- 15 months long
- Tests 3 times a week, 7 hours each and in front of a crowd
- If you skip a test you'll have to do it again, typically within 5 days.
- The expected level of competence is: "Good enough to teach others"
- Little or no chance of "redo:s", you better do it right the first time, every time
In other words: I've been teaching a class in software testing.
The intense experience of teaching testing like this has of course taught me tons of things and with this post I want to share the positive effects this particular job had on my own learning. Each benefit (of teaching) comes with a "why I find it useful" and "how you can apply this knowledge in a more everyday context".
I'm not a fan of committing to a plan, especially not when it comes to my learning. However, the education's curriculum did force me to look into many topics/material I would otherwise had skipped due to laziness, lack of interest or lack of understanding (not thinking it was useful to me). Some of these have definitely made me a more complete/skilled tester such as test framing, deeper understanding of test techniques and a better understanding of bias.
- Use this existing curriculum in your own self-education.
- Complete the BBST courses (just for reference: I haven't done this myself)
- Create your own list of topics and focus on these in whatever order you prefer.
Important though: It's easy to do this in a shallow way, go deep to learn something new!
Some good resources to guide you: James Bach - Self-education, James Bach - My view of testing professionalism (especially page 7) and Huib Schoots - A road to awesomeness.
Benefit: Go deep
I've read tons of articles, watched hundreds of hours of presentations/videos and spent a lot of time practically practicing testing. However, I often end up looking at topics in a quite shallow way especially when I find the topic a bit boring (may still be very useful). When you are to talk about a specific topic for just a couple of hours, you're okey, there's little "need" to go deep. When you have to prepare several weeks of study material though, that's a whole different beast! Being forced to go deep into topics has enables me to better question, improve, explain and argue for the various choices I make (for example why I chose to place my testing mission at the top in a certain status report).
- Dig deep into fundamental questions e.g. what is testing, why do we test, what is an oracle etc.
- Look into related topics. Say you want to improve your written reporting skills then look into e.g. rhetoric, design, how people read printed and digital documents, how people interpret colors or tutorials for your word processor/mind mapping tool/whatever. The point is: don't limit yourself to articles specifically about test reporting.
- Set a "topic of the month" and try to become as skilled as you can in this topic. Don't stop because you feel "done", continue beyond that.
Benefit: Giving feedback
An important part of my job is helping students understand what they do well and what they might need to improve. To do this I have to observe and analyze what they've done, what they think they've accomplished, what actually made them accomplish what they've accomplished etc., all this I have to do rather thorough in order to be able to explain it to them. This helps me create an understanding that is beyond "do this or do that because it works better".
An example of this is when grading various assignments and projects as students, at least on a general level, need to understand what they did good and what they would had to do to get a better grade. If they get the highest grade they need to know why, so they both know what to continue doing and what to improve. As testers we need these kinds of observation and communication skills all the time when working with developers, project managers etc.
- Study your own testing and try to explain why it was good and how it could be improved.
- One area where I've found this pretty easy to practice (can't prove that the practice translates to other parts of testing but I think it does) is watching presentations (e.g. YouTube) and try to give feedback to the presenter. What specifically did she/he do good and bad?
- Study other testers and try to figure out why you find them good/bad testers. Be as specific as you can.
- When testing, try to find positive and negative patterns: "The log entries are (almost) always relevant and well described making my work so much easier" or "The UI components often have poor vertical alignment".
Teaching in itself is a great technique for learning. You have to rephrase the content to match your own language, you hear yourself speak about the topic and you get questions pinpointing gaps in your understanding and/or explanation.
- Do teach colleagues and friends about the various topics you've practiced.
- Write an educational article/blog post about what you've learned (you don't need to publish it to anyone to still get many of the benefits).
- Talk at a local test meetup and if there isn't one, arrange one.
Working with Maria Kedemo and Martin Nilsson have allowed me to get feedback on the ideas I'm about to share, feedback on my interpretation of various topics and someone to speak with when I feel stuck. It has also allowed me to learn from their knowledge and experience of testing.
- Speak with a colleague
- Join a local tester meetup
- Go to a test conference
- Join the active community on Twitter
- Try your own version of Transpection Tuesday (my post, Helena's post: 1, 2)
- More ideas...
