Learn, Learn, and Learn!

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Life is an everyday learning experience. There is always something to learn, irrespective of the job you perform; learning opportunities exist everywhere. Whenever you're presented with these opportunities at work, you should take the time to learn, learn, learn! This article discusses how to recognize a learning opportunity and how to create a learning work environment.

Life is an everyday learning experience. There is always something to learn, irrespective of the job you perform. There are opportunities everywhere. One needs to make sure to grab these opportunities whenever they present themselves.

I am a tester by profession. Recently, I completed a database certification. My colleagues have asked me several times why I chose to obtain a database certification, when I am a tester. People tell me that I should concentrate on testing certifications because that is my area of expertise. My reply has always been that I can get testing certifications anytime I wish, as this is what I do everyday. In fact, I already have a couple of them. However, there are certain areas which don’t "interest" me as much as testing, but could help me in the future. Database is one of those areas. I had time and again felt the need to have the database knowledge to understand the project better.

It can be a real challenge to take up activities that you are not comfortable doing. If you are comfortable with your usual 8-5 job and suddenly you are presented with a great learning opportunity which might involve some late nights and weekends, many people might be hesitant about taking this opportunity.

There are lots of opportunities, some small and some big, which may not interest an individual too much but can help him shape his career. It entirely depends on the individual whether he wants to make use of this oppurtunity now and reap the benefits later or let the oppurtunity pass and possibly be at the same position for years to come.

Following are some of the situations where I saw the learning opportunities in my career so far. Some are generic enough to apply to everyone. Some are specific to my job as a tester. However, it is always good to look for opportunities, in any form.

1) Can you get involved in the project right from initiation?
Most companies have a separate requirement team. Getting involved in a project right from the start can be helpful. Apart from just concentrating on things just within your domain, try to look for opportunities which might help you indirectly. Getting to attend some of these requirement meetings will help to understand and possibly improve the process.

2) Can you get opportunities to interact with the clients?
This is mostly done by the user experience team. However, attending a few of these can expose you directly with the client. Even though you are not a part of team which interacts with clients, ask to tag along whenever possible. It never hurts to try to gain a better understanding about the process through some of those meetings. This will help you get a better understanding of the requirements which you might not get without it.

3) Is there any dependency on others for activities you perform?
You might need to have the help of the database team to push the test data you need for test execution in the test environment. You might require a new application build several times each day. Can there be any solution that you have control over this? This will not only help save time, but also reduces dependency on others and provide opportunities to learn in areas which you might not get otherwise.

4) Do you think any of the artifacts being used can be made better?
If you can, then you might want to volunteer to work on it and present the results to the team. In a lot of projects, you can easily see that a specific process is being followed as it has been there for a while. People know that there is something wrong, but still prefers to just pretend that everything is fine. If you see something like this, try to see if you can fix the problem. You might have to do that in your own time. But, believe me; you will come across very small, but nonetheless very meaningful, learning opportunities.

5) Does your work give you opportunities to develop "on-demand" skills in the market?
I consider this the most important opportunity of all. I agree that, learning something new in your own time outside work is very tough. People hardly find time because of strict deadlines and project schedules. But if you really evaluate the time you have from the time you reach home after work until the time you go to bed, you will be surprised to find that with proper management you can utilize the time more efficiently. Try to have just a small block of time to gain something new, like reading an article, browsing through a discussion forum, or even causal discussion with a friend. Learning doesn’t only relate to work you do; it is anything "new" you can learn.

The opportunities to learn are countless. However, you have to take the initiative to grab them. Sometime you may get the oppurtunity, sometime you may not depending on constraints, including but not limited to, company's policies, security restrictions, project budget, and your responsibilities. But you will be atleast satisfied you tried. That’s all you can do.

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