Renewal of skill for testers

We’re constantly required to relearn, renew our skills, to keep current in our industry. A question several people have recently asked me is “What direction should I take as a tester; What should I learn next?” This is a hard question to answer; it is one I ask myself regularly. In some respects any learning, any renewal, is worthwhile – life long learning is a habit rather than a periodic effort. It is as important to refresh our mind and body by learning new skills and activities outside testing as it is to keep up to date with our industry.

Here are some suggestions for areas you might like to consider. Don’t try them all at once! Just pick one that appeals.

  1. Learn a new physical skill or activity: this could be a form of exercise, or a craft skill that requires motor skills, or a pastime. Gym exercises, carpentry, sewing, gardening… whatever takes your fancy. By learning a new way to use your body, you’ll also train your mind in new paths. This will help you think about work problems in a different way. You’ll also give the brain a space to NOT think about IT and testing; the break will rest your mind and help you renew. And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.
  2. Learn a new cognitive skill: this could be a new type of puzzle, learning a new card game or board game, learning a language, joining a debating club and learning to debate. Again, you’ll help your mind to forge new paths, you’ll change your problem solving, you’ll let yourself make mistakes and learn to learn from your errors. Chorus: And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.
  3. Learn a new management skill: this could be a project management skill you don’t need in your projects and wouldn’t use, but just for fun – can you understand it? Can you see how it works and why it is or was recommended? It could be something used in your projects, but it is not you that does it. This could be PERT charting, or Work breakdown structures, or an estimating method. It could be negotiation skills, financial accounting methods, cost benefit analysis. Any of these skills and techniques could be interesting to look at, even if you then discard them. Remember – we are looking for ways to exercise the mind into new paths. We want to challenge and potentially change our problem-solving methods, make mistakes and learn. Chorus: And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.
  4. Learn a new teamwork skill: this could be combined with your physical challenge by learning a team game. Or with your cognitive skill challenge by learning a card game where you have to work with a partner, such as Bridge. It could be by pairing to trial a management skill. It could be by learning a specific communication and team work method, such as applying De Bono’s Six Hats for a Meeting. [http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php]. All the same things will happen: challenges, errors and learning as the brain makes new connections. Chorus: And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.
  5. Learn a new creative skill: don’t even try being skilled for this one – just do it. Paint – however badly – or draw or doodle.  Use crayons, or pencil, or sew a picture with needle and thread. Write – something, anything, a song, a poem, a haiku, a diary, a stream of consciousness. Sing a song. Dance a dance – I have just started this and I am so bad at it! Yet I enjoy it now I have started. Not in public… yet.  If you already create, try a medium you don’t normally use. Do something you’ll “fail at”, notice how you feel, and then turn that to a feeling of pride that you tried something new. Chorus: And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.
  6. Learn a new emotional skill: Smile when your heart is breaking, as the old song says. Laugh, smile, be cheerful. Or, if you constantly joke, take a time to be serious instead. I have surprised myself lately by finding a capacity to will myself into a mindset – If I smile, my mind starts to smile, a little more. This can be very hard, so don’t beat yourself up if you cannot manage it.  But it will help you remember, other people are doing the same. Walk thoughtfully, without your phone, without music in your ears and engage with your senses. Experience the world around you fully. Identify the sounds and sights and smells and textures and tastes that you cannot name. Chorus: And, you’ll remember the feeling of not be able to … not knowing … that we all encounter before we become skilled. This will help you remember and empathise with what your software users will feel when you deliver that new or changed interface.

All these ways of trying something different: they free up our mind, they help us feel refreshed and ready to learn, so that we can learn more – about the business domain we serve, about the craft of testing, about the technology we are engaging with. And – all the way through I have emphasised the users’ feelings. For a reason: I think UX is an area that is becoming increasingly important, and holds an opportunity for testers to learn new and valuable skills. So – you could increase your technical skills, or your domain knowledge. But perhaps, your might consider increasing your knowledge and skills in UX.

 

AUTHOR: Isabel Evans

Independent quality and testing consultant Isabel Evans has more than thirty years of IT experience in the financial, communications, and software sectors. Her work focuses on quality management, software testing, and user experience (UX). A published author, popular speaker and storyteller at software conferences worldwide, Isabel is a Chartered IT Professional and Fellow of the British Computer Society, and received the 2017 EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award. In parallel with her consultancy and teaching in industry, Isabel Evans has recently started as a part-time PhD student at the Department of Computer Information Systems, University of Malta, working with Dr Chris Porter and Dr Mark Micallef on research in human factors for Software Testing. Their current project is logged in ResearchGate as ‘HCITest’. Within that, her current research project is to examine human factors around test tools and the automation of testing, in particular, the UX of test tools for testers.

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