Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be A Student For Life

by Teri Charles

This is an article I wrote that was published in the September 2013 "Women in Testing" special issue of Tea-Time with Testers.  My article is on page 49, but please also enjoy all of the other wonderful articles by some amazing women!


Tester1: Have you heard of James Bach?
Tester2: Who?
Tester2: Ummm… Who are they?
Tester1: Do you use heuristics in your testing?
Tester2: What does that mean?
Tester1: Does your team use Context Driven Testing?
Tester2: Context driven what?

Are the people and concepts that Tester1 asked about completely foreign to you? If so, you’re not alone. But there are resources out there that that can help you make sense of them. I would like to open up a whole new world to you, my fellow Testers!
It's very easy for people who know these names and terms to take them for granted. However, there are many, many Testers who have never heard of any of them-- not to mention the dozens of other test leaders, trainings, books, and other resources that are available. And I am not just talking about people new to testing. I am also talking about experienced and senior Testers.
Because you know what? Tester2 was ME not too long ago.

My Journey
I've been a Software Tester for over 10 years. Like a lot of other Testers I have met, I was in the dark for a lot of those years. I didn’t know what it really meant to be a Tester. There was no test training out there when I started (or, at least, none that I knew of). I had no idea that people actually wrote books about testing. The only other Testers I knew were the few I worked with. I call those years the "I didn't know what I didn't know" phase of my career.
There's no such thing as the "University of Software Testing", so we come from various backgrounds: Computer Science majors to high school graduates (or dropouts) and everything in between. I went to college to study music, played in a band, and wrote songs and lyrics. Then I took a circuitous path, working in political non-profit organizations and a bookstore, writing screenplays for movies (no, nothing ever produced), and dabbling in documentary filmmaking. Yep, sounds like the perfect journey toward a career in Software Testing, right?
But it was.  Because it was my journey and it was perfect for me.  

Every experience on my path let me do the things I love: learning new things, being curious, working through challenges, helping people, and exploring. (Now is my journey starting to sound like a Tester? I thought so!)  My curiosity and love of learning were the qualities that convinced my first manager to pluck me out of a group of candidates --some of whom were more technical and more experienced than I was-- for my first testing job.
The Past
I look back now and am a bit surprised that, without a lot of training, I figured out how to do the job pretty well. I found lots of bugs, brought teams together, dove into learning new things, found ways to innovate and improve our processes, and was a well-respected leader and team member. If it hadn’t been for my varied experiences and natural curiosity (and probably a little luck), I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as I was.
But here's a secret: I was also unhappy at times. But I didn't know why. And I had no idea what to do about it.
My Aha Moment
Being laid off is part of our industry. If it ever happens to you, don't take it personally. It's business. But if you let it, it can also be a blessing.
My layoff came about a year and a half ago. The blessing that came with it was the opportunity to stop. To just "be". I was able to look within and do some serious thinking. What I realized was that, while there were a lot of things I liked about my work, I also had to admit that I had been unhappy because there was SOMETHING MISSING. But what was it? And how do you find out what is missing... when you don't know what is missing? I just knew there had to be more to this thing called testing. And I knew right then and there that the only way I wanted to go was forward-- and discover what this “more” was.
My Education
So, I did what I usually do. I dove in. And I didn't just dive into the shallow end of the pool; I dove into the deep end. But I was swimming blind. Remember, I didn't know what was missing.
So I started with Google searches. Of course! I started Googling everything to do with testing, test trainings, Testers, software testing, test books, and test blogs. It was amazing! Every link took me to another, then another. One of the first things I stumbled upon was James Bach's book, "Secrets of aBuccaneer Scholar". How lucky that this little miracle fell into my life at the exact time I needed it! His journey was my journey. So many of his experiences and feelings were exactly what I had experienced in the past or what I was going through in that very moment. It was an inspiration for self-learning.
From there, things took off. I couldn’t believe that this whole world of testing information existed. I had so much to learn and I didn’t know where to start. (I still feel that way even today! So many things to learn!) So I just took a deep breath and chose one thing to start with. And then I chose something else. And on, and on, until I had done these things (among others):



It Never Ends
Here's the thing, though. The list above is just the beginning. It's a journey, remember? There are SO many other things to learn, to read, to create, to delve into, and people to meet. My list is long and keeps growing! Yes, there are times when it's overwhelming. There are times when there are so many things on my to do list, that I get paralyzed and do nothing from the list for days. But that usually doesn't last very long; pretty soon I remember to take one step at a time and choose the next thing I want to do. You can’t beat yourself up if/when that happens to you.

