This is a guest posting by Justin Rohrman.
Technology moves fast, and it is easy to get change fatigue. I have spent several years working at startups where we can continually adopt the latest technology or process because there is no current momentum. But most companies pick something that works, build mind share around it and move forward.
You can become an expert in your domain just by sticking around for awhile, but what about the world of technology outside your company? What if you eventually want to work somewhere else that does things completely differently?
Here are four ways to not only keep up with what is happening in the rest of the world, but to stay relevant in the testing domain.
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I had about six months of experience working in software companies, split between development and testing roles, before taking my first real testing job. I had a friend working at a company in Houston that made software to help salespeople figure out the best deals when selling commodity items like airplane seats or barrels of oil. I was at this company for four years.
I started learning about testing and took my first training class, the BBST Foundations course, toward the end. I became a domain expert in our product and learned the habits of our developers very well, and I was generally able to find some bugs reasonably fast after we had a new build. But after that stint, I wouldn’t say I was senior, leadership or even a competent tester, by my current standards.
It took moving to Nashville and to a new company to realize what I didn’t know. This new company was building software for the web, not local installs (this was a while ago); it was in the beginnings of an agile transformation but still using detailed requirement, and it was a startup that had only existed for a few years. This was a learning experience all around.
I learned new test techniques that were useful for web products, gained some experience at testing a product that integrated with other medical data capture systems, learned how to work with a new set of developers, and cultivated some much better bug-reporting skills.
Every time I change jobs, I’m thrown into a novel scenario and have a whole new set of lessons to learn. I’m not advocating for you to quit, but maybe you can change projects or teams at your company and it will have the same effect of taking you out of your comfort zone and having to learn new skills.
Get a Hobby
Many of the testers I talk with are obsessive about testing. They read about software projects daily through publications or personal blogs. They seek out training and fly across the country for peer conferences or exclusive tester get-togethers. It’s all testing, all the time.
Hyper focus is good for short periods of time, but it can also cause a sort of blindness. We (or, rather, I) get absorbed in one thing and eventually run out of ideas. Being a well-rounded person can help new ideas flow, and hobbies may help.
I like to think that I’m well-rounded. I am a musician and make folk art in my spare time. But the thing I really nerd out over is strength training. I spend several hours every week trying to put a few more pounds on my squat, bench press and deadlift. And I do that the same way I approach testing work: through study, practice and experimentation. I found a training blog that really speaks to me, and I recently discovered this post, called When Logic Fails, which is dedicated to fighting bias and being aware that personal experience can be deceptive.
If you find something fun and interesting to spend your free time on, then plumb those depths, and eventually you’ll find something that transfers back to testing work. And if you don’t, hey, you found something interesting to do away from a computer.
Change Vocations (Temporarily)
As I alluded to above, the foundations of testing come from surprising places. Some of the best testers I know — including Carol Brands, whose articles you will find on this Gurock blog — have worked in other technology roles.
Support people are the ultimate reverse engineers. Their day-to-day job consists of taking sparse information about a problem reported from a customer and either trying to reproduce the issue and make it more clear, or working with the development team to get things figured out. Product owners who work with customers daily develop a real understanding of what people value in software through experience. Each role in the development organization has little pieces of testing embedded in it, or crucial skills that could make a tester better.
In the trade careers such as electricians, welders and plumbers, you’ll hear about the concept of a journeyman. Today it refers to a stage someone can be in when developing their trade, but during the medieval period, a journeyman was expected to travel around to different places. At the end of their journey, this person had new a perspective on their work because they had encountered all manner of work conditions.
Dipping in and out of the testing role throughout a career can make a stronger tester.
Read Something Different
Technology books come out as fast as technology changes. They are also usually incredibly cheap. If you want to learn about DevOps or building WebDriver tests or learning about a test technique, these books have you covered. But to learn something new about testing, I think we have to look back and outside of testing and technology.
For example, take a look at the work Michael Bolton did around isolating the ideas of testing and checking. Applying the themes to testing is novel, but the ideas are heavily rooted in work done by Harry Collins, whose books “Tacit and Explicit Knowledge” and “The Shape of Actions” are the foundation of the concept of testing and checking. “Tacit and Explicit Knowledge” talks in depth about the difference between things we know and can explain — for example, how to get from my house to school — and the things we know but can’t explain — such as how to ride a bike. “The Shape of Actions” takes those thoughts and applies them to how people and computers behave. Without that, maybe the world would have never seen testing and checking.
My reading tastes are all over the place, and I currently have several books in progress on my Kindle app. In the past several years I have had obsessions with the history of science, measurement, anything Karl Popper wrote and the Harry Potter series. Well, I’m still obsessed with Harry Potter.
If you want to discover new ideas in testing, take a look in some old books that seemingly have nothing to do with testing.
Expertise is a tricky thing. You have to strive and climb to get there, but it isn’t a destination that’s static once you get there. If you stop learning and developing in a perpetually changing field, expertise will slip away. To stay relevant outside of your current company, you have to be willing to reach for new ideas. Get some new experiences, learn some new things, or maybe space out for a little bit and let the ideas come to you.
This is a guest posting by Justin Rohrman. Justin has been a professional software tester in various capacities since 2005. In his current role, Justin is a consulting software tester and writer working with Excelon Development. Outside of work, he is currently serving on the Association For Software Testing Board of Directors as President helping to facilitate and develop various projects.
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