Distance Learning

Hey testers. It’s been a while since I have blogged last. This has mostly been because of such a massive workload, but also various personal events taking place. I normally blog when either I feel that I have something to share, or if I have a reaction to something I have learned – such as on this occasion.

CAST2015 – The Conference of the Association for Software Testing  is running as I type this, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. This is the first year I have been able to monitor the live stream. This is a fantastic service, offered to allow folks who aren’t attending to listen, watch and take part (via Twitter).

I want to reflect first on yesterday’s opening keynote speech by Karen Johnson entitled “Moving Testing Forward”. This was a very personal exploration of her career, learning and life; much of which resonated with me.

This is something I have sometimes had issues with in the past, and sometimes with great detrimental effects. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been places where I have been unable to establish good working relationships, or had personal problems intrude on my working life and vice versa.

The work/life balance has always been a hard road to travel. Family, friends and other personal commitments should take priority. Whilst I was building my career often that wasn’t the case, and my personal life suffered.

I also made possibly poor choices, but yet choices that have ultimately gotten me to where I am now – a great role, testing, learning, working with great people at an exciting business. A business that does it’s best to support its employees when they have personal issues and gives them breathing space and learning opportunities to be able to craft and shape their own careers. I am very lucky.

Secondly, I’d like to reflect on the keynote from the second day by Ajay Balamurugadas, entitled “The Future of Testing”. I haven’t met Ajay yet, but I feel that I know him through his work.

As a facilitator at Weekend Testing Europe we are part of his vision to provide great learning opportunities for the entire testing community. This tweet from Maria Kedemo sums up this attitude succintly.

A long time ago I did not feel empowered at all to learn for myself. I felt that all my learning needed to come from my employer, be paid for by my employer, if they were ultimately to benefit from it. Employers invariably are businesses with their own priorities and concerns – not necessarily with the personal learning and welfare of their employees.

As Ajay said, not being able to afford to go to conferences or attend courses should never be a blocker to learning. We have blogs, books, free webinars, meetups and tester gatherings, brown bags, Skype sessions on Weekend Testing, and any number of other roads to learning.

I had an epiphany on this several years ago. I was never going to get to where I wanted to be – be a home owner, clear my student debt, start a family If I didn’t take control of that learning. So I read blogs, I joined the Software Testing Club, I started looking at the work of other testers I had heard about, I even started implementing some of their approaches and techniques. All great learning.

But to take that further and on to the next stage, I had to get away from companies that didn’t support that approach to learning. I decided to go freelance, and this I have done for about 4 years or so. Now being at New Voice Media has allowed me to expand that learning into avenues that I hadn’t thought possible, exposing me to thinking and choices that may take me away from testing to focus on security, as I do at the moment.

Thanks to the organisers of CAST and making it available to all.

A community in contrast

I’ve not blogged recently for various reasons, both personal and professional. But on the anniversary of my blog, I want to return with a more positive attitude to it after a fallow period. This is a quick blog as way of a catch up over the last few months activities (other than my professional and personal ones). It’s an opportunity to share some of the highlights of my experiences in the testing community recently, which have been warm and welcoming during some difficult times.

A few months ago I attended the inaugural Brighton Testing Meetup, catching up with some of the good folk I last met at TestBash 3. Brighton is sort of my home town, yet I have never worked there so having a foot in the pond that is the testing community there has been a great thing. We talked, we ate and drank and shared ideas. Early plans have been made for my future involvement, leading talks and discussions around some exciting testing topics. Emma Keaveny and Kim Knup are developing a vibrant new community of interest and I can’t wait to be more involved. Roll on 2015.

The community of testing is as varied and as exciting as the variety of people who work and learn within it. This is a good thing, perhaps the greatest thing about the community…and this is where the contrast lies.

The same week I went to Brighton, I also attended the latest Special Interest Group in Software Testing conference. SIGIST is organised by established, more academic people in the testing industry, on behalf of the BCS. It meets quarterly in London. There were a number of interesting topics being discussed, but it didn’t set my heart on fire. Only one or two talks out of the whole day really engaged me with the subject matter. Whilst there was the opportunity to learn from some experienced practitioners, there  wasn’t the same emphasis on collaborative learning, challenging established testing paradigms and positive enquiry. It wasn’t a bad experience, it just didn’t make me more passionate about my craft, nor help me understand something new about testing. It was good however to catch up with some people who I have met before, and some who I hadn’t…but were on my radar. Namely Tonnvane WiswellDeclan O’Riordan, Paul Gerrard, and Mike Jarred.

Another recent experience has been with some of the free, online and collaborative forums for learning and discussion that I have participated in. Firstly, Stephen Blower’s Testing Couch forum. This is a free and open Skype forum for any testers who are interested in talking about their craft. In the couple of times that I have attended, the chat has always been productive, supportive and non judgemental. Stephen makes this forum available periodically, usually every month or two. It’s a fantastic opportunity for experienced or novice testers to throw ideas around, be challenged and share thinking and learning.

Lastly, and probably my most positive experience was being a guest speaker in October’s Weekend Testing Europe forum. I was sharing my recent learning and experience in software testing, leading the attendees in an exploratory session with security as the focus. To a lot of the people during the chat, security testing was a new concept for which they had little experience or opportunities to learn. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to facilitate this session, not only on a personal level, but also to see many others taking up the challenge of securing their applications, and considering security as part of their testing.

Amy Phillips and Neil Studd have really breathed new life into Weekend Testing Europe, which had been dormant for a while. Keep an eye out for WTEU in the future, as it is a great way of keeping in touch with the testing community around the world. Be prepared to go in with eyes open, lots of questions, and a hunger to learn. All you need to do is  volunteer two hours of your time on a Sunday afternoon. It sure beats watching Columbo repeats or traipsing round a garden centre.

So, that’s it for now. I’ll be blogging again soon. The Test Doctor will return!