Scientia potentia est

“Knowledge is power”

Jerry Weinberg cites courage as the most important trait in a tester. Quoting Kipling, Jerry says testers need to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

But I see a another type of courage at play in software testing. Testers are foremost learners. Through enquiry,they learn about a system. The information they gather facilitates many kinds of decision making from releasing to designing new features.

Observe great testers and you will discover an insatiable desire to learn more, not only about the product, but the world around us, often incorporating what they learn into their testing.

For many of us, discovering that our learning is within our control and within our means, can itself be a road of discovery. It takes courage to start that journey, but it also take courage to continue along its path.

Young Luke Skywalker found the ‘Force’ early on in life. Yoda helped him connect with that power, but even then, he needed guidance and a reminder to ‘Use the Force’ when up against the evil Empire.

Some of us need that reminder now and then. We know we have the ability to learn, and we know of its power, but we forget to use it. Especially when things get tough.

“Knowledge is power”

When things don’t go the way you want, when the pressures of daily life cloud your ambitions and goals, it can be easy to lose site of learning. Here’s what I’ve discovered though, through focusing on learning in these times you gain great strength.

Will the actual knowledge you learn help you succeed? Perhaps. What really counts is that through learning comes power in the form of ownership and self belief. You may not be able to control the situation at hand, but through being open to and owning your learning, you regain a sense of control and a sense of focus.

So when the dog bites, when the bee stings and when you’re feeling sad, remember there is solace in learning. It’s not only as an escape, or way of learning how to deal with the situation, but helps you take ownership and responsibility over the next step. Who knows, learning may be the just the ticket you need to recharge those batteries, giving you the juice to continue on your journey or perhaps, dump it for a different destination.

This post was first published on medium. Mauri Edo tweeted about it recently and I’ve decided to post it here too because I like it so much. 

What drives your learning?

What drives people to take up my offer of free Skype coaching?

Most testers when asked give on of the following reasons:

1) they want to pass an exam
2) They are having difficulty at work and need to get over some particular obstacle
3) They want to test themselves
4) They want a particular question answered
5) They want to know more about a topic
6) They want to learn how to coach other testers
7) They want to become a better tester – topic irrelevant

Many come to coaching with a mixture of frustration in their work or because they feel disillusioned.

It we seems that for many,  testers need drivers and general discontent to push them into learning something more. Few testers come forward wanting to simply learn.

It’s not all that surprising. I myself have just completed a gruelling year of full time work. It’s hard to allow yourself time to reflect and pause when you hop from one crisis to another and when you do, its more likely to be related to the challenges your working on at the time.

But I really admire the the testers that come wanting to learn more. Willing to take a punt at contacting someone they’ve never met and ask them to be coached. I salute you!

What drives these people? Is knowledge some kind of drug to these people? Do they simply want to know more? Do they want to be the best at what they can do?

I think its important to understand this question as people who want to learn for the pure joy of learning have a major advantage over others. They continue to learn and grow despite the daily challenges around them. Its not the challenge or goal that drives them to learn, its the learning that drives them to challenge themselves.

Common external drivers are completing a project, passing an exam, getting a job promotion and getting external approval from others. But what happens when the inevitable happens and the goal is completed or the challenge disappears? What happens to your thirst of learning? Does it die away?

Does that tell you anything?

Removing external oracles (those things you judge yourself by) casts your thirst for knowledge in a very different light, but its not a bad light, its an honest one and it belongs to you.

I believe we have to own our own learning. Drivers to learning can often be short lived. Have a goal to become a test manager, only to discover you’ve plateaued?  I suspect your learning may be driven by goals.

Imagine a world where you can tap into this love of learning as some testers do. Imagine learning for the pure enjoyment of discovering something new. Feel the satisfaction of overcoming a hurdle you have set yourself.

These testers they have taken responsibility for their learning. They see it as a way to develop and grow themselves. Their oracles to learning are inner satisfaction and self respect. They shine with the confidence of owning their own learning.

So do yourself a favour, spend a little time identifying what’s driving your learning and ask yourself “how is that working for me?”

Post Note:

If you want an example of a tester that learns for the love of learning, read Pete Whalen’s post on Rising from the Ashes.

 

 

On conferences and insomnia

For me, the sign of a good conference is insomnia the night after the conference.

Its as if my brain is unable to let go the new ideas and discussions I’ve had with other testers. Ideas that haven’t had an opportunity to be digested and reflected upon and usually around 2am after the close of a good conference my eyes snap open, my brain alive and alert ready for action.

Ideas and discussions from the day merge and meld into a boiling cauldron of fizzling synapse and bubbling endorphins and, as much as I try to breath deeply relax and let it all go, I know deep down its all pointless.

I’m going to have to get up and write down my thoughts and ideas.

STANZ Melbourne is one such conference and its given be a double dose of insomnia resulting in frenetic writing at 12, 2 and 4 am until finally my brain exhausted became compliant and allowed my poor weary body to sleep.

STANZ is sponsored and hosted by SOFTED. These folks at SOFTED really understand and ‘get’ software testing and it shows.

