How can lessons from Pokémon apply to software testing and automation?
It’s no secret that I’m a lifelong Nintendo fanboy, and one of my favorite game franchises is Pokémon. Since Christmas, I have been playing the latest installment in the series, Pokémon Moon. The basic gameplay in all Pokémon games is to capture “pocket monsters” in the wild and train them for competitive battles. The main quest is to become the Pokémon League Champion by defeating the strongest trainers in the land. However, as any child of the ’90s will recall, the other major goal of the game is to catch all species of Pokémon. With 300 unique species in the latest installment, that’s no small feat. I can proudly say that I caught ’em all in Pokémon Moon. Here’s the proof:
It may seem strange to talk about video games on a professional blog, but I see five major parallels between catching Pokémon and my career in software quality and automation.
#1: As QA, We Gotta Catch ’em All
It is the quality engineer’s job to find and resolve all software problems: bugs, defects, design flaws, bad code check-ins, test failures, environment instabilities, deployment hiccups, and even automation crashes. We get paid to make sure things are good. And if we don’t catch a problem, then we haven’t done our jobs right.
#2: Coverage is Key to Success
One of the reasons to catch new Pokémon is not just to make the game’s Pokémon Professor happy for “scientific research,” but moreover to find stronger monsters to assist with the quest. Likewise, more test coverage means more problems discovered, which assists our quest to guarantee product quality. Our goal should be to achieve as close to complete test coverage as reasonably possible. When necessary, we should use risk-based approaches to smartly minimize test gaps as well. And our tests should be strong enough to legitimately exercise the features under test.
#3: Automating Tests Takes Time
As my trainer passport shows, it took me over 100 hours of gameplay to catch all 300 Pokémon. That’s a serious time investment. Test automation is the same way: it takes time to automate tests properly. It requires a robust, scalable, and extendable framework upon which to build test cases. Test automation is a software product in its own right that requires the same best practices and discipline as the product it tests. Software teams must allocate resources to its development and maintenance. It’s not as simple as just “writing test scripts.” However, when done right, the investment pays off.
#4: Not All Tests are Equal
Test metrics like “X passed and Y failed” or “N% of tests automated” can be very misleading because they do not account for differences between tests. Some tests have more coverage than others. Some require more time to run. Some require more time to automate. For example, 100 tests for feature A may take a day to automate and run in 3 minutes, while 5 tests for feature B may take a full week to automate and run in 3 hours. Yet, feature A may still be more important. All Pokémon are likewise not created equal. Some are simply given to you (like Rowlet, Litten, and Popplio), while others take hours of searching to find (like Castform) or are simply too tough to capture without a hard fight (like the Ultra Beasts). Be mindful of test differences for planning, execution, and reporting.
#5: Never Leave Work Incomplete
As a completionist, I would not consider my Pokémon adventure complete without a full Pokédex. There is great satisfaction in accomplishing the full measure of a goal. The same thing goes for testing and automation: my job is not done until all tests are automated and all lines are green. At times, it may be easy to give up because that “Ultra Beast” just won’t cooperate, but it’s the job to catch it. Always complete the ‘dex; always complete the job.
If you see any more parallels between Pokémon and QA, please add them to the comments section below!