You've got no training budget. The old-timers in your organization are taking early-retirement packages. You know the basics, but feel like there's no one to teach you all the nuances of the trade. Have you considered turning to an unconventional mentor? Maybe the Internet? It sure worked for Danny Faught. Read all about how the Internet changed his career—-for the better.
One of the biggest surprises and honors I have received in my career was when Edward Miller invited me to serve on the advisory board for the Quality Week conference. I was 26 years old at the time and had a hard time believing that the offer was sincere. I asked why he felt I was worthy to stand alongside some of the most respected testing experts in the world—surely he knew how green I was. Dr. Miller replied that he liked my writings on the Internet, which at the time were mostly confined to postings on comp.software.testing and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the group.
I was dumbfounded that my musings could have led to such a step up in my career. And then similar offers followed, perhaps based on the fact that I had "Quality Week Advisory Board" on my resume, or perhaps because of my continued participation in discussions on the Internet. This experience eventually led me to my current role as an independent consultant.
So my participation on the Internet is really the foundation of my career. That's a pretty powerful mentor.
Many people don’t have the luxury of access to a mentor who can provide guidance and can track down an answer to any question. So in addition to your existing support structure, you too may be able to find help on the Internet.
Joining the Discussion
I remember when the testing newsgroup (comp.software.testing) first appeared on Usenet. Eventually I started to recognize the names of some of the regular contributors, and I became a regular contributor as well. I learned a lot about testing from comp.software.testing. I ended up writing the FAQ list for the newsgroup because no one else had volunteered to do it.
Usenet no longer dominates the space of online discussions. Several years ago, a coworker put me in touch with Mark Wiley, a friend of his who was doing work similar to mine at another company. We started swapping email, adding other people to the discussion along the way. It wasn’t long before I had set up an electronic mailing list to make it easier for us all to communicate. The list is named "swtest-discuss" ( http://topica.com/lists/swtest-discuss/), and it has grown to include hundreds of subscribers from all over the world. There are many other lists available (including http://groups. yahoo.com/group/software-testing/), some covering testing in general and others covering narrow topics such as specific test tools.
You'll also find several Web-based forums where you can swap ideas about testing. The ones that I've used are QAForums.com and StickyMinds.com. I also frequent Jerry Weinberg’s SHAPE Forum ( www.geraldmweinberg.com/shape.html), where I get some very useful advice about management and effectively influencing the people I work with (an annual fee is required for this one).
I cultivated special relationships with a few of the people I met online. I relied on them as mentors, though I didn't use that term with them, and we didn't have a formal agreement to stay in touch on any particular schedule. If one of them had particular wisdom about my current concerns, I'd contact that person more frequently than the others. For more general questions, I'd rotate the people that I asked, so as not to stretch any one relationship too far.
Because most of my mentors were consultants, I remember thinking that I had found a great way to get free consulting. Now that I'm starting to help other people in a similar way, I realize that I’m paying for all those favors now, which I'm glad to do. The makeup
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