Thursday, December 27, 2007

How Can I Become a Better Tester? Part II: Read

OK - so you are paying more attention to quality now, right? Starting to ask more about what makes a Mercedes so much better than, say, an Opel or a Dodge. What's another step you can take to become a better tester? Simple - expand your horizons by reading. That's what this blog entry is about: what can you read?

  • The first place to start comes for free: read off the Internet. Read blogs (http://www.testingreflections.com is a great one--there are many out there). Also, a site I'm affiliated with (http://www.searchsoftwarequality.com) is a great resource. There is a performance test expert who frequently contributes, as well as several experienced test managers.
  • Related to blogs, start reading test forums. I have found that the Yahoo Agile Testing Group is a great source of information. Another good source is MSDN's forum on software testing.
  • The next place is to read books on testing. Cem Kaner, James Bach, James Whittaker are all great authors with significant experience. Whittaker has a series of "How to Break..." books which is rock-solid with good day-to-day steps for your testing.
  • The next great source of reading is books on the topic of engineering. These books talk about best-practices in teh engineering discipline and always lead me to think about how my team is approaching a project or a problem. Some of my best test strategies have come as I've read development manuals such as:
    • Test Driven Development with Microsoft .NET (Newkirk and Vorontsov)
    • The Object-Oriented Thought Process (Weisfeld)
    • Software Project Survival Guide (McConnell)
    • Writing Secure Code (Howard)
  • Conferences and seminars: let's face it, a lot of conferences are actually just about marketing something. But even those conferences offer the opportunity to sit with experienced testers and learn from them - either in presentations or during the 'chit-chat' portion of the conventions. A couple of thousand dollars is a lot of money to spend on a conference, but sometimes it'll pay back in spades, just with the new network of associates you build who can help you through a challenge you may be facing. I'm speaking in May 2008 at PSQT's Vegas conference, if you're interesting in meeting me face-to-face.
  • Certifications: OK - to be clear, certification is NOT a substitute for experience. It alone means nothing, but a certification can often lead you in the right direction in improving your skills. It can build a framework for you to 'flesh out' with experience over time. PSQT offers certification and there are a few other courses available. Again, I stress: certification in and of itself can only teach you the process and steps recognized as historically good testing. It's not everything you need to be a great tester, but it is a good framework.
  • Practice: the best teacher is practice, and that's what you really need. Be really weird - start a testing group which meets after hours and just tackles weird testing problems (meet at a local cafe and talk about how you'd test the espresso machine or the retail point of sale system).

These are just a few ideas. There are many, many ways to learn. The key to learning, however, is wanting to learn - and for the right reasons. If you want to be a better tester so you can move up the food chain and become a better manager, well, you'd better think about a career as a project manager instead. If you want to be a better tester and that's it, trust me - you'll learn. And the growth opportunities will present themselves, too.

Next subject: going beyond the requirements.

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  2. John,

    Awesome post, I really enjoyed it and look forward to finishing the series. I just got put in charge of the QA department for my new company and will be frequenting your blog now as a guide and virtual mentor =)

    Thanks again,
    - Tim

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