As well as  hosting this conference and getting some pretty impressive speakers in(I urge anyone who has the opportunity to hear Goranka Bjedov speak to do so) they also sponsor the Sydney Testers Meetup by supplying thirsty and hungry testers with drinks and nibbles at networking events.

Whats more they host peer workshops. The last one they hosted in New Zealand which was a huge success so much so that next year they hope to host one in Sydney.

Watch this space.

For me, STANZ gave me two core learnings.

The first was Goranka’s talk about the future of quality. I think this was really insightful and gave me much food for thought. The concept that quality is dead and that as testers we need to reflect how this will impact us. I’m not sure yet what this means for me(I need some more 4 am thinking on that one!) but  somewhere deep down, this struck a real chord.

The second re-enforced to me the power of sharing problems and getting ideas from your network of testers. In 30 minutes, Trish Khoo had a plethora of new ideas and suggestions for me to take away. Many thanks Trish.

Now off to order a double shot espresso….

 

Teaching or Learning?

Do you have a focus when giving training?

Sometimes, in my eagerness to ‘teach’ I forget to focus on something important. I forget that the lesson is about the student not me. I become more more concerned in my ability to be able to teach effectively. I want the student to come away feeling they have learned something.

Noble goals perhaps, but its nothing to do with training. Training is about the student, not the teacher.

Much more valuable is to focus on the student and provide a space for learning , giving people the opportunity to learn new things. Focusing on ‘teaching’ is about your ego. Its about you wanting to get something out of the training. I fell into this trap this week.

I wanted to ‘teach’ someone about testing. When their conclusion differed to the one I wanted them to come to, I got frustrated. “How”, I thought, “am I going to be able to teach people about testing, if they don’t learn the lesson”?

But I’m wrong. Its not about me being successful in teaching. Its about me providing a space for them to learn. In this case, they didn’t see it. That ok. Not everyone is going to learn all the time. Thats ok too.

I miss stuff all the time. I don’t get stuff, I miss traps, I fall into traps. I forget to ask questions…often. But thats ok too.

Missing stuff, making mistakes is part of what makes us human. Being human is special, its what we are all about and its something that we all have in common. (Except for Rob Lambert, I suspect he is an alien).

So, go forth and learn. Go forth and create learning opportunities. But you know what? If people don’t learn from you, it doesn’t mean you haven’t taught well. Perhaps its simply that the lesson is for another day.

That was the lesson I learned today.

Addendum

I was chatting to Pradeep Soundararajan online about training. I asked him his view on teaching, and learning. He gave some great reasons why perhaps people fail to pick up a lesson. He agreed to let me post them here:

[09/07/2010 18:16:31] Pradeep Soundararajan: Its not about people getting it always

[09/07/2010 18:16:51] Anne-Marie Charrett: how do you view it?

[09/07/2010 18:17:33] Pradeep Soundararajan: Many ways:

1: I think when people dont get it, they are helping us understand that we have probably not got it either.
2: When people dont get it, they may also have made the choice consciously. So, we don’t need to bother when we identify it was their choice to avoid getting it.
3. When people dont get it, they may require alternatives of explanation. We might want to help them.
4. Learning is not an activity that can be time boxed for everyone. For some people, they need to go back and face a few contexts to get it.
5. I have received emails from people who told they got the value of my workshop not immediately but after an year.

Thanks Pradeep, these are great insights to share.

It’s time to grow up and ditch the security blanket

One of the hardest parts of working as a software tester is keeping on top of new technologies, techniques in testing and development and software testing tools.  I can sometimes feel quite intimidated at the amount of information that I need to absorb in order to keep on top of the game.

Gavin Davies writes about this feeling of intimidation in his post Software Development: Doing It Scared and how we naturally are tempted to retreat to a place of safety. As he points out though, it doesn’t get the job done.

He gives some tips on overcoming these feelings, I pass them on to you here:

1)      Cut it down to size.

If you have a task that’s overwhelming, cut it down to smaller manageable tasks. I like to set these tasks to dates as it helps keep me focused.

2)      Get Help.

There are lots of places where you can go and ask for help online (my personal favourite is the softwaretestingclub).  Try and keep your questions specific and put some context in the question to help those answering it.
One word of caution though, whilst there is no such thing as a dumb question, your question may have been already asked. Do everyone a favour and search first to see if your question has already been adequately answered.
Also, ask your colleagues and team members for help.

3)      Remember your existing skills.

Remind yourself that you are already skilled in some aspects of testing. Once you have learned your new technology/skill, you will be able to quickly ramp up and apply the new skill to what you already know.  It will get easier!

There’s a bit more on what not to do in the post, which is good reading. Gavin ends with this worthwhile point:

“Software can seem overwhelming. The more we learn, the more we realise how much there is to learn – more than one person can possibly know. As software developers, we will always face fresh challenges. Nevertheless, a life worth living will take you out of your comfort zone time and time again and positive thinking, teamwork, good practise and organisation can help tackle daunting tasks.”

Happy learning!