PDX Tech Talks Monthly #3 - PDX Selenium User Group

When I discovered Portland has a meet-up dedicated to Selenium and test automation, I was interested. Then I noticed they were meeting in Jive’s cool office downtown, and became double interested. Selenium is a popular free tool used to automate website testing, which folks on my team have started evaluating. The Jive office was recently featured in big budget Tech Town Portland video. Yes, it’s the one the cameras flew around in a drone helicopter. Needless to say I was excited to check it out. 

Chris showing us some test results

The Event – PDX Selenium User Group

Attending a user group for the first time is very enlightening. These groups attract local experts who share enthusiasm for a particular technology. It’s fun to swap stories with peers about how your company is using a tool or language. For me, it was impressive to see how many people from local companies were involved in and excited about automated testing.

The first speaker, Chris Cowell-Shah, described how Jive used Robot Framework to create a suite of tests for their browser-based product. The framework allows you to create simple keywords that can be used to execute Selenium tests (and other things). It’s supposed to make writing tests easy, and apparently it works, as Chris noted they’ve amassed a huge number of tests.

The second speaker, Jive alumni and current Nike-er James Lee, described a custom test framework he built for Jive. His tool measured things like page loading speed and the size of JavaScript included on each page. When pages suddenly slowed down or became huge, his test noticed the problem and the developer was alerted to investigate. Apparently Jive’s customers love fast web pages, and accidentally slowing them down is not an option. James approach involved some serious code and fun statistical concepts like standard deviation measurement and outlier elimination.

Who I Met

I chatted with Pedro Perez de Tejada who works downtown at PreCash. Pedro recently moved up from San Francisco to lead an automated testing initiative that makes use of the Robot Framework. He’s a big fan of the tool and loves how it enables non-programming types to write tests. I also talked to the event’s co-organizer, James Eisenhauer, who commented on the trend of consultant groups forming that specialize in test automation (e.g. event sponsor Sauce Labs).

What I Learned

Chris pointed out that maintainability is a big concern when it comes to programmatic tests. His team ended up wishing they had fewer tests that were more focused. Both James Lee and Chris mentioned that a certain percentage of the time, Selenium tests fail for no easily discernible reason. They said it’s tough to make the tests 100% reliable and instead focused on mechanisms to re-run when strange Selenium failures were detected.

I also learned that all web browers record useful stats like how long it takes for JavaScript to load, when the page becomes visible or clickable, etc. There’s a standard way to retrieve that data from the browser for analysis.

Wrap Up

Automated testing can be very useful and lots of local folks are doing it. If you’re interested in getting started with Selenium or improve your existing test suite, you should definitely check out this meet-up.

Next Month

As I mentioned last month, I think “The Internet of Things” is a tech trend with a lot of momentum. Apparently theirs a meet-up for that: Thing Tuesday. Awesome! I’ll try to check out their next event on July 9th at Puppet Labs.