As testers (or QA engineers, or quality champions, or whatever you prefer to be called), we want others to respect our specialized skills and recognize our contributions. In the past year, I’ve facilitated several Testing Lean Coffees , where people interested in testing meet to discuss whatever burning topics fascinate them that day. A common theme among topics has been testing craftsmanship.
The best discussion on the topic I’ve seen lately at a Lean Coffee was “What are the last three things YOU did to improve?” What an excellent question! It’s easy to talk about the craft of testing, but it’s more important to ask what you have done personally to advance it.
The cloud, social media, and other products of modern technology have exponentially expanded our outlets for honing our craft. Let’s take a look at some avenues of self-improvement.
Reading books is a time-honored way to learn new skills and concepts. We’re lucky to have so many good books on testing available. And books don’t have to come from a traditional publisher to be valuable. Outlets such as LeanPub have some excellent low-cost books from established authors, as well as fresh, new voices. And some writers simply make their ebooks freely available in PDF format. It’s the content that counts, so find time for your reading list.
And don’t limit yourself to testing books. I don’t necessarily think testers need programming skills, but it can’t hurt to learn a scripting language or to be more familiar with design patterns. General books on thinking skills and ways to listen and converse better also help us improve the way we work.
Print and online magazines and blogs on all these topics abound. If you don’t have time for a book, scan an article or blog every day. Personally, I find Twitter a great source of reading material. I follow interesting people who post links to articles I wouldn’t have found on my own.
Meet and Greet
Conferences are a traditional forum of learning, and we all know that the best ideas come out of hallway discussions during the breaks. If you’re lucky enough to attend a conference, don’t just sit and listen, be ready to share your own experiences. After each session, write down at least one small experiment you can try when you get back to work.
Can’t afford that conference registration fee? Look for smaller, local, one-day conferences. They might be even more valuable, as you’ll build your network with local people with whom you can meet regularly to report on how you applied what you learned or encourage each other to try experiments. Whenever I have a sticky problem, I start picking the brains of the smart folks I’ve met at conferences.
Local user groups and meetups are generally plentiful and a great way to get to know people who can help you. If there aren’t any in your area, get one started. Building a community is hard, but it’s great to meet local people with similar goals to share experiences. And let’s be honest, it’s particularly useful when you’re interested in a career change.