment because of hundreds and thousands of test combinations can be executed with relative ease. But there are other applications that because of the domain, won’t achieve a high ROI as quickly. Companies can get the reusability of tests and steps, but might not get the ROI straight away.
“I’ve been in the business for a long time, I know better,” Brian states on why Zeenyx won’t include ROI in their marketing efforts. He declares that companies should focus more on calculating an ROI for their own business. While there are a ton of data points that need to be considered, companies have that possibility. Once companies have completed one automation project, it is easier to use that to determine future ROI.
AscentialTest’s mission to provide easy and maintainable automated testing has not changed. AscentialTest is a mature tool, but that does not mean they do not have big plans for the future. When asked about how he envisions AscentialTest in the future, he said that there are going to be three main thrusts forthcoming.
The first thing lined up is integrations. While AscentialTest has some integrations now, they are looking to expand later in 2020 with new integrations with Jenkins, TFS and Azure. Some of this push is customer-driven with AscentialTest being open to new integrations. The next thrust is expanding to the mobile platform which is anticipated to come next year. The last future goal is to have part of AscentialTest spin off for developers. AscentialTest has its language, Zee, but the idea here is for AscentialTest to be driven by outside languages. Universal testing units could be driven by external languages such as Python. The hope is that clients can use components of AscentialTest without having to buy into the whole product.
After regaling us with the future of AscentialTest, we asked Brian if he had any final words of wisdom to impart. He admitted to sounding like a broken record, but maintenance is the backbone of automated testing.
We cannot talk enough about maintenance. I’ve been in this business for 35 years and I haven’t seen anything that is more important than that. It’s really disheartening when you have spent a lot of time and money on something like an automated test suite and then you get a new release of a product and all of a sudden you find out that it just doesn’t work anymore. That’s a real failure. We don’t want that to ever happen.
The success of Zeenyx and AscentialTest is real. “We have had customers since day one that have been running and modifying the same test for a dozen years as their applications have evolved. So it wasn’t just an idea that we had that you could build tests that were maintainable, we actually see it in our customers.” Loop.STS is proud to be working with Brian and the entire Zeenyx team in implementing AscentialTest and improving the client’s automation work.