Manual Testers vs. Automation Engineers – Why the Divide?

I just got back from the stp conference in San Francisco (  After attending several talks and speaking one on one with folks there, I started to notice a recurring undercurrent.  There seems to be a divide in the testing community between manual testing and automated testing.  I am noticing more and more that papers, blogs, etc that I read and any talks I attend have either one focus or the other but never combine the two.  For example, the automated community rarely mentions manual testing or the need for it.  Conversely, the manual testing community (especially in the exploratory testing world) seems to really down-play the need and/or importance of automated testing.  I think this is in turn perpetuating a divide in skill sets of testers as well.  Teams have manual testers and then separate automation engineers instead of just having test staff that do both.


In my experience, the real sweet-spot in testing is when you have a combination of both manual and automated tests.  They both serve a real purpose and they both provide a lot of value.  I would never want to be on a project that was either 100% manual testing or 100% automated testing.  The projects I have been on that have been the most successful and produced the highest quality results were projects that used a combination of testing strategies.


Automated testing allows you to get more testing done.  When you have a large portion of your test scripts automated, that frees up time for testers to do exploratory testing that can’t be put under automation.  If none of your tests are automated, then you will likely spend a good portion of your testing time validating happy path, “good” user scenarios and will never get to spend time really digging into the product to test the more unusual scenarios that tend to have hidden defects in them.


The strongest testers I have worked with are ones that can do both.  They are technical enough to get high functioning, easily maintainable automation scripts in place but also spend time using their “soft” skills to manually test as well.


Here is why I think we are seeing this divide in our community: 


  1. Most teams separate their manual testers from their automated testers.  I think this is a recipe for disaster.  When you have a team that only does automated testing, their scripts are often given to them by the manual testers.  Often times, the automation engineers code exactly what they are told to do without any real in-depth knowledge of the product.  Then, because the manual testers don’t really understand the automation or how it works, (and because testers tend to struggle with severe trust issues), the manual testers often spend a large amount of time manually testing the same functions that are automated….just so they can be sure it really works and that the automation didn’t miss anything.  What a waste of time!!!
  2. The manual testing community doesn’t want to learn how to automate.  The idea of learning that technology is scary.
  3. The automation community thinks manual testing is boring and doesn’t want to do it.  A lot of the strong automation testers I have worked with and met come from development backgrounds and really just want to write code.  They have no desire to really “play” with the system to see what they can find.


I think manual only testers have a chip on their shoulders with automation because they don’t know how to do it and are scared of it.  Automation engineers tend to make more money then manual testers because of the required technical skill set – they are treated almost like developers in terms of rank and pay.  Often times, they act like they are more valuable as well.  Not good.  The skills that are required to be a good manual tester are hard to measure so they are often not considered as valuable as developer skills.  This isn’t fair, either.  I think it is harder to train someone how to think like a good tester then it is to train them how to create an automation script. 


When testers are able to play in both spaces….do automation AND manual testing, then they are able to build better automation scripts and spend their manual testing time focusing on those high risk, interesting parts of the application that lend themselves to interesting what-if scenarios.  They won’t waste time manually testing what is under automation because they can trust the automation is doing what it was built to do.  However, finding these people is hard (at least it has been for me!). 


I hope that in the future we can see more folks in the testing community talking about how manual and automated testing can work together and highlight the strengths and limitations of both.  One is not better then the other – they each serve a specific purpose and each provides significant value.  I believe that every project needs and should have manual and automated tests going on all the time.