Advancing the Craft of Testing: What Have YOU Done Lately?


Give a Presentation
I’ve found that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. We’ve all had experiences that will benefit others. Volunteer to give an experience report to your local user group. Yes, it’s scary and a lot of work, but it will give you a new perspective on your own learning journey. Plus, it builds your character!

For most of my career, I worked for small companies that couldn’t afford to send me to conferences, and I really wanted to get to some. So, I started submitting proposals. They were rejected. I asked my company’s technical writer to help me on one, and, surprise, it was accepted. I worked hard on my presentation skills and my session wasn’t too bad. The door was open and I never looked back. I would not be where I am today without everything I learned and all the people I’ve met at conferences.

If a conference or user group seems too daunting, offer a lunchtime brown-bag talk to your team. Or facilitate a Lean Coffee and let everyone else do the work.

Attend Webinars and Virtual Conferences
Watching a presentation can be inspiring. We’re fortunate today that so many conferences video their sessions and make them freely available online. Take advantage! Often, you can even live stream conferences and participate in online chats as they’re underway, enhancing your learning experience.

Webinars, video courses, and screencasts are another terrific way to learn, and many are free of charge. Yes, it takes time to watch them, but if you take away one idea that helps your team, it’s worth the trouble.

Pair Up
Yes, pairing can be scary. The idea of pairing with a programmer may be daunting. You may be eager to pair with a fellow tester, but feel you don’t have time—it seems faster if the two of you each tackle different tasks.

In my experience, pairing is always more rewarding than working on your own. It’s actually more productive than two people working separately, because the quality of the work is so much better and less time will be spent on do-overs. And, I think we all learn more when outside of our comfort zones.

When you pair for testing, especially if you take advantage of tools that encourage collaboration, such as mind mapping, you’ll think of more test cases, more scenarios, and more personas. You won’t ignore that strange thing that flicked by on the screen, because two of you saw it. You won’t spend too much time distracted on a side trip, because your pair will help you maintain discipline. Whether you’re the more experienced of the pair, explaining things to your colleague, or the situation is reversed, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn from the experience.

Take a Training Class
In-person and online courses taught by an experienced practitioner can give you a leg up on new concepts, practices, and technology. In my experience, the best approach to a training class is to bring in a coach who’s already an expert in what you want to learn. Have that person customize a hands-on training course in which you learn by doing on your own system under test. My team did this last year to get a solid foundation on a new test automation framework. The cost was trivial compared to the return on investment we reaped from well-designed, maintainable automated tests.

Be diligent in choosing a training course. Ask around on mailing lists and in user groups. Get recommendations. If you’re bringing in a coach, meet with her by teleconference beforehand to make sure it’s the right fit. If you’re signing up for an online course or signing up for a public course, find people who have taken it before to see how they applied what they learned. Your time is valuable; don’t waste it on a class that isn’t appropriate.

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