This article describes four low-cost ways to provide training to your testing group. It does not encourage ignoring or eliminating traditional methods of training (e.g., in-house, tuition reimbursement, conferences); rather, it encourages test managers to explore how they can effectively increase their team's value to the company by using these methods as an adjunct to the more traditional methods.
Recently, my manager gave me the task of researching the cost of training for our team of ten software testers. Our testers are some of the best and brightest in the field, but as with any group, there is always room for improvement. Over the past few years, our company has moved in the direction of continuous process improvement, especially in the area of software development. We wanted our team to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to contribute to our company's effort and perhaps to the perfect process (a topic for another article).
So I set off, perhaps in blissful ignorance, on a journey to find the most cost-effective way to bring training to our group. I contacted some on-site training companies and was hit with a cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. I looked into sending a small group of testers and the test manager to a conference or two and found the combined cost to be almost as high as the on-site training. I looked into the universities and schools in our area, to no avail. They provided plenty of programming courses, but very little in the way of software quality or process improvement. Eventually, I was faced with the reality. If we wanted to increase the knowledge of our testers, we would have to pay dearly.
Then I thought, why not leverage the knowledge we have before spending large sums of money? Conferences and on-site training can be effective and they have their place, but why not use what we already have at our disposal? All of our testers are highly talented, but some are talented with programming, others with process, and still others with project management. Our talents and experiences are diverse, and each of us has knowledge and resources in areas that no one else on the team possesses. I came up with four practical, low-cost methods to increase the overall knowledge level of any test team, each one using resources that we either already had or could easily afford to obtain. None of these methods is new or groundbreaking, but when combined, they can provide a cost-effective way for you to expand the knowledge of your team.
These methods are
- develop a shared "library" of learning materials
- start a series of lunchtime learning sessions
- encourage certification and study groups
- encourage professional groups
Shared Library of Learning Materials
Like many people who work in the IT industry, I have a bookshelf at home that contains dozens of dusty, under-used books just waiting for someone to make use of them. Most of them I have read, some I have not, but the bottom line is that the vast majority of them are serving no purpose other than taking up space on my shelf. I decided to bring them to the office and make them available to other members of the team. I encouraged others on the team to do the same. The result has been a sizeable collection of books, white papers, magazines, and reference guides on topics that span the IT field from testing and communication, to process improvement and customer support. At first, the books were a little slow coming in, but with the enticement of small token rewards, people remembered