My BBST Experience – A letter from an introvert

Dear Ellen, (fictional character who has signed up for the BBST Foundations Course)
I am writing to you in order to share my experiences with the BBST Foundations course. There are quite a few other blog posts and recent articles on this topic, but I’d like to contribute with another dimension to what has already been said.
This other dimension – or other story, you might say – is one about how this course was an immensely tough learning process for me personally. At times, I felt despair, alone and insecure. Thankfully, a small group of other testers helped me to get through, and just as they helped me, I hope this letter will help you.
The BBST Foundations is a great course. It’s a living hell as well. This dualism seems to permeate the narratives about this course; mine as well as others. I find it quite interesting that people tell me “it’s the best course I ever took” and in the same sentence “it’s four weeks in hell”. Can it be both? What is going on here?
There are several reasons why I personally found the course valuable and a real eye-opener. Firstly, it has helped me to get rid of a general test-lingo such as “I’ll test this with exploratory testing to find all bugs in the software” which I was accustomed to use. Now I am more attentive towards why “I am searching for this information so I’ll evaluate this piece of the software in this particular way”. A sharpened consciousness I might call it. Immediately after completing the course I began asking more questions: Why are we testing this? How do you want to test this? What is most important here? What information are we looking for? Time spent on this assignment has to be taken from another – which one should not be done then?
I find myself having a better focus, as well as a more critical view on how and why I test and a different way of talking about testing. Yet, in some ways the learning process has been a real tough one. I had help from people and other testers in my network and my hope is that by exposing myself a bit here and sharing my BBST course experience with you I might be able to help you get through as well.

Warnings and expectations
The course had been recommended to me by experienced and renowned testers, so prior to the course start, I had pretty high expectations. I had been warned about how tough and difficult it was too, and how people had fallen ill by taking the course! This combination of extremist information had me puzzled; how can a course that makes you ill be the best in the world? I think I had an unconscious, hidden agenda about finding out what was going on here –
this was going to be interesting for sure! It was more than interesting, and I really was taken by surprise at how the course turned out to be such a challenge for me.

Sharing everything
Maybe I’ve been living under a rock for the past 35 years but I’ve only recently discovered the archetypes introvert and extrovert. Reading about the introvert personality was a revelation to me. It was overwhelming, as I found it an almost exact description of my typical interaction with the outer world. I like to think before I speak, to build relationships one-on-one, I recharge by being alone, I do not like to take risks – and I truly prefer to complete my work before I present it to others. So you might guess – this is where the problems started for me in the BBST Course. Everything you do on the course site (Moodle) is available and “public” to all the other participants and course instructors. Everybody could read and comment on all of my work. My online status, my answers in the Exam Cram forum, my participation in the group work and comments were available to everyone. I could almost physically feel how this challenging process started with a large jerk – similar to that jolt you have as the rollercoaster in a Tivoli starts.
I knew that what I put on the course site was neither complete nor necessarily “correct”, but it was the only way to get feedback and guidance. This was the only way to find out if I was on the right track. That in itself was pretty huge for me to take in. Of course, I wasn’t always on track. Of course, I didn’t always pay attention to the call of the question. And of course, my work was criticized because of this. This was hard for me to accept especially in the first half of the course. It got better, still not entirely easy, but I had become hardier and positively tuned to receiving criticism for my work when we reached the final exam (where your work is graded by two other students and you then grade your own work).

A few notes of frustration
The course site, based on Moodle, which you have to navigate in during the entire course, is neither intuitive nor easy to gain an overview. I overlooked relevant information and almost missed an assignment. I subscribed to the email notifications for the relevant forums and threads and received 450 mails during the 4 week course. The subscription service did not always work, so I didn’t even get all the updates. Obviously, this added to existing workloads and created an element of confusion.

Could I have some more hours in my day, please?
I never had the feeling during this course that I had enough time to do a proper piece of work. The recommended hours to spend on the course are 12-14 hours a week, but I was spending 3 times as much and I felt horrible about it. I was beating myself up thinking I must be stupid or lazy, as I was spending all my time and energy on this course, but it lead me to question my abilities.
Even though I was under such pressure, I still found the course materials and subjects extremely interesting. I was also impressed by the quality, composition and variation. It might not be completely up to date, but it’s still a solid mix of individual assignments, video lectures, quizzes, required and recommended readings, group work, orientation exercises and exam questions. That packs a punch! Each had a variant which challenged me in thinking and writing on different levels and in a multitude of ways. This was great. What wasn’t so great was that I felt as though I never had enough time in general, so I ran from one task to another constantly. There were always additional tasks coming up, and I must admit I was getting more and more exhausted as the course progressed.

