Expanding on the ideas introduced in their March/April 2011 Better Software magazine article “Learning for Agile Testers” Lisa and Janet encourage continual learning. The software industry changes quickly; be sure you have the skills needed to stay relevant and valuable.
Information technology changes fast, and none of us knows what our future holds. It’s hard to keep up with new programming languages, patterns, tools, frameworks, design techniques, and practices. If you’re a programmer who doesn’t keep her skills up to date, you won’t get the best job opportunities—in fact, you might not get any. Yet, we observe many people who call themselves testers or quality assurance professionals but don’t make much effort to learn new things. They execute manual test scripts on the software that is given to them. Their managers don’t care enough to learn what testers ought to know, so they assume this is the extent of value that testers provide.
As development practices quickly evolve and the economy becomes more volatile, testers who don’t continuously improve their skills risk getting left behind. The only constant in our lives is change. Let’s assume you are not one of the people who is satisfied with the status quo. You are a tester who chooses to learn, stretch your mind, and try new things. There are many reasons to pursue that path, the first being to advance your career. While you might not be climbing up the traditional corporate ladder, you are choosing where you want your career to go. Expanding your skill set will expand your opportunities, even within your organization.
Another reason for testers to keep learning is to increase their value to the team. The most successful teams enjoy a culture of learning where everyone on the team is free to raise issues and experiment. Good testers understand both the business and technical sides of their product. They come up with unique questions that may not occur to other roles on the team.
At a recent agile testing meet-up at Agilistry Studios in Pleasanton, CA, participants noted that learning reduces stress. Knowing that you will learn new skills keeps you from worrying that you won’t know how to do your job. Also, when you frequently devote time to learning, you keep those learning neurons in your brain open, and you’re confident that you can quickly pick up anything you need to know.
Continually learning enables you to foster innovation and be a catalyst for team growth. When you bring new ideas to your team, you challenge team members to think of new and better ways to do things. Stagnation is the downfall of many teams. Team members get complacent or feel pressed for time and can develop poor habits or revert to old ones. For example, they may comment out failing tests instead of fixing them or skip some necessary testing to save time, trusting in luck. This produces a serious risk that the team will deliver mediocre software or spend all its time fixing regression defects. When you don’t continually look for ways to improve, it’s easy to miss out on some new technology or technique that could make a big difference for your team. For example, you might get too focused on functional testing and ignore other types, such as security or performance testing, leaving the product at risk.
Learning doesn’t slow down, even when you’ve worked as a tester for many years. We believe that the wisdom of long experience, combined with learning new skills and keeping current on new ideas in the industry, make us not only more marketable but also more valuable