Your Journey
If you don't know this yet, YOU are responsible for your own education. No one else is responsible for it. If you want to be a better Tester, you can't just wish for it. You have to work on it every day. If you don't know where to start, that's okay. But don't let it stop you. And I'll let you in on the one of the most important things you can do.
Ask. Just ask for help.
You will find that we have an amazing and generous community of Testers. Take your first step and reach out. Do you know you want to improve in something but don’t know how to start? Is there something new you’ve heard of but don’t understand? Look around you and ask a fellow Tester. If they don’t know, suggest you figure it out and learn together. If you meet a new Tester, strike up a conversation and ask your questions. When you learn about a new test guru, reach out to them. You will be pleasantly surprised how helpful these busy people will be.
It doesn't mean you'll get the right answer or the wrong answer. It doesn't mean everyone will give you the same answer because everyone's journey is different, and their journey is right for them. So ask a lot of different people. Sift through their responses like a gold miner looking for gold. Find the gold nuggets that feel most true to you and keep them-- then search for more. There's not just one answer.
It really is about choosing to take that first step. I have found that once you get up and have the courage to take the first step, it's easier to take the second, then the third. I am always looking at ways to get better as a Tester. That’s the key. It's what motivates me. But the other thing that motivates me is helping others. If I learn something, I want to give it away. It’s the main reason I started my blog and most of my posts focus on sharing things I’ve learned as well as my own journey.
In the spirit of helping others take their own first steps, I recently created a presentation for my local test Meetup (bouldertester.blogspot.com/2013/08/testing-resources.html). It's a list of different people, organizations, trainings, books, and resources to help Testers who are looking for some of the same things I was looking for when I started taking my first steps in learning to be a better Tester. If you’re looking for answers, maybe it will help you find some of them.
And if it does help, pass it on!  Because it is true. The more you give, the more you receive. You will not only help others in their journey, but your own journey will grow in ways you can’t imagine!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Teri,

    firstly thank you for the above blog post, it was exactly what I was looking for and plenty of additional resources for someone new to testing like myself. May I ask what courses you took from Udemy and Coursera? I've been looking for appropriate courses but cannot find testing courses on coursera

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    1. Hi Nick,

      I'm very happy you liked my blog post. And I'm glad you're finding some of the resources helpful! As far as Coursera and Udemy classes, you're correct, there aren't many, if any, testing courses on either of these. There is one on Udemy I've just started taking called "Technical Web Testing" that you might want to check out. I'm really liking it. But mostly what I've taken are things like computer science classes (Coursera has Computer Science 101) and logic classes (Introduction to Logic with Coursera). Udemy has a lot of nice technical classes you might want to check out on programming, HTML, Javascript, etc. I'm not planning on being a developer, but as a Tester, I'm always looking for ways to be a better Tester. Things like logic and systems are ways to help you think and look at things. I also have a goal to get more technical and some of these classes help with that.

      I hope this helps. Feel free to write back anytime (tericharles@juno.com) and good luck!

      Teri

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  2. I've recently entered the testing field coming from being a maths tutor, graphic designer (web and print), roller derby enthusiast and theatre volunteer. It's amazing how many comments I've had asking what I was doing previous to my current role and the "oh" response I get when they find out I don't have an experienced testing or retail background. However I'd like to think that my previous jobs and interests have really contributed to the way that I think about testing. I have creative thinking, an understanding of how design relates to user experience, and a solid understanding of math which have really helped in my current role. I really appreciate being given a chance in a new industry and hope that I can grow my testing experience in the upcoming years.

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    1. Hi Bethani,

      I LOVE that you have such a great background! You can bring so many of those experiences to the table and think outside the box. It will also help you in your career as a Tester to be a life-long learner, be creative, and be courageous. And the math thing? Another awesome thing that you are bringing to the table. You're doing great!

      Good luck and thanks for checking out my blog!

      Teri

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