To navigate in predictability and chaos
But it clearly did strike the right note. From the get-go I found the curriculum and associated deadlines clearly defined. The program is well-defined and you are given adequate information regarding which groups you have been assigned to and which assignments and other challenges are coming up. To that point, it was good. Just as I was settling into the well-defined course, I fell into confusion as I tried to fathom the instructors’ feedback on our answers. It seemed to have little structure in regards to who gave feedback, which answers received feedback at all, and of which reasoning was given. Was it given to poor answers, those of high quality or the ones the instructors found interesting? I found it chaotic not knowing if any feedback would be given to my answers of the assignments, and not knowing if it had been found of acceptable quality. Was I on the right track or had I missed some important aspects? I guess I was a bit insecure about my answers, and it wasn’t until the end of the course that I could truly appreciate and value fellow students’ feedback. All students are expected to provide peer reviews of the others student’s answers, but I simply didn’t feel I knew them well enough to trust their opinions on my work. When reading other students’ answers or peer reviews, I sometimes agreed with his or her criticism of it, only to read an instructor’s comment later on stating the direct opposite.
One of the learning points for me in this process, were firstly that: yes, things are sometimes chaotic and uncertain and there is always value in feedback, because it will challenge your thinking no matter what.

Group work and road rage
A significant part of the course is group work where you depend on others to do a decent piece of work and take responsibility for meeting the deadlines. I came to think of it as similar to driving to work where I appreciate and hope the traffic conditions are good and other road users behave reasonably. It’s just not always like that, and neither was it doing group work in the BBST course.
Some people don’t conform to the rules, don’t understand or participate in the problem solving and don’t bring anything constructive to the table. Just like everyone else on the course I depended on the group work to be at least decent and that the deadlines were met.
So I was stressed out by the fact that some other participants didn’t do their part of the work and didn’t respond to questions or requests. I was uncertain of what to do here (in the traffic I might use the horn or gesticulate), was it alright to ignore them and continue solo? Or should I have written to the instructors and ask them how I should address the problem? Or even hold a plenary discussion?
One of the arguments for accepting the time pressure and the challenging group work is that “it reflects real life”. I just don’t feel that way. If people are horrible drivers – or if my colleagues don’t respond to emails, phone calls or don’t show up at work – I consider this and I will let them know how they are perceived. I prefer to conduct this face-to-face, or at least one-to-one, but I didn’t find this possible on the course. I guess that’s why I ended up accepting crappy group work.

Back to the start and all the way through
So here I guess I should address the questions as to why one should even complete this course with all this complaining and symptoms of stress. The BBST course is not “just” an online course, at least not to me. It has gradually achieved a reputation and status as a test of manhood, a possible entrance to a special club of testers and a community. I realize now that from the very beginning, and all the way through the course, I had two coping strategies. These I’d like to pass on to you.

1. Be open, honest and use your network
I was lucky to have been “warned” about the course from several renowned testers so it was relatively easy for me to reach out to them and be open about how the workload and time pressure was getting to me. And the support I received was unbelievable, I am really grateful. They themselves had been there, so they recognized and acknowledged the stress level I was at. This was both a relief and an encouragement (I was not alone!) and furthermore it led me to the second coping strategy.

2. Make fun of it all (use your sense of humor)
Humor as a coping mechanism shouldn’t be underestimated. When sharing an extreme pressure sometimes you just have to look at each other – and laugh. There have been many jokes about the damn “call of the question” and instructors have been portrayed as cartoon characters (sorry, Markus). It was a way for me to distance myself from it all, take a deep breath and go for another assignment or answer in the Exam Cram forum.

One last piece of advice
One night I could not sleep as I was worked up over an assignment. I couldn’t find peace of mind, and my only thought was that I wanted out of the course, I simply wanted to quit. Immediately. Right Now. My husband talked me into persevering, and at the same time I couldn’t come to terms with going “public” by saying that I didn’t have it in me to complete the course. So I stayed, I ‘hung in there’.
A learning point from this is that next time I will be more open about the reflections on leaving the course if the pressure becomes too much for me. Self-flagellation maybe, but I will have that chance in the Bug Advocacy Course I’ve signed up for this coming winter.
So, dear Ellen, I hope I haven’t frightened you or discouraged you in any way by telling you my story. At least I didn’t intend to. On the contrary I wanted to tell you that you will learn a great deal from taking the course and not only things related to testing. For me it was a learning experience on reaching out, being open, it was also about accepting insecurity, fear and uncertainty.
I know more now about Information Objectives and Missions, floating-point numbers and Oracles, but the learning process was tough and I don’t think I was capable of doing my best. That’s not always possible, maybe there’s not enough time to be thoughtful and creative in all instances.
But isn’t that also a valuable learning experience.
Good luck.

