Friday, August 16, 2013

Never Stop Trying to Become a Better Tester: 99 Ways Workshop #60

"Shinka" (Japanese, Kanji)
 can be used to mean 
both "Evolution" and "Progress".
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 #60: Never stop trying to become a better tester - Mauri Edo

It's a simple statement. It may even be said to be obvious, yet sometimes the simple and obvious can be the most difficult to implement. 

What's really being said here is:

"Figure out a way that you will forever, and perpetually, be engaged in learning, practicing, and refining your skill set, so that you are always on a path of continuous improvement". 

Feels like looking for "The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything", doesn't it? In this case, the answer is NOT  42! 

It is, in many ways, the eternal quest. Enlightenment. Zen. Eternal Progression. Consecration. Fill in the blank with your favorite term (I personally like the Japanese word "Shinka", which means "Evolution" or "Progress"). 

The affirmation is wonderful. The trickier question is… how?

Workshop #60: Develop peer mentoring relationships with other testers. Take on testing challenges. Give and receive feedback of your peers. Take on grand program plans that will make you want to cry, but tackle them anyway. Make bold boasts, and follow up on them. Dive into the deep end, and SWIM!

"I am a Black Belt and Instructor in the Miagi-do School of Software Testing".

My professional bio, my blog, in papers and articles that I publish, in conference talks... anywhere that a summary of who I am gets posted, has that statement. After my name and where I work, that's typically the first thing you will read. 

I do that on purpose.

The reason is, it's a reminder to me as to what I really am all about. It encapsulates my personal "self improvement" plan as a tester. that desire to always learn and make learning and teaching foremost is the first thing I want anyone to know about me.

I could tell everyone to reach out and join "Miagi-do". If I did that, this would be a very short post, but I won't... mainly because the other instructors would have my head if I did. Instead, I want to share what Miagi-do (at least to me) actually represents. More important, I want to give you some ideas as to how to use a similar approach for yourself, and others

At it's core, Miagi-do is a group of dedicated software testers who believe in improvement, taking on big challenges, putting our voices out there, and striving to always learn and get better. We also believe that it is in small groups, and with dedicated attention, that people learn and grow. This is part of the reason why you will likely never see a mass advertising campaign for Miagi-do anywhere. We deliberately work with only a few students at a time. 

If you would like to do something in a similar vein, then:

- First, find a small group of people that share your goal and focus. I say small because it's easier to establish, and your accountability to one another will likely be higher with a smaller group.

- Determine what goals you want to aim for. Define personal criteria as to what will qualify as success. Share that criteria with the group.

- Determine a relationship with at least one other participant in the group. To borrow from martial arts, there will be a student (KYU) and an instructor (SENSEI). You could make arrangements so that the person who is KYU for one goal could be SENSEI for someone else's goal. The important part is to establish that relationship, and what the ground rules of engagement will be. In Miagi-do, were I to be your SENSEI, I would expect you, as KYU, to tell me what your goals are, and what your development plan would be. I would then share what I would commit to do to help you meet your goal, as well as how I would try to hold you accountable. The truth is, I cannot pull anyone along. I'm not that kind of a teacher. I can, however, encourage you, so that we are both excited and running along together.

- Spend some time working on the goal, and make ways to actionably demonstrate what you have learned. In Miagi-do, typically, we have two steps. One is a deliverable or a body of work that shows competence and understanding (can you explain the concepts in a way that, if I are to step in as your KYU, I could understand and learn from you?). That body of work could be any number of things. It could be an active and well researched blog, completion of a course of study, designing and teaching a course of study, activism in the community, speaking at conferences, writing a book, etc. Additionally, we would also ask the KYU to sit for a "challenge", where the SENSEI and KYU would interact in real time (or a close approximation via email, chat, etc.).

- In Miagi-do, we have simple "rank advancement" and "belt" designations, just for the fun of it. You can be a White Belt (KYU, SHIROI-OBI or "new student"), Brown Belt (IRO-OBI, or "experienced student"), or Black Belt (KURO-OBI as a literal belt, DAN as a grade or rank). Any DAN who wishes to become a SENSEI likewise sits for a few additional challenges with other SENSEI, and is evaluated. In this case, it's not so much to prove skill, but to show the ability to teach others and counsel them effectively.  Once the Miagi-do leaders have determined that a DAN can serve as a SENSEI, they effectively keep their designation by continuously teaching others, and helping them reach their goals.

Would you need this level of formalism in your group? Absolutely not! This is what we put together as a way of making an identity, but to also crystallize our principles and approach. The goal is that all participating are striving to learn and improve. Those who want to help others improve commit to helping them do so. Those who want to teach are evaluated as to how well they do over time. Put all this together, and you get a very real and very dynamic method for developing skills, apprenticing with masters, and becoming a master who can likewise apprentice others.

Bottom Line:

Everyone will have their own approach that works for them. Group learning and accountability has its benefits, but some may want to quietly do things on their own. The end goal is the same. We learn, we grow, we advance, and we have a way to show others what we have learned. How you get there isn't important, so long as you start the journey, keep traveling, and share your memoirs with others along the way.

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