Using Automated Website Testing to Win at Parenting

Sasha climbing a rock wall

Today my daughter starts a one-week summer camp at our local Earth Treks rock climbing center. She’s super-excited, and has been looking forward to this since I signed her up last December.

Of course, there is always a catch. The summer camp scene here in the D.C. area is ultra-competitive, and this one was no exception. You have to sign up early to get into camps with only a few slots, sometimes as early as October or November. By January and February, most of the summer camp programs in the area are open for enrollment, and mostly filled up. When they open, you gotta get in quick.

But I’m terrible: I forget things, I get busy. Just like every other working parent. And I certainly don’t trust myself to remember to check one particular summer camp every day in order to get in right when registrations open. Fortunately, I had a friend and former co-worker who is into climbing and had worked at that Earth Treks. She helped me narrow down about when registrations would open, but didn’t know the exact date. With only twelve slots per camp, once registration opened, those slots would fill quickly.

When Web Tools and Parenting Collide

Then it dawned on me. At my previous agency, we had used Ghost Inspector to perform daily tests on some of our websites in order to make sure certain features were always in working order. As a joke, I even had used it to snapshot the AWS home page once a day to see if I could spot new offerings by the cloud mega-service. What if I could use that same tool to gain an edge on the summer camp sign-up scene?

So I used the Ghost Inspector to find the path through to where the summer camp sign-up page would be. Because there was a bit of JavaScript tab action going on, there wasn’t a single definitive URL that one could just “hit” to see if registration was open. So I created a recording of how to get to the page where the sign-ups would be, and set Ghost Inspector to run that script every day.

Then I waited.

Every day for two weeks I got an email that my test “passed”. That is to say, the result was the same that day as the previous recording. Nothing had changed.

But of course, that’s not what I was looking for. In this case, a “passed” test was actually a failed result. But I waited, and after a couple of weeks, it finally came: I got an email notification that my Ghost Inspector test had “failed.” But in this case, it failed because the sign-up form had appeared. Registration was open!

I jumped onto the site and signed Sasha up for camp, the first registrant for that week’s program.

Is It Worth It?

Of course, at $99/month, Ghost Inspector is a pricy tool for just trying to get an edge on signing your kid for camp. Fortunately, I’ve had my account so long that I’m grandfathered into the free “Personal” plan that gives you 100 tests per month. I’m not sure that that plan still exists, but there is a 14 day free trial.

There are also alternatives to Ghost Inspector, but I can’t vouch for most of them. The requirement for this particular application was the ability to record a script of which elements to click on to get me to the screen I wanted. As I said earlier, there was no canonical URL I could just go to that had the form I needed. If there is, your options open up, because any visual regression testing tool that keeps a history would work.

Wraith is a tool I’ve used in the past for visual regression testing, but it’s pretty archaic and seemingly an abandoned project at this point. UIlicious is another scriptable tool, and they appear to have a free tier (but I’ve never tried it). There’s also the old, and extremely geeky Selenium. I’ve never been able to master it, but if you’re a QA engineer already well-versed in its use, it may be all you need to accomplish the task.

And if you have Ghost Inspector already, and you have the tests to spare, setting up another is no sweat. And getting your kid into the camp she really wants is totally worth it.


What work tools have you used to achieve a great parenting hack? Let me know in the comments!

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