Benefit: Observe testing
I've spent a significant amount of time both observing testers test (as a group), observed testers test (the actual testing done by an individual) and listened to testers speak about their testing. All three exposed me to new ideas and made me question my own approach. It's also interesting because you get to see a specific problem solved in many different ways which helps you understand what actually impacts the result; e.g. "what is the common denominator in these solutions, is there anything I can learn from that?" or "they all had different ways to setup but all ended up with the same solution, which setup worked best/most efficient and can I learn something from that?".
- Pair testing
- Look at other testers' notes, reports etc.
- Do call for and attend debriefs no matter if you use the concept of test sessions or not
- Offer to review things
- Volunteer to mentor/coach another tester; this will enable you to observe another tester as well as get several of the other benefits mentioned in this post
To sit down and learn about various topics every day for over a year has definitely added some welcomed consistency to my self-education.
- Create a routine, such as the already mentioned Transpection Tuesdays.
- Follow a curriculum
- Create your own skill development list
Benefit: Questioning basic assumptions
Explaining fundamental concepts is incredibly hard but rewarding! As an experienced tester I take quite a few things for granted and explaining concepts built on these assumptions to someone without experience lead to wonderful questions like "but why do we need testing at all", "what does it actually mean to test something", "why can testers find bugs if developers who know the code can't (as in why do bugs happen at all)?". Answering these questions without being able to rely on "experience based assumptions" has led to more than a few epiphanies (and a lot of frustration of course).
- Talk testing with people having a different frame of reference (developers, management etc.)
- Talk testing with people who don't work in the industry; for instance try to explain what you do to a relative.
- Teach new testers at the company or teach e.g. developers in testing
- Talk testing with new, inexperienced testers
Benefit: Ask yourself "how do you train this skill"
Reading and listening is nice but sometimes you need to actually practice skills to be able to learn them. When teaching I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exercises pinpointing a specific skill I want the students to practice or just exercises/projects in general helping students practice relevant testing skills. This experience help me now both when less experienced testers want help learning a skill, when I try to explain/teach something and when I try to teach myself something.
- After e.g. a blog post, YouTube video or book; think about how you can incorporate the new concepts you've just learned about into your own work.
- Try various exercises and try to replicate various experiments yourself; such as: 1, 2, 3, 4; to help kickstart your brain.
- Whenever you're asked to explain something; try to come up with an exercise or experiment that helps demonstrating whatever you are to explain.
Benefit: Getting questions
I've already touched upon this but getting questions from the students on anything that's not clear to them is incredibly challenging but rewarding. It has helped me realize flaws in my own understanding, forced me to question my own assumptions and challenged me to find new ways to explain certain concepts in.
- Explain concepts to others
- Ask for feedback
- Ask questions yourself; this both inspires others and help you ask questions "to yourself"
- When reading/watching e.g. a book, presentation (video) or article; pause periodically and ask yourself: "what did I just read/watch and what of that is unclear/seems strange to me?"
Benefit: Having the time and expectation to learn
When in the middle of deadlines, huge backlogs and conflicting priorities it's easy to forget learning. Having the explicit expectation to learn new things has been an interesting experience and I feel confident saying I leave the teacher assignment as a much more competent tester. Spending as much time as I did on learning is not possible in most working contexts but I think "expectation to learn" is the key concept here as it helps making it happen at all.
- Ask your boss: "How much time am I expected (or at least allowed) to spend on education?"
- When doing backlog grooming (if you do this); add learning stories as dependencies e.g. "before we implement the new video player we need to learn a bit about streaming, video formats and performance testing related to streaming". If you end up never having time for these learning dependencies, try timeboxing them to make the expected time invested in learning more explicit.
- Remember learning is a fundamental part of testing.
- Differentiate between the learning that's necessary to solve your current task and learning with more long term, strategic value (e.g. learning more about testing in general, about web security, about test planning etc.). The "strategic learning" is often important to keep you and the company progressing but can easily be forgotten if put in the same "budget" as the task solving learning.
I removed several additional benefits I had initially included just to finally get this blog post published (it's been stuck in "draft" for over a year) so just to be clear: You can learn so much more about learning by teaching; this is just a mere introduction.