Learning Zone, Performance Zone

Time to time I discuss with people in industry about how to find a good software testers/developers. And my answer always is the same – do not look for a tester/developer, look for a person who likes to learn. If you can teach a bear to ride a bicycle, then a person, who wants to learn, have no limits.

How long do you work as a software tester/developer? How many years of software testing/development experience do you have? Looks like similar questions, but they are not. For example, you are paid as a software developer for 7 years. You can have one time 7 years of experience OR you could have 7 times 1-year experience.

Now I have to correct myself. Over the years and especially since I work as a trainer I see that learning (listening) is not enough. You have to apply your learnings in everyday life and this is the hardest part of learning. Some of educators say learning means change of behaviour. Very simple example: child and candle. Child is attracted to flame and wants to touch it. Parents can say 100 times, do not touch it! the flame it is dangerous, child will hear it, but not learn and will keep behaviour. Only after touching a flame, lesson will be learned and behaviour changed. In Germany we say LDS – Lernen Durch Schmerzen which translated means Learning Through Pain. Pain as trigger to change pattern of behaviour.

I really love Eduardo Briceño TED talk where he introduces us with his concept of Learning Zone and Performance Zone. Learning zone is where we build our skills, important part in this stage is to make mistakes and lern from them, and performance zone, where we apply skills we master. 20 years ago when I started to work in IT it was pure performance zone. Only professional would get hired, we got project and had to deliver. We kind of know backend of this story – people lied in their resumes and interviews, nobody really knew how and what to deliver and where it got us. All kind of agile projects seams to be in Learning Zone only. We all know something, but we do not know if this something will work in this project. We talk about learning domain, learning about customers needs, learning about software we are building. But do we perform?

How To Find A Mentor?

Mentoring currently is very popular topic. It is kind of cool to have a personal Yoda or Fairly Godmother. I have been involved in for some time already and in this article I will describe some of my experience.

My Mentoring Stories

Story #1:  In 2015 I applied for Speak Easy mentorship. I had the great mentor, who helped me to overcome my fears. Soon after I delivered my first talk, I started to look for a mentor for other issues I was dealing with, and proved old saying: “When the student is ready, the master will appear.”

Story #2: End of June, 2017 was finishing line for MINT mentoring program for women in Fachhochschule Erfurt, Germany. 11 mentoring pairs was built with the aim to help senior students to prepare for academic or work life. I was one of the mentors and had the privilege to share my experience with an amazing young woman. I still have contact to my mentee. In between time, she had a baby, finished her master studies and on January 2, 2019 she started to work as assistant of software project manager and will support a huge digital transformation project.

Story #3: Since few years I am also supporting Speak Easy initiative. I started as one of volunteers, who read submissions of mentees and try to match with a perfect mentor. Since September 2018 I am one of leadership team, and I describe my position as professional matchmaker. I am overwhelmed how many great people we have in tech and software testing in particular, who invest their free time and energy to help other to succeed. I am happy to be part of it.

Story #4: For two years I had very good colleague, with whom I shared an office. We talked a lot about testing topics, new ideas, better approaches. Only after I left the company I realised that we both were each others mentors. Each of us had area of expertise and helped the other one to learn it. Now since we do not work together anymore, we keep seeing and mentoring each other.

My experience as mentee, helped me in my role as mentor. Big part of people, who look for a mentor, have already made their decisions and need just confirmation for their idea. Another part are people who do not know what they want, never thought about personal development or setting a goal and working towards it. Based on stories above, here is my guideline how to look for a mentor.

Step 1: Set a goal

First thing is to understand what is your goal and for what do you need a help. For example, you want to become a conference speaker or you want to learn about test automation. Why? Why it is important to you? Why do you want to invest your time and energy in it? And then: who/what is standing in your way? Fear? Missing skills of writing a proposal? Ugly slide deck? Defining learning goals for attendees? Decide what to automate and what not? How to create automation framework? How to imbed your script in CI tool? In the moment when your goal is clear, and all why? and who? answered,  you will get an idea what kind of help do you need.