Sincerely,
Bolette
PS. I’m @teglbjaerg on Twitter if you need support and encouragement from a likeminded searcher.

About the Author
Bolette Stubbe Teglbjærg is a tester from Copenhagen, Denmark. Combining her passion for people and software (she did two degrees: Master in Computer Science and Master in Educational Theory), the world of Testing beckoned. Bolette has been working in software development since 2001 and testing since 2007. Having recently discovered Context-Driven Testing, Bolette is interested in promoting testing as an independent profession and discipline. She has recently signed a contract with “House of Test” and will start as a Test Consultant from September 2014. She blogs about testing (in Danish) with Carsten Feilberg at http://testrefleksion.blogspot.dk/

Stepping Into Your Learning Zone

The comfort zone is a mental place, or behavioural state of safety, within which there’s little anxiety or stress. In this anxiety-free zone there are few challenges. As a result,
staying there for too long could lead to feelings of boredom and stagnation, both in one’s personal and professional lives. Stepping out of this zone provides an opportunity to learn
and experience new things.

Comfort zones come in different sizes and shapes. Some prefer stepping out a little at a time, whereas others are happy to plunge into the unknown with their eyes closed. Wherever you are on that scale; one thing is certain, sooner or later every one of us will need to step out – either by choice or otherwise. Life has a way of throwing curveballs when it’s least expected; we may be dragged out of our comfort zones kicking and screaming. Think about how many people lost their jobs during the last Global Financial Crisis and were sent flying out of their comfort zones.

In 1908 an experiment conducted with mice, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson found that stimulation up to a certain level increased performance, but any stimulation above that level causes performance to deteriorate. Based on that research the Yerkes-Dodson Law emerged. This law depicts three major states a person can be
in: disengagement, flow and frazzle. Those mental states relate directly to the comfort zone and to two additional zones situated outside it:
Comfort zone: a place, situation or mental state where one feels safe or at ease (and often
disengaged).
Learning (or courage) zone: area outside the comfort zone where there’s just enough stimulus and anxiety to drive productivity and flow.
Panic (or terror) zone: area furthest away from the comfort zone, after the learning zone, where there’s too much stimulus and/or anxiety. In this zone productivity tends to decline.

As Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” puts it: “If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive. Like Goldilocks, we can’t be too hot or too cold.” So it’s important to learn and be aware of that little zone between our comfort and panic zones.

I was happy to find out that there was another zone outside of my comfort zone that wasn’t the panic zone! I used to resist getting out of my comfort zone because without
knowing how to step into the learning zone and staying there, I quickly took on too much, and ended up crossing the line to the panic zone.

The size of each person’s learning zone depends on the individual’s personality and comfort with change and the unknown. The good news is that the learning zone needs
not stay the same. It can expand the longer we stay there. With practice, it can become a sweet spot where magic happens!

For example, I remember when I first gave a lightning talk at a meetup (I am an introvert – being in the spotlight does not come naturally to me). Agreeing to do the lightning talk took
me into my learning zone, almost all the way to the edge of my panic zone. Even agreeing to do it (weeks before the event) felt uncomfortable to me. Then came time to prepare
for the presentation. Every time I thought about starting I had butterflies in my stomach. Each of those times I was stepping into my courage zone, and every time I decided to
work and hang in there a little more, I felt it became (slightly) easier. That is the great thing about staying in the learning zone: it is just uncomfortable enough to push us to a place
where we don’t want to go, but not too much that we may be overwhelmed.

Learning is at the core of a tester’s role and learning is a process that involves venturing out into the unknown, processing existing knowledge, asking (sometimes
uncomfortable) questions. Accordingly, being comfortable with stepping out of our comfort zone can prove to be a crucial skill for testers who take their career seriously.

 “In order to do your job you have to learn, learn, learn. Testing is learning. Testing is all about learning. Testing is made of learning. It’s just like being a snowman where snow is learning! That is what testing is all about. You can’t go wrong as a tester if you learn, learn, learn, learn.”

