Last Updated Apr 12, 2021 — Jonny Steiner, Product Marketing Manager

Test automation engineers need general testing or even development skills. The learning curve is steep and full of blockers. 

Continuous Testing

We are often asked if it is hard to become a test automation engineer. The short answer is yes with a but. The Long answer is no with an if.   

Yes, it is hard, but if you have the right skills, or pick them up along the way, the path to become a test automation engineer is simpler. Not that it is not that hard. You can learn a tool and simply push buttons, but you will lack a broader skillset that is necessary to reach the upper echelons of that career path.    

Sometimes job candidates that list automation skills on their resumes are unqualified for test automation engineer jobs. They often lack knowledge in either general testing or even development. These are essential skills to be successful in test automation.

The truth is that it is more complex than that. The learning curve is steep and while it is great to add skills to your quiver, there is more to it.

So how hard is it to learn to be a mobile app automation tester?   

I’m afraid that in this case, I need to answer your question with another question. When you say automation testing what are you referring to? Let me explain.  

There are three ways this conversation goes. Do you want to:  

  1. Learn how to use an automation tool and push buttons and read reports?  
  2. Write the actual code that automation testing is based on?  
  3. Understand the intricacies of mobile app test automation in a way that brings value to your app, team, customers, and company?  

This breakdown is a result of the types of people who are involved in the practice of mobile app automated testing. So, let’s break it down further.  

Pushing buttons on an assembly line   

The easiest way to learn how to be an automation tester. This method is as simple as learning a software tool. That’s the good news. The bad news however is that while this might be an easy way into the career path, the path does not need people like this. Your tools ultimately will be more important to your bosses than you are. The result? A brief and unpleasant career in mobile automation testing. We do not recommend this method for obvious reasons.  

Learn to write code and by extension tests  

Welcome to the life of a coder. In this scenario of learning, you will have to get used to preparing for failure, learning from it, and repeatedly failing again until you get it right. We have found that the industry surrounding software test automation is as complex as the one surrounding software development. Of course, you can learn to write a program that sends a text message to another phone, but can you code financial forecast simulations? Likely not, which is true of the software test automation world as well. You will need to learn how to code. No not “Hello World” really code.

The good news is that there are two ways to navigate this path as we will see.  

  1. In this path, you limit yourself to a specific testing framework. Usually, this adds up to Selenium or Appium with Java. Nothing to be ashamed of there. Everyone must start somewhere. What is important to recognize is that Selenium or Appium with Java is not the only path to web and mobile test automation. There are obviously numerous technologies and tests beyond these. Be aware not to become too reliant on these tools and allow space to learn other tools.   
  2. The other path skips the path of becoming too reliant on one set of tools. You start in the same place, but you don’t limit yourself. Start by learning good practices and testing patterns. Learn all of this in different technologies, and overall, you should learn everything you need to know to overcome the technical challenges of web and mobile test automation.

It is easy to start down these paths, but the outcome varies significantly. For the first method, you will reach a high level of competency quickly. While you can make a go of it as a career, the downside is that your skills and experience will be very narrow.

As for the second method. That one takes years of constant learning and dedicated practice. The daunting part of it is discovering as you go how little you know. Adding to the difficulty is the spate of new tech that is released each year.    

Bringing value with knowledge  

This one is the motherlode. It is not only about learning everything about each tool that helps you solved your testing problems. It is more about developing a sense of what mobile testing is on an almost spiritual level. Forget writing thousands of automated scripts this is about using technology and tools to get to the heart of testing.   

The path combines versions of the following: 

  • Writing the right test cases.  
  • Seeing what passes and analyzing that.  
  • Learning from failures  
  • Reading between the testing lines  
  • Changing course and showing true agility  
  • Communicating clearly and effectively with stakeholders  

If you can do that and become multilingual in various programming languages, you will become one with the universe of software and app testing. Every tester or person who wants to become a tester should have this as their end goal. It’s hard, brutal even but will reward your work.   

Learning software and mobile test automation in four steps   

Let’s say that you don’t know which direction to take, or how to make complex decisions about software testing. You just know it’s right for you and that you want to pursue the craft. That is great here are a few steps to help you get started.

  1. As we mentioned above learn a programming language. It is not always easy, but it is a necessary and valuable skill for automation testers. It is important to note that knowing a language is essential for test automation.   
  2. The next step is to adopt tools and frameworks. You can make life easier by using open-source tools and third-party tools. You will most likely start with Selenium and Appium, which works in your favor in that whatever language you learned will be compatible. Beyond that, you will want to learn some continuous integration tools as well.
  3. Start small, because that will make it simple. Smaller tests are easier to maintain, reuse, and debug. Going overboard writing unwieldy test cases makes like harder in the long run. So, keep them small and labeled clearly and then prioritize them. With the ability to test also comes a sense of responsibility not to automate everything. You will want to create a list of browsers and devices to test against, but if you have SeeTest that will not be an issue.   
  4. Keep practicing, using resources, and getting back to the basics. learning test automation seems like a huge mountain to climb but, with time and patience, it is not nearly as daunting. Even more important is the knowledge that there is always more to learn. The good news about that is that you have online guides, forums, meetups, and various tool communities to help support you if you need some guidance. We have found that not only is the testing community active and robust but the members in it are great at providing mentorship and guidance.   

The high demand for learning test automation skills  

I know that sounds like the title of an old “Traffic” album but it’s true. As test automation expands to more industries and companies the skills that are in play become more valuable. Working knowledge of Selenium and Appium makes testers stand out amongst their peers.   

We know that there are barriers to learning test automation. It can be tedious and anti-thought. In an agile environment, small teams struggle to break free of their siloed positions. Since test automation was something that real developers did not want to do preparing tests is sometimes dumped on less qualified members of the tea. It is also hard to learn, especially on a job with budgets and development times. Time is another barrier to learning test automation in that teams don’t always expect automation timelines.

Learning test automation is not easy, and it takes a while to get it right. That said we know that it opens up opportunities at the same time it expands minds and careers.   

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