Please never approach potential mentor with vague questions like:

  • what should be my next career move?
  • should I learn to code?
  • I heard Selenium skills can bring me a better job, how can I learn Selenium?

Make yourself worth mentoring – do your homework and be prepared. You also could be interested to look into personal development.

Step 2: expectations from a mentor

A mentor is someone who acts as a trusted advisor, a role model, and a friend. In mentorship relationship no money is involved. Can you imagine to offer so personal role to a stranger? Would you like to be a mentored by complete stranger? It could be that a stranger can tell mentee what everyone sees, but friends or colleagues are afraid to tell. Would you better listen to critic from a stranger or a friend? Are you open to critic or are you interested only in cheerleading? Will it help you to reach your goal? In my understanding, a great mentor does not give answers but leads toward the answer. Mentee’s answer, not the mentor’s answer.

Consider your personality and communication style as well. What kind of mentor would best fit to you? Would you choose someone who is your opposite (experience-wise or an extrovert to your introvert), or someone in whom you see yourself? I tried both and for me the best works the opposite.

Another important issue – how and when will you meet. Online or offline? If online, then video, audio or exchanging ideas via email? Are you expecting your mentor to have time for you on the weekend, after work or during lunch break? Once a week or a month? All this you have to consider before you approach mentor, does not matter if it is arrange mentor or somebody who you approach.

Remember – you will be doing all the job. You set your goal, you work towards your goal. Mentor is just supporting and gently guiding you.

Step 3: introduce yourself

For example, you have chosen publicly known person to be your mentor, because she/he is so amazing speaker, writer, teacher and blogger, but you never actually met her/him. One way would be to approach directly and ask the person to be your mentor. There is a chance that you will get “yes”, but much nicer way would be to start a conversation, get to know each other little bit and ask their thoughts on a topic of your interest. It can happen that you realise that public person and private person are different, that you do not share same values or professional interest. Then it is time to look for another potential mentor. Or maybe you do share similar mindset, in that case it will be easier to ask to mentor you.

Mentoring is a relationship. Let it evolve organically.

Refusal

You ask someone to be your mentor and that person refused it, don’t be hurt or offended. This is not against you! Mentoring is personal, can be very time and energy consuming. It could be that your mentor is currently very busy. Do not force potential mentor into an awkward position in which she/he feels bad for saying “no” or obligated to say “yes.”

I loved Lanette’s talk where she suggests testers to be more like a cat. One example was: if cat got trowed out of the lap, it will go and look for another lap, instead of whining about missed chance to be pat.

Step 4: Commit to the process

If you promised something to do, do it. Never ever leave email or phone call from your mentor without reply for several days. Never ever miss the appointment with your mentor. You asked somebody to invest their time and energy, do not waste it! Good mentors do not accept such behaviour.

Have something to offer back

Make sure that your mentor knows how grateful you are for their time, and see if you can offer them something in return. May be you can give feedback on their blog posts, articles or offer to promote their new book or workshop.

The mentoring relationship must have value for both parties, only then it will be successful in long term.

 

I hope these 4 steps will help you to build successful mentorships and to reach your full potential!

Today I Learned

Last September I joined trending and became one of the ISTQB trainers. I have a whole story “why?” and I plan to share it one day, but today I want to talk a bit about learning.

How I see learning from the trainer side is pretty ugly – mostly students do not want to learn. It is trendy to talk about learning and training should be safe place where to learn, but in many cases ISTQB is something where they have been sent by a boss or something, what they think they have to do, to get a next shiny job title. I try hard to make trainings entertaining (e.g. I carry different testing games with me) and informative (learning materials, stories from the past), but sometimes it is simply not working. Sometimes I am happy that at the end of the day everyone simply memorised what negative test is and why we should do it. Most challenging are the ones who refuse to understand some definitions or concepts, for example, difference between validation and verification. Most frustrating if this person has 20 years of experience in IT. In those moments I ask myself, is this really for me? But then I remember my “why?” and everything is OK again. Part of that “why?” are students, who are engaged and eager to learn everything I can share with them. They do some research upfront and have clear vision what they need. It is highly rewarding to work with that kind of students. Discendo discimus – while teaching we learn.

