Saurabh Shrihar, software development manager in automation with Johnson & Johnson
Saurabh Shrihar, software development manager in automation with Johnson & Johnson. Image: Saurabh Shrihar

Does automation in pharma spell the end for manual testers?

31 Aug 2017

With automation becoming a definite part of the testing process in pharma, what will happen to those who work as manual testers? Will they still have jobs?

Robots taking jobs has been a concern among many when the future of work is discussed.

While it can be argued that the advancements in technology, AI and robotics will lead to a host of new jobs, a worry still remains among those who have jobs that revolve around tedious tasks.

This worry isn’t only present in low-skilled jobs. The role of manual testers within the pharma industry will transform dramatically as automation starts to creep in. But do they have anything to worry about in terms of job security?

Saurabh Shrihar is a software development manager in automation with Johnson & Johnson. “My interest in automation started early in my career,” he said.

“I was always striving to find better ways of executing tasks and was focused on innovating a solution rather than following the well-trodden path. I try to challenge the status quo wherever possible by improving processes.”

Shrihar said he, along with his team, wanted to customise an automation framework that would be easy to use and would work for multiple browsers and data configurations. This is where Robot Framework came in.

“Robot Framework is an open source tool that allows users from all over the world to contribute towards creating usable libraries which are reviewed, built and then made available to all other users. Another advantage is that it unifies frameworks into a consistent way of working,” explained Shrihar.

“So, for example, an automation engineer working in one technology can easily shift to another with minimal changes to their way of working. Robot is able to automate tests in the big data space where there was previously no consistent framework.”

Unified automation using Robot Framework is likely to become the future of testing, and Shrihar will be discussing its significance at the Quest for Quality conference in October. But where does it leave the manual testers?

“The role of the tester has only grown more important,” said Shrihar. “In Johnson & Johnson, we have strategised the role to be of more importance and also provide testers with a career path that allows them to progress; from tester to test lead, to test manager and beyond.”

Shrihar said the advancements in automated testing will mean that manual testers will no longer be considered a low-value job. “Automation will reset the existing roles into a more advanced form. Testers will focus on finding defects rather than just ticking boxes by rerunning low-value tests,” he said.

“In Johnson & Johnson, we have also defined the role of test lead, who will work across projects making sure that the testing activities are conducted correctly.”

‘Agile transformation does not happen in a day’

Shrihar said that while there may not be a need for as many testers to execute the tests as previously required, these manual workers are being upskilled to be more effective within projects.

“They are encouraged to contribute to automation in whatever capacity that they can,” he said. “It comes down to individual capability and drive, and we support the manual testers as they transition into a more relevant role for the team.”

Indeed, the key for moving forward with automation and retaining manual testers is upskilling. “Sometimes, to move forward, you may need to update your skill set first.”

Shrihar said that when it comes to automation, it’s about the individuals working for an organisation as well as the support that comes from top management levels.

“Agile transformation does not happen in a day,” he said. “Companies need to identify the benefit of not just agile, but also automation. A bigger commitment is required from businesses to trust in the process and roll ahead.

“Automation is key in this space and it is never a low-skill job, so we do need highly talented individuals to maintain and enhance the automation activities.”

Saurabh Shrihar will be speaking at Comtrade Digital Services’ Quest for Quality conference on 4 to 5 October. He will be discussing unified automation using Robot Framework for GxP development in agile.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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