Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ask Experienced Testers for Feedback/Help: 99 Ways Workshop #72

The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called "99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester". Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the "99 Things" book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions. 

Suggestion #72: Ask experienced testers for feedback/help - Erik Brickarp

These next three suggestions and workshops cover similar territory, but they have a unique enough level of difference that they can be handled individually.   

One of the greatest things about the software testing community, at least in my opinion, is the fact that so many give of their time, their energy and their knowledge freely and at great length. Come to a testing conference, sit down with a group of testers, mention a challenge that you are having. This is a community that talk testing for days and nights on end, who play testing games after full day tutorials. Testers will likely not fix your problem directly (where would the fun be if we did that?), but we will almost certainly help give you fifty new ways of looking at and approaching the problem.

Getting help from testers is the easy part. The sometimes more difficult part is keeping them focused and getting to the heart of your issue or challenges. Thankfully, testers love philosophical arguments, and if you are one willing to engage in them, you have a great opportunity to learn and participate in a hallowed tradition that has spanned millenia.

Workshop #72: Be the "presenter" in a "Tester's Symposium". Look to demonstrate what you have already worked through, what aspects you have already researched or tried, or share your understanding of the concepts that comprise the issue/problem that you are facing. 

For some, the word "Symposium" may sound a little odd. In it's literal sense, a "symposium" is a drinking party, and it is a tradition that dates back to Ancient Greece (in the Roman world, a "Convivium" served the same purpose). A group of people would gather, typically at someone's place of residence, wine would be served, food would be brought throughout the evening (along with more wine), musicians and dancers would perform, and a philosopher, a poet or some other learned person would lead a discussion with the guests. 

The symposium, fairly close to its original purpose, is alive and well when a group of software testers is gathered together. 

Use the format of the symposium to you favor, and approach a group of testers at a conference, a meet-up, a hack night, or even at a team lunch. 

There are some de-facto "rules" that go along with a "Tester's Symposium". I say de-facto because these things tend to be informal and fun, but after many years of experiencing these activities, these tend to be the guidelines that will help really make this opportunity work for you:

1. Come in with a question or a challenge for the group. The question needs to be neither too vague or too specific. Too vague and the discussion will be unfocused. Too specific  and not enough people will be able to address it.

2. Show that you have done your homework already. You don't have to have an ultimate answer, but you have to show that you actually have considered the problem, worked through and struggled with it a bit, or have an avenue of inquiry to consider. You will get more engaged response from testers if you have already done some thinking around the problem. They will likely walk you through what your approach is, and can then help you see if you are being affected by bias or other traps that may be part of the challenges you face.

3. If you have not done your homework, go ahead and say that. If you get the right group of testers (read: most of them),  they will actually guide and walk you through some thought experiments. Very likely, they will turn the tables on you and approach the problem as though they are the tester, and put you in the position of product owner or interested stakeholder. Again, they will try to help you see potential traps, fallacies, and bias that may be part of the process.

4.If you find yourself in the questioning phase described in the previous paragraph, be prepared to follow the train(s) of thought through to their completion. This is classic philosophical debate in the Socratic mode, and many software testers, in general, really enjoy participating in this.

By the time you complete this process, it's very likely that you will have been introduced to several additional ways to examine the issue you have been considering, and in the process, you will have been given some considerably valuable mentoring by other knowledgeable testers.

Bottom Line:

The symposium approach to dealing with testing issues, and the very real process of philosophically working through and being coached on the issues being considered, can be a powerful experience for many. Once you have gone through it, you may find you enjoy the process, and later on, you may find that you are yourself drawn in at a later time into one of these discussions. This time, you may find that instead of being coached, you will be the coach for someone else. We'll talk about that reversal of roles next :).

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