When brain gears are stuck, give automation a try
Describing a journey from manual testing, de-routing via oncology ward, and returning to work ready to throw manual testing out the window, de-rust coding skills and automate e2e test cases
One gets to know the true values of a company, not when things go well, but when they go south and you’re no longer in a position to do your job duties. In my own personal case, I got to know the true values of SAP Labs Canada, when I was diagnosed with cancer, stage 3 in the year 2016.
This short talk is not a corporate propaganda piece, but rather an exposition of how I went from being a somewhat frustrated manual tester, to fight cancer for 2 years, and returning to work to completely change my day-to-day job as a Test Developer.
Being fortunate enough to live in Canada, my cancer diagnosis was not accompanied by a hefty financial burden. Nevertheless, the situation a person encounters with this diagnosis is a truly painful one and the whole world stops. From the get-go, SAP Labs was amazingly supportive, and even though there was a lot of paperwork to fill out, I was able to guarantee that I would receive an income throughout all my time away in chemotherapy.
I went to the hospital’s oncology ward knowing I would be able to support my family during this process. And if for some reason I wouldn’t make it, that they would be taken care of.
Before I was diagnosed, my work was somewhat dull and repetitive. Being the team’s QA meant constantly deploying more than 10 test servers, and infinite repetitive manual testing of web applications and APIs. It was mentally dull.
Then, I began chemotherapy and fought cancer for 2 years. I spent 3 months hospitalized, isolated in a room where visitors would need to put on masks and special sanitized gear to see me.
After all my treatments finished, I asked my Oncologist if I could return to work and he gave me a funny look and told me yes, but with caution.
To my surprise, my immediate boss was very accommodating with me. He allowed me to slowly return to work. At first 2 hours per day, then 3, so on and so forth. I used to walk very slowly back then. You have no idea the positive impact it is for a cancer patient to feel productive and useful again.
During all those months at the hospital, besides my own personal and spiritual goals, I decided never again to do manual testing. Ever. Period!
Yet, upon returning to the office, my brain would just not work. I would sit at the computer and no ideas would appear. Nothing. Zero. Before chemotherapy I considered myself an excellent bug sniffer. Yet now, logical reasoning and the critical thinking required for hunting bugs was just not there. My oncologist told me I had a somewhat serious case of brain fog caused by chemotherapy. He told me to take my time and challenge my brain every day.
Determined not to do manual testing, I spoke to one of our Senior researchers who was developing a framework for UI testing. This framework, called Smart Agents (SAGE) uses random interactions, machine learning and AI, to mimic user behavior when interfacing with a web application. I told him about my situation and he graciously allowed me to experiment with his framework.
I gave myself the goal of considerably reducing our manual regression testing process. It caused us a lot of unnecessary repetitions and weeks’ worth of work per year. It was a process hated by everybody in the team. I compiled an extensive list of manual end-2-end tests and began to automate them using the SAGE framework using Java and Spring.
The first weeks were very difficult, and I would get stuck in for-loops for hours at a time. However, slowly but surely, I was able to show progress to the team and reduce the burden of manual testing. It was amazing to see how we were now able to complete regression testing in 1 or 2 days instead of 8-10 days per release. Not everything got automated, but the boring stuff, we certainly gave it to the Smart Agents to do. The team was able to move on to more ambitious projects because a lot of time was freed up due to automation.
With my re-learned Java skills I was able to also automate test server deployments and a lot of my frustration went away because of it.
In retrospective, this was a win-win situation for me and the team. My determination, and perhaps stubbornness, paid off.
Fortunately I was able to take a highly negative situation in my personal life and transform it into an opportunity for true change at my job. Test automation helped me overcome the brain fog I had due to chemotherapy and it caused a positive impact on my team.
Without the support of SAP Labs, and the patience and human kindness granted to me by HR, my manager and peers, this journey would not have been possible