Wednesday, 22 March 2017

NWEWT #2 Growing Testers


Last weekend I attended the second edition of the North West Exploratory Workshop on Testing (NWEWT). If you don’t know what an exploratory workshop is or want to know more about NWEWT, read my previous blog post here:


The attendees were as follows, the content of this blog post should be attributed to their input as much as mine, the thoughts I have here were brought together through collaboration:
Ady Stokes
Ash Winter
Callum Hough
Claire Reckless
Dan Ashby
Duncan Nisbet
Emma Preston
Gwen Diagram
Jit Gosai
Marc Muller
Vernon Richards
Vishnu Priya

Growing testers

This years theme was “growing testers”, looking to spark discussion on our own experiences as we’ve grown ourselves as testers and how we help other testers grow. We had a mix of new faces, some of whom it was their first time public speaking, and experienced people, which led to a nice mix of discussions exploring the topic from one end to the other.

I’m not going to go through all of the talks and everything that was discussed here, I’d just like to quickly blog about the discussions that really hit a chord for me and where my thoughts are on the subject.

Main takeaways

The major takeaway for me was Ash Winter’s ‘wheel of testing’, I really liked this idea and I think it struck a chord with me because I’m relatively new to managing testers and trying to guide them in their career progression. The more ideas I can try and explore to make my own ones, the better, I feel.
Ash explained that the wheel came from his dislike of competencey frameworks and the typical talk around growth being a linear path, whereas really it’s quite a chaotic and winding path. So he came up with a wheel to visualise the different areas a tester could focus on to improve. I’ll let Ash publish and explain his wheel himself, but effectively it contained different core areas of testing, with specialised or more focused subjects going outwards. The idea was not to tick off particular areas or focus people on any one path, but demonstrate what paths are available and engage testers in a discussion.

I also liked Marc Muller’s model which took 5 areas of testing skills and mapped them onto a radar chart. He asked testers to score themselves from 0 to 10 in each area and used this to get a picture of his team. I liked the simple visual nature of this chart and just as in Ash’s model it’s a useful tool to open up the conversation with testers on what the different skills mean to them and what they would like to improve.

Several people gave experience reports of what it was like for them to grow as a tester and I recognised so many familiar aspects to my career. It seems things have still not changed in that respect, people are still falling into it and accidentally happen across the testing community.

Naturally the topic of growing testers eventually led to the topic of “the future of testers”. While we didn’t go too far into this, as it’s a huge topic in itself, it was clear there was a fairly large difference in opinion and my takeaway from this is that I’d love to get into it more!

My talk

My interpretation of growing testers had two aspects to it, one was an introspective look at how I’ve grown as a tester and how I manage and attempt to help testers within my team grow. Another aspect was how to improve the growth of testers in the industry. The former I didn’t feel I was making any interesting points on, so in hindsight I wish I had dropped that part. But the latter point I’ve realised I’m quite interested in and curious about.

I argued that to help grow more and better testers in the software industry, we (society in general, not just the testing community) could be doing more to improve awareness about testing through education. I referred to the example of Scratch which is used to educate children on programming at school - could we be doing something similar for testing or somehow bringing elements of testing into those exercises?

I believe we can, I believe we could be improving how software development in general is taught (or not taught!) throughout education. I don’t mean testing degrees or testing qualifications though. How testing could be brought into education, how people could be made more aware could take many forms:
  • The obvious option being degrees or qualifications like GCSEs.
  • Supplemental modules or specialisms within existing computer science or software development or engineering courses.
  • A change in the way programming is taught in existing modules or courses. Rather than focusing on pure coding problems, could we be focusing on delivery of software? We don’t have to call it “testing” but we could be changing programmers to be more used to understanding the wider challenges of software development and better advocates of testing. If a programmer recognises the need for a critical eye on their work, even if they don’t call that “testing”, aren’t they more likely to ask for it?
  • A better promoted option in careers discussions. Career discussions generally are quite poor at university from my experience from 2010. We all wondered what the hell we could be other than programmers but had no idea. Simply having someone talk to use about the different roles in the real world would have made a difference.
  • A one off talk from an experienced tester, maybe tied in with the career discussions.
  • Including assignments for programmers to build software that other students will test and project manage. Maybe not very practical but maybe there is a way to make this work. The best way to demonstrate the effectiveness of testing is actually try and produce software for somebody else.
  • Introducing ideas and techniques such as pairing, mobbing, code reviews, TDD, BDD, continuous delivery, logging and monitoring. These are not about testing but can be discussed quite easily in the context of testability. Through these subjects we could discuss testing. I also feel these ideas can be introduced even at a young age, at least to get people used to the people skills and communication challenges. If we could make people more aware of this before entering work would help I think.
  • Sandwich courses, where students take a year out from their course to work in industry. If I had understood testing better I think I would definitely have taken this option because testing is a great way to learn about development just as much as it’s a career in itself.

After this conference I’m pretty damn motivated to conduct more research about how software development in general is being taught through the various levels of education. I’m well aware that it may be a large time sink and require some commitment but I’ve thought about pursuing this avenue for a while now. Having spent a majority of my life in education, I really enjoyed it and I believe it can be much better and much more inspiring. 

Through the Q&A session we had after my talk, it felt like there were mixed feelings on this subject. I think its fair to say some people felt that education isn't the best place to learn about testing. Also some people agreed with the sentiment around Scratch as a way to perhaps find more testers and spread awareness. I definitely feel there is more to research and discuss on this subject and there is something in helping academia improve.

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