James Bach – Testing in an Agile Software Development Team 

To me, personally, this topic is current and relevant as I have had to step into my own learning zone often in the past few months. When the time came for me to present my first lightning talk, I walked right into my panic zone, mostly because I was not prepared for that step, and didn’t have any practice spending time in my learning zone. Last year I gave another lightning talk, this time at CAST 2013, which was again a panic moment. But with each one of those experiences I learned something new, and a few weeks ago I stepped out of my comfort zone once more. I gave my first full track presentation at the Let’s Test conference. The lessons I learned from previous experiences, as well as the time I spent in my learning and panic zones helped me to be better prepared this time. Here are some things I learned from these experiences that I hope can help you too, if you want to spend more time in your learning zone:

1- Identify your motivation
As Leah Stockley mentioned in her candid blog post, we are all capable of changing, even our deeper traits. All we need is the right motivation. Once you identify why you want to do something, it makes it easier to follow through, especially when you have to step out into the unknown. Channel that motivation, remember it every time you are about to cross the line into the panic zone. That should help you to stay within the bounds of the learning zone a little longer.

2- Change the way you see anxiety
It is true that you can still learn without leaving your comfort zone, but the pace is often slower. I can quickly step into the panic zone once I step out of my comfort zone, so I don’t look forward to that feeling of unease. But I have discovered that if I want to learn fast, experience new things and expand my learning zone, I shouldn’t see fear and anxiety as enemies. In some circumstances these feelings can be a sign that learning, growth and excitement is ahead, if only we learn and practice to keep it to an optimum level.

3- Become more comfortable with failure
Let’s be honest, no one wants or likes to fail, but the harsh reality is we all fail – at something, sometime. There is no point to avoid doing something based on the fear of failing. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t plan and prepare for success, but being paralyzed by the fear of failure doesn’t make sense. We can learn just as much from failure as from success – sometimes more. Sharing our failures and what we’ve learned from them, can be a powerful tool to help us overcome fear, with the added benefit that others can learn from us and not make the same mistakes.

4- Identify your learning style
It can be easier to venture out into the learning zone if you know your learning style and use that knowledge to adapt your experiences to it. There are several learning style models. Find one you most identify with and next time you step out, try to incorporate your learning style. Here are two popular learning models:
– David Kolb’s Experimental Learning theory outlines two related approaches to grasp       experience: Concrete and Abstract Experience and two approaches to transform experiences: Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation.
– Neil Flamming’s VAK Model categorizes learning styles as: visual, auditory, reading-writing and kinesthetic learners.

5- Be proactive about learning
Having to step out of your comfort zone under pressure is not an ideal situation. Take control of your learning. Pick something you have a passion for, the right motivation to do, and are just uncomfortable enough to want to do something to learn more about it.

6- Don’t do it alone                                                                                                                                                     I have a tendency to try new things on my own. It is not only safer that way, but if I fail, no one will see it or know about it. The problem is doing things solo can make it more difficult to follow through. When push comes to shove, if we don’t have anyone to be accountable to (or cheer us on), it is easier to give up. In my experience, having a coach is a great way to have someone support and guide you as you travel through unchartered waters. Coaches can give you the right combination of encouragement, challenge and accountability to help you make the best of your time in the learning zone.

Getting used to the feeling of productive discomfort is an acquired taste. It will take practice and perseverance to get there. If you want to accelerate your learning, be productive, and live outside of the coziness of your comfort zone you may need to make a conscious decision to spend more time in your learning zone. If you do so, it’s possible the next time life throws you a curveball, you may be better prepared to cope with it as your learning zone gets broader. And you may become more comfortable outside your comfort zone by spending more time in your learning zone.

About the Author
Alessandra Moreira is a student and an advocate for the context-driven(CD) school of testing. Ale started testing in 2000 in Sydney, Australia and since has worked in diverse industries and a variety of roles. Ale’s experience working as a CD tester in highly scripted environments has given her a passion to awaken the potential in testers. Ale works on projects such as Weekend Testing ANZ where, as the organizer and facilitator, she has the opportunity to help and empower other testers in their own journey. Ale currently lives and works in Miami FL, blogs at http://roadlesstested.com/and is @testchick on Twitter.

Why Testing?

When I meet testers, I often hear a specific word, “Why?” I thought that might be a great word to use in this article.

Testers often ask, “Why does this feature work that way?” Or “Is this feature supposed to work that way?” I certainly asked that question often when I was a tester. There were plenty of times when it was clear that no, the feature was not supposed to work that way. If I couldn’t log in, if the system crashed, if the hash table was corrupted, I knew the feature was broken. I didn’t have to ask.

