A Bottom up Approach to Test Automation


A new way to improve QA tools for FINRA

In an organization with hundreds of people working in technology, it’s easy for knowledge and practices to get stuck inside different groups, especially in test automation. Worse, some areas that could use solutions might not be well known outside of a specific team.

Initially, one team had been focused on providing the test automation tools. However, as that team evolved and began to focus more on Productivity Engineering, they couldn’t focus on test automation tools as well. The QA directors saw an opportunity to have a group to focus more on Quality Assurance practices. By the end of 2015, Shane Ebersole, Lead Developer, had already been interested in standing up a group like this.

They approached him to help streamline test automation.

Open participation, formalizing practices

Shane helped start Test Automation Practice group (TAP). From the beginning, he wanted TAP to be democratic. “It’s meant to be an outlet for people to be able to get out of the day to day work of their project, to pursue their own thing.” Shane explained, “Whether you want to learn more about Javascript testing or come up with better utilities. There's a way to do that on your own but also potentially benefit your coworkers, even look good on your resume.”

This focus led to a committee system. TAP began by bringing in both already started projects and taking time to look at areas that needed help, such as REST testing. In addition, they created a committee to ensure there was a process for onboarding new projects into the TAP group. Today, each project has a committee and committee head. Just like open source projects, these are purely voluntary projects people do on top of their daily work. Anyone who is interested can help as little or as much as they like.

TAP helped give structure not only to these projects but also to communication. Every week committee heads and Shane come together to talk about the status of their projects and allow other FINRA employees who may have a testing problem to come and discuss. Email lists are also used so people can stay informed on specific projects as well as for TAP as a whole.

As of the end of May 2016, there are 12 committees and about 30 people on the TAP listserv. Shane admits, however, that this may not represent all participants. “The listserv and meetings aren’t a requirement to participate in these projects”, he said.

Increasing engagement

Another goal of TAP has been to share these projects inside of FINRA and see if there were other projects that could be incorporated into TAP too. Many teams were already using some of these tools such as MSL and JTAF. Yet, much of this had been happening via word of mouth. TAP wanted to increase awareness throughout the tech side of the organization.

Thus, they had the TAP tech fair in mid-May. They hosted a lunch time fair, offering pizza, opportunities to chat with different TAP projects, and hear brief presentations of each. Dozens from inside FINRA crowded the conference room, hoping to learn about tools they could use on their FINRA teams.

It was exciting for all the TAP committees. People showed up, asked questions, and many even signed up to learn more about specific projects. Afterwards, committees have also been onboarding more projects each week.

Taking TAP further

After a successful fair, TAP is considering other ways to increase engagement. They’re looking at tackling engagement in a variety of ways. With new projects such as GoJira, they’d like to create more informational opportunities. This could be workshops, meetups, or other kinds of training sessions to help different parts of FINRA learn about new tools. Their emphasis is less on lecturing to people and having more Q&A type sessions, allowing people to more directly engage with the material.

Yet, TAP also realizes that it’s a volunteer group. “We want to set a tone for fun” Shane emphasized. Jokes happen a lot during meetings and sessions. They hope to have happy hours and other low key events where people can chat about their QA and testing interests. Just like their projects, making TAP successful will include testing, debugging, and replicating the successes.