Monday, May 3, 2010
Listening to Learn
The personal portable media player, and with it the development of the podcast, has changed the way that people can take the opportunity to learn and, dare I say it, even be entertained in the process. I will be the first to confess that I am not an avid user of the Apple iPod (my kids, on the other hand, love them, so we certainly have our share of them in our house) but I have preferred to use devices that act more like a portable hard drive. For many years, my preferred player of choice was an iRiver T30 that I hung around my neck every day for more than four years. It finally blew up in a blaze of glory earlier this year. Since then I have replaced it with a 16GB Creative Zen (the two selling points were its ability to play video and the fact that it had an SD expansion slot so that I could easily add additional media to listen to and view, even if the device was full.
No, my point of this article is not to extol the virtues of one player or another, but to let testers out there know that, hey, there are *lots* of podcasts associated with Software Quality and Software Testing. Some of these are very professionally done, and some have a “guerilla desktop” feel to them. Don’t judge a book by its cover, many people say, and at the same time, don’t judge a podcast by its production values. Some slick podcasts are bereft of useful information, and some lo-fi podcasts are huge in the amount of information they share and what the listener can learn from them.
So what are some of my favorites? Here’s a brief list:
Randy Rice’s Software Quality Podcast: This is the first of the podcasts I discovered, and I’ve found myself returning to them time and time again. Randy recorded 18 podcasts between 2006 and 2009, and they vary from high quality interview shows to transcripts of call-in chat sessions. The quality of the shows production varies, but the information provided is fantastic. Randy is one of my favorite podcasters, in the sense that, in addition to being a tester who understands how to communicate the challenges of testing, he also has a style of delivery that is engaging and fun to listen to. Randy, it’s been awhile, would you consider doing more podcasts, please :)?
Rex Black Consulting Services Podcast: Rex does a monthly call on various testing topics, and wow, does he go in depth on whatever topic he covers. The production is the same on every one of his podcasts, which is to say it’s raw, live and not very produced (no background music, no production breaks, etc.) but the information you get is fantastic and well worth the 60-90 minutes each episode represents. Rex is actively posting podcasts of his presentations usually one month after he initially makes them.
Scott Hanselman’s Hanselminutes: This is one of the most active of the technical podcasts that I listen to, and oftentimes focuses on testing topics. Scott is a .NET developer, and most of the time, his topics cover development topics like .NET languages, ASP.NET, and other interesting and off-beat topics (such as talking about the craft of podcasting with Joel Spolsky or the Science of Fitness with John Lam). There are currently 212 different podcasts archived on the Hanselminutes site, so odds are you will be able to find a lot of thing of interest to listen to.
43 Folders: This is actually not a testing podcast, but it’s one that I love listening to and I find it incredibly motivating. Merlin Mann hosts, and is, quite frankly, one of the most interesting and entertaining podcasters out there. This is the podcast associated with 43folders.com, which is a productivity site that was developed in association with David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” (and David Allen has his own podcast, but I personally find Merlin way more entertaining to listen to, no disrespect to David whatsoever :) ). Merlin has a number of talks that he has recorded that help people get focused on what they really need to do, and give the shot in the arm motivation that someone like me needs from time to time, and he does it with an engaging and entertaining style. Three of his podcasts that I can highly recommend are his “Inbox Zero” Google tech talk, “149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility” (this title is slightly misleading, but it’s a great talk nonetheless), and “Time and Attention” (a talk Merlin gave at Rutgers University).
Software Testing Podcast: This isn’t a podcast unto itself; it’s actually an aggregator of testing podcasts. Randy Rice’s podcasts are included in this list, as are podcasts from a number of other sites. I mention this primarily because some gems I might never have come cross I found in this listing. One of my favorite discoveries has to be Georgia Motoc’s Software Quality Podcast. I like her site because it focuses on some of the unique challenges regarding bilingual testing in Canada (why would that interest me? Because I have had both entertaining and frustrating issues with software that originated in Japan and having it localized for the U.S. market, so hearing her perspectives gives me insights should I need to face something like that again). The Gray Matters and Stick Minds Sound Byte podcasts with emphasis on testing are also listed here, and the Watir podcast in its entirety is also available here. James and Jonathan Bach did a couple of quick podcasts a while back, discussing how they look at questions and other issues related to testing. They are here as well.
Now, a quick note about these podcasts… For those hoping to hit the gold rush and find podcasts that will fill in the blanks and make you “Super Tester”… well, that’s probably not going to happen. There isn’t a simple “download and listen your way to testing prowess in 10 easy steps” (and if that can actually be done somehow, I may take a crack at it myself :) ). What you will get are some wonderful perspectives, some great advice, and some tips and tricks to help you re-consider what you are doing, and help you do some things better, and give you some exposure to some new or different ideas. Not every one of them will prove to be of interest to everyone, but even if one topic spurs an interest and a desire to learn more or follow different avenues, then it will be time well spent.