But sometimes, I wasn’t sure if the feature was supposed to work that way, and I did ask. That’s what testers do. We ask about the system under test. We provide information about that system, sometimes from our questions, and sometimes from our data.

We are curious souls. We are critical thinkers. We have to worry—are we being too critical of the people and not of the product?
I bet all of you have a story like mine. I was testing, finding problems in a product, reporting them. The developer finally burst into my office, yelling, “If you don’t like me, just say so!”
“Dave, I like you a lot. What’s the problem?”
“You keep reporting bugs against my code! You don’t like me anymore.”
Ah, I saw the problem. “Dave, it’s not you. It’s your code.”
“Well, of course it’s me. I wrote that code.”
“Maybe you were having a bad code-day?” I paused. “You know, normally you have people review your code. I never asked. I just kept filing bug reports. Sorry. Did anyone ever review your code?”
Dave shook his head. “No. No one could make any time for me. They were all ‘too busy.’ And now you hate me.”
“Okay, hold on. I don’t hate you. Maybe instead of testing with tests, I should do a code review with you. Would that be better?”
Dave thought for a few seconds, and said, “Well, you know me. If I’ve got problems in one area, I probably have more. When I’m smart, I’m really smart. When I’m dumb, I’m a real dodo.”
“Dave, this is not about smart or dumb. This is really intricate code. I had to think really hard to write the tests. I’m not sure the tests are right.”
“No, the tests are right.” He used his Eeyore voice.
Dave and I code-reviewed his code. We found a few more problems in the code, and we found a number of places he was able to improve his code and fix some technical debt before it came back to bite him.
“Normal” testers don’t do this—or do they?

What do normal testers do?
I was a developer before I was a tester, so that colors my approach to testing. It never occurred to me to do manual testing first. I automated testing because I was a developer. Why do something manual when a machine could do it for me?
I used version control because machines did that for me.                                                                          And, yes, I used exploratory testing in an automated way— okay, a brute force, automated way—because the machines could do it faster than I could. Was that smart? Maybe, maybe not. It was a reasonable use of my limited time.

I have found that there are as many reasonable approaches to testing as there are testers.
But here’s what I don’t find reasonable:
· People who claim they have the one right way to test
· People who claim they never ask why
· People who never vary their test approach
· People who never automate their testing
· …

I could continue, but I bet you see the pattern. I don’t believe in absolutes.

What is a tester’s role?
For many years, my mission as a tester was this: Provide information about the system under test and report on it.

Anything that allowed me to do that was fine with me. That mission is broad, and allows for a wide variety of activities.

Does a developer need code review? I can do that. Do I think that’s wise on a regular basis? Maybe not. Will it move the features across the board, especially for an agile project? Yes.

During a retrospective will I suggest that maybe I am not the right person to be providing code review? Yes. Not because I become too close to the code, but because I need the time to develop tests. Do you see the difference?

Now, do you think you should provide code review? That’s a question only you can answer. If you think the answer is yes, but you don’t have the technical skills, that’s something you can fix. If you think the answer is no, why not?

Maybe you’re not interested in developing more technical skills. That’s fair. I know some terrific testers who would not be caught dead reading code.

However, I know many manual black box testers who don’t know how to read code. They don’t know any scripting languages. All they know how to do is execute test plans
someone else has written. They don’t have great critical thinking skills. They don’t vary their test approach. They don’t automate their testing.

Those people have a very limited career path. Why would they want to be testers? I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.

Why Women?
This edition highlights the contributions of many women testers and managers. I have the honor of being one of the contributors for this edition. I just saw a statistic that says the number of female software developers is up 87% since 2001 (http://www.evansdata.com/press/viewRelease.php?pressID=209) to almost 20% of all US software developers. That’s a relief. Why? Because when you have diverse teams, you can create great products. Women and men, together, can create great products. Even better, when you have diverse backgrounds, both of experience and culture, you can create great teams to do wonderful things. People on teams solve problems together. We can’t only have the women on teams be the testers. You might be a different kind of a tester than I was. You might be a different kind of a manager than I was. But, I bet you are a curious, open-minded, critical thinker, who enjoys exploring the product under test in various ways.

I invite you to read the rest of this edition and consider, ponder, and explore. See what our colleagues, these wonderful women have to say. I know that I will.

About the Author
Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” provides frank advice to your tough problems. She helps organizational leaders recognize potential risks, seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna is the author of seven books and more than 300 articles. She writes two blogs on her web site, jrothman.com, as well as a blog on createadaptablelife.com Please do read more of her writing including her newsletter there.