The Importance of Test Users

Anyone who does any type of software testing understands that having test users is a necessary part of the process. Generally you can’t log into the production version of an application as an actual user because of security concerns, and test environments don’t have real users. In this post, I’ll talk about why test users are so important, and offer suggestions on how to care for them.

Test users make manual testing easier

Most applications have different user levels. For example, there’s often an Admin user that can do things that ordinary users can’t. In HR software, there are Supervisor users that can do things that regular Employee users can’t, such as approve time-off requests or submit a promotion recommendation.
Users often have different configurations as well. There might be users on a paid plan, who have access to more features than the users on the free plan. Or users might have chosen different settings for their account, such as using dark mode, or limiting who can see their posts.
It’s important to test all these different scenarios, and because of this, it’s a great idea to have configured test users all ready to go when it’s time to test. You don’t want to have to set up a bunch of users from scratch each time you have something new to test, because this wastes time that could be used for testing.

Test users make automated testing more complete

Because of all the scenarios mentioned above, it’s worthwhile to set up automated testing so that a number of different scenarios can be tested quickly. For example, you could set up a test that validates the presence of elements on the home screen, and then run the test twice, once for a user on the free plan and once for a user on the paid plan. This saves you from having to manually log in as each user and validate what’s on the home screen.
The more configuration combinations you have, the more important it is to set up automated tests for many or all those configurations. This way you can catch obscure bugs before they make it to production.

Test users allow you to troubleshoot issues quickly

When real-life users have a problem with the software, you’ll want to diagnose the problem as quickly as possible. You may need to log into the production environment, but can’t use a real user’s credentials. You’ll want to have a test user with a similar configuration to the real users available in order to reproduce the issue. Then, when a developer codes a fix for the problem, you’ll want to have a test user with a similar configuration to use in the test environment to validate the fix. If you don’t have these users ready, you’ll need to spend valuable time setting them up; this will slow down the debugging and testing process, and the real-life users will have to wait longer for a fix for their problem.

How to care for your test users

Test users are only good if they are kept up-to-date! It’s so frustrating to try to log in with a test user’s account only to discover that the password has changed and you don’t know what it is. Because of this, it’s important to care for your test users in these ways:

Assign someone to configure and maintain your test users

The person who does this should be the most organized person on the team. Or, if they don’t want that permanent commitment, you can have the job rotate from person to person every quarter or every year. This person is responsible for setting up the test users, keeping a list of those users with their login information, and updating the users when their passwords expire or when something else changes.

Share the test users with your team

Developers love it when the team has a list of test users they can refer to! Because they are not testing every day, they might not be as familiar with users to test with as you are. Having a list that everyone on the team can refer to means that developers can quickly find the right users they need to test out the new feature they just developed.

Share your test users with other teams

I am often mystified when I ask a tester on another team for a test user that I can use to test their application area, and they don’t have one handy. How on earth are they testing? Do they just test with the Admin user over and over again? It’s so helpful for cross-team collaboration when each team has some test users that they can share with other teams. It allows everyone to get their work done more quickly! But it’s very important when someone on another team shares their test users with you to respect those users: don’t change their passwords, usernames, or any other important features. And remember that what seems like a small change to a user when interacting in your application area might mean a huge change in someone else’s area.

Test users save time

With a little bit of preparation and organization, you can have a host of test users that will streamline your testing. Test cases will be executed more quickly, bugs will be caught sooner, and issues in production can be diagnosed at lightning speed.

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