In trainings I invite people to embrace failures, to share experiences, to learn from each other, to use synergy. To help them to do that, I point to my own mistakes. Something like the picture on the top of this post. Few month ago I put whiteboard into our home kitchen. We use it as drawing board, as shopping list, as design board for next game we will program and sometimes I write citations. I guess, now till end of my days, I will spell “intelligence” correctly. I must to admit, not always I was so cool about my mistakes. Few years ago I would feel ashamed and embarrassed, would try to hide it, put a lot of energy to deny it. Today I share it with the world. I know who I am and spelling mistake will not make me less me. I better put my energy to think why did I spell it wrong? Am I writing too less on an analog information carriers? Do I assume that software will catch all my spelling mistakes?

Since this month we have new colleague Dani. One thing what he did, he created channel in our company slack #todayilearned to share our learnings. It has became simple but effective training for me to identify what did I learn new today. Sometimes it is simple stuff, like, how to spell “intelligence” or that I am afraid to sit in the car which moves faster than 210kmh on busy autobahn, or that people who smell lavender fragrance make less typos and are more productive (I sent this fact immediately to my colleague with whom I used to share an office and passion to lavender). Or sometimes it is realisation that not everyone reads and spends on learning about a software as much as I do. I left digital transition domain because I was sick of explaining software development basics again and again. Now I explain them on weekly bases :D . I like to think that I can assume correctly about previous software development experiences of my respondent and explain missing parts accordingly his/her level of understanding. And almost every second time I fail, because of aiming too high. People try to write an essay without knowing the alphabet! Yes, even in 2018 you have to explain, with patience and empathy, what is a smoke test, what is a negative test and regression test to a developer with 10 years of experience in software development. And this is OK. We all make mistakes and wrong decisions, important is to use it as learning possibilities.

 

 

We are such a cool guys, why nobody loves us?

Software testing has huge public image problem and nobody really knows why. Or we do know why? Here is my version with main four points.

#1 You cannot study testing

Universities has tons of programs for applied sciences, but it is new to offer courses in software testing. Is it a real science? If yes – why I cannot study it? If not – why should I care?

#2 Anyone can test

How people get tester jobs? By accident! Wrong place, wrong time, no other opportunities, last chance to stay in company etc. I am no exception myself – my first testing tasks I got on my summer intern ship. Time to time all testing teams gets an offer to overtake bad performing developer, shop manager or other. While testers has a lot of empathy, usually they accept the candidate. In many cases it turns positive for both sides, but very important is a message to the outside: testing is not important, everyone can do testing, all bad performing employees we can relocate to software testing.

#3 Self confidence

What kind of people takes and sticks to the job, described above? My guess – people with low self confidence. There are many jokes about geeks, especially about their social skills and confidence problems. I see it applying daily for testers as well. Of course once you had a chance to attend local testing group or a conference, you will meet another kind of testers. But how many do that?

#4 Communication and other soft skills

No matter that every second tester says that communication is important testing skill, looks that we do it all wrong. We are testers, we tell people that we are trained to test a software with various approaches. For example, we observe piece of software as a black box. Sending signals in and analysing coming out signals.  If we would take a look to our image problem as a result of communication black box, than it is clear that we are sending wrong signals. Projects are different, customer needs are different, so why to keep focusing on found/open/fixed bugs? Why to use the same weekly report template?

And now?

Points above are my experience, lessons learned and observations. I found my way and can say that it works for me. For you I can suggest to learn your domain, to work on your self esteem and communication skills. Try to explain your kid or granny what do you do and why. Why one method is better then another? What do you try to find out? Why it is important to know? How do you collect and present the results? What profit has project manager, developer and a customer from this information? Use your experience as a solid base, but do not stop to look for new ways how to test. If your message has no advantage to other stakeholders than it is unnecessary.