Agile Testing Days: About Learning (for Testers)

At the Agile Testing Days in Berlin the last keynote on Wednesday was held by Janet Gregory on learning for testers.

Janet Gregory spoke about congruence in learning, why we need to learning, what we might need to learn, and how to start learning or continuing where you are right now. Congruence is about honoring yourself, the other people involved, and the context you are in, Gregory quoted from Sherry Heinze. She continued on congruence is about continuous learning. The way children learn is to be curiosity. As children learn by being curious, children are also great testers. Gregory told the story from a tester in a legacy system which didn’t have this curiosity, only to find herself two years later to be the only tester still working on the legacy system and not having gone on an Agile team. Since she didn’t have learned how to pair, how to work with others, no one also wanted her.

Why learn at all? Sometimes it’s about increasing your skills, sometimes to keep up with technology, or versatility. Career growth is another reason to learn. Don’t wait for someone to promote you, work on that. Marketability is another reason to learn. When you find yourself unemployed, you may have a difficult time if you are not able to learn.

What are the skills that we need? We need General skills, Soft skills. On Agile teams we also need Agile principles. Gregory referred to our problem solving skills and our systems thinking for learning. Innovative thinking and observational skills are very worthwhile in order to learn something about the product.

On soft skills, Gregory mentioned to give feedback and communicate. Try to be constructive, focus on the problem, rather than the person, use stories and examples. Finally, listening is a key skill that helps to take on the feedback you get from your audience. Gregory told a story from a team where she had to forbid them to use the word “must”, because it hindered learning.

Collaboration means working together, by sharing ideas, and information, making them visible. You can make decisions together, and find solutions. On Agile principles Gregory explained that we should deliver business value frequently with incremental & iterative development. Continuously improving our testing skills means that we do testing as we go. She encouraged to learn from our mistakes. Learn from your retrospectives, ask why, and try to find solutions to the problems you’re tackling with. On specific skills, Gregory referred to automation, vocabulary, especially when it comes to software development and testing. Test design and metrics help to get to know how to get useful ones. Finally tool usage is among the specific that we need.

There are lots of tools in your toolkit. The Agile Testing quadrants is one tool to know how to tackle testing at your project. Brainstorming and mind mapping help to see the larger picture. The 5-Whys as method of root cause analysis are in your toolkit as well. Test design techniques, heuristics, and mnemonics are other tools that help you learn.

On where and how to learn, Gregory mentioned that we think about learning as taking place in schools, universities, internships, books, articles, courses, and also certifications. She mentioned different types of learning. You can learn in an auditory, by visuals, learning by doing, – that is experiential – or even emotional. A safety environment helps you to learn. She referred to team safety such as trust. A blaming culture will hinder to learn about anything. If we as people don’t get up on it, we will be suffering.

In order to learn, you may want to look for giving presentations, doing lunch & learns with your team. Also you can join a community of practitioners, especially with the wide-spread usage of internet nowadays. Teaching at conference or doing workshops, on-line groups, webinars, and courses provide much learning to take on. In addition books and articles are yet another place to look for something new to learn.

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