Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Becoming a "Certified" BBST Instructor

Disclaimer: this message is mainly being posted for the benefit of members of the Association for Software Testing. So why am I posting it on my blog, and not on AST's site? Well, because I want to do a double appeal, and this has to work on two levels.

First, I want to encourage those out there with a passion to teach about software testing to join AST.

Second, I want to encourage those people out there to become instructors in their own right and help us teach what I personally consider the "colossus of all software testing classes", the Black Box Software Testing courses, aka BBST.

I'm going to come right out and say it. BBST is huge. It's demanding. It's a massive time commitment. It has a high attrition rate of those who take it, mainly because the work load is tremendous. There's a lot to learn, and a lot to do. I also think it's one of the most powerful groups of software testing education classes currently available. Hearing the responses of participants that complete these courses solidifies my belief in that statement after every run.

Can anyone teach these classes? Truthfully, I'll have to say "no". Instructors have to be patient, they have to be willing to take a back seat and let other participants learn from each other as well as instruct. They need to be coaches and mentors. In fact, I think that is the primary role that they really perform. The participants tend to do best when they teach themselves. A BBST Instructor needs to know when to help, and when not to help. When to give a hand, and when to get out of the way. When to give someone encouragement, and sometimes, to break the news to someone that they have been caught cheating, and cannot continue in the courses. Yes, I've had to do that. No, I won't mention names.

So, if I haven't scared you off yet, you may just be wondering "so, Michael, how can I create an exciting, thrilling and lucrative career as a BBST Instructor?" Well, first, if you think that third adjective applies, you're probably not a good candidate. All kidding aside, though it can be fun, and it can be extremely educational, it's a lot of work and as of now, we do not pay our instructors. They are all volunteers.

"Um, yeah, OK, so why would I want to do this again ?"

You can be rewarded for your efforts in a variety of ways. First, you can be rewarded in the fact that, even as instructors, you learn something new every time you teach. Seriously, every single time I teach a class I learn something new based on the insights of the participants and what they bring to the table. Second, it's really cool to be in a position to see people let go of antiquated, so called "best practices" and see them embrace "good practices for the appropriate context". For some, just that is huge!

All right, so now that I've mentioned all of this, what does it take? Glad you asked.

If you want to become a full fledged Lead Instructor (as defined by AST for teaching BBST classes):

1. Each Instructor has to have successfully completed the class they are interested in being an Instructor for (Foundations, Bug Advocacy, Test Design).  If you've completed a course, and feel you would like to be an Instructor for that course, let us know. We will do what we can to have you assist in an upcoming course. We have many spots for Assistant Instructors, and we often have classes with two to four Assistant Instructors participating.

2. Take the online Instructor's Course, so that we can show you the avenues that we use and the methods to help instruct and coach participants. This class is currently only offered once a year, but if we were to get enough interested Instructors, we would be happy to double that amount to help more Instructors get the training they need and not have to wait. Also, while it is strongly encouraged to have Assistant Instructors take the Instructor's Course before teaching, it's not mandatory to do so. If you want  to assist but haven't taken the Instructor's Course, it's left up to each individual Lead Instructor to decide if they want to take you on for that particular class and mentor you. Successfully completing the Instructor's Course clears that hurdle somewhat. If you want to be a Lead Instructor, the Instructors Course is mandatory.

3. Assist in at least two courses for the class that you would like to be a Lead Instructor for, and have good evaluations from your Lead and other Assistant Instructors who follow and "shadow" the courses. If the reviews are good, and we feel you have the temperament to be a Lead Instructor, then we will set up the opportunity for you to lead a course (note: you can only lead courses that you have already participated as an Assistant Instructor at least twice).

4. Each Lead Instructor gets a "shadow" lead for the first time they lead a course. That shadow lead evaluates their performance, and makes recommendations if they should lead future courses. If the reviews are favorable, then they get a chance to "fly solo" with a class. If they need a little more practice, we can offer to shadow them a second time. For most, two shadow runs is usually sufficient.

5. After an Instructor has been the Lead for two classes, then they can be "certified" for that course. This certification is a collection of reviews, both from fellow instructors as well as participants. The certification process is where AST states that we feel this person has the skills and the temperament to deliver a quality instruction experience. Also, the BBST certification allows that instructor to take the BBST materials and teach them anywhere they want to, with AST's approval. While that prospect may only appeal to a handful of people, the abilities that are reflected in being able to teach and mentor participants through such a dense and multi-layered class series shows a solid commitment to being a good mentor and instructor, and should impress just about anyone who takes training seriously.

For those who have been keeping track, that means every "certified" Lead Instructor for any of the courses offered have, at bare minimum, been through the material a minimum of five times (once as a participant, at least twice as an Assistant Instructor, and at least twice as a Lead Instructor).

So, if I haven''t scared you off yet, there it is. In a nutshell, that's the BBST approach to developing and "certifying" Lead Instructors. My goal is to see a way to teach solid software testing skills to as many people as possible, without diluting or dumbing down the material. That's going to require a dedicated group of instructors, and those instructors are, quite frankly, those of you that care enough to want to see that level of instruction grow and thrive.

In other words, those of you actually reading this right now :).

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