Thursday, August 30, 2012

The MetaAutomation Meme

The word “Meme” was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to describe the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena, including cultural patterns and technologies.

Metaautomation describes a set of techniques and technologies that enable a view of software quality that is both deeper and broader than is possible with traditional software automation alone, and given sufficient investment, this can be taken further to do smart automated test retries and even automated triage and pattern detection that wouldn’t be possible with traditional techniques.

For the more advanced metaautomation concepts, the investment and risk are greater, and the potential reward in terms of team productivity are much greater. So, I’m dividing the meme into two parts:

·         First-order metaautomation: making test failures actionable, and minimizing the chances that a debugging session is necessary to find out what happened

·         Second-order metaautomation: creating some degree of automated triage, automated failure resolution, and automated smart test retry


Metaautomation is an innovation analogous to the simple structural arch: before arches, the span and strength of bridges was limited by tensile strength (resistance to bending) of the spanning material. A famous example of this technology is North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

But with arches, the span and strength is limited by the compressive strength of the material used. This works well with another common building material – stone - so the technology allows much more impressive and long-lasting results, for example, the Alcantara Bridge in Spain.

The techniques of metaautomation did not originate with me, but in defining the term and establishing a meme for the pattern, I hope to make such techniques more understandable and easy to communicate, easier to cost and express benefits for the software process, and therefore more common.

The first order of metaautomation will become very commonly used as the value is more widely understood. The second order of metaautomation is good for large, distributed and long-lived projects, or where data has high impact e.g. health care or aviation systems.

1 comment:

  1. A helpful way to see the distinction between first-order and second-order metaautomation is that the former happens at automated test run time, and the latter happens at least on a different thread and possibly a different process, or in the cloud, or repeatedly, operating typically on artifacts of multiple test runs.


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