Friday, 8 April 2011

Mentoring a New Tester

A couple of days ago my son in law was talking to my wife with regards to what he would like to do after he completes his service in the Army and what options he has. From this conversation my wife had an idea about him entering the world of software testing and as such asked me to have a word with him to see if he would like to join this crazy world.

Matt (@Matt_Wellington) is a member of the Royal engineers and has done two tours of Afghanistan has a member of the EOD bomb search team. He spends his days searching for IEDs and making sure it is safe for colleagues and local people to walk safely on the roads. He currently has two years (plus) left in the Army and is looking for new challenges; well software testing is a challenge and one I feel he could be great at.

I mentioned on twitter that I was thinking of mentoring Matt and any advice would be welcome.

I got a sudden flurry of encouraging tweets.

@steveo1967 Why not dig into the exercises in rapid software testing? I don't think @jamesmarcusbach or @michaelbolton would mind that!

@steveo1967 Who is he with and when does he get out? I might suggest some intro stuff "Testing Computer Software" tied with non comp. books.

@steveo1967 Give him something to test. Observe him doing it. Feed back. Repeat

@steveo1967 It gives them a good insight on the 'before' and 'after', and by writing cases from the start they are productive! win/win :)

@steveo1967 Then you can move on and do weekend testing with him observing first and then you do pair testing with him at the keyboard.

@steveo1967 "How do you recognize a bug?" has many parallels with "How do you recognize a bomb?"
@steveo1967 So let me get this straight: he searches for things that might blow up harmfully, and you say he has no testing experience?! ;)

@michaelbolton @steveo1967 Good point Michael :) Software testing has less personal risks, hopefully, most of the time ;)

@steveo1967 agree w/ @michaelbolton He's got training in critical thinking now apply it differently. 1/2

@steveo1967 @michaelbolton If he's not ovrseas maybe test meetups may help? Software generally safer than ordinance ;)

So after explaining what testing involves (Briefly – some may think how can you do this briefly!!!)

I first gave him the challenge as suggested by Michael Bolton ‘How do you search/recognise a bomb?”

Matt explained about planning before hand, then re-evaluating when at the site, following safety procedures and using local and own knowledge to search the area. Then when something looks suspicious use techniques learnt during training and on the job experience to confirm the presence of an explosive. Marking the area as such if it is dangerous or the fact it has been searched and then reporting to his senior office the results of what was found.

After hearing this I explained the comparisons with software testing and his answer was is that all this is to it then? Oh the joys of the innocent……

I then gave Matt some material to read, wrongly or rightly the CD from the ISEB course, I feel this is a good way to start and to get to know some of the basic methods of testing, boundary, static etc. I also gave him copies of some excellent software testing books.

Both which I still use as references

My plan for mentoring are as following

  • Basic techniques – the toolset every tester needs
  • Scripted Testing
  • Exploratory Testing
  • Test planning
  • Test reporting/debrief
  • Weekend testing
  • Paired testing

The aim is to have lots and lots of practical/hands on.

Matt does have limited time since in a cpl of weeks he will be working 7 days a week so I need to use an approach which is not overloading and allows him to build up his testing skill set and increase his confidence of the craft.

To this aim I gave Matt his first testing exercise based upon a weekend testing session organized by Jon Bach

The mission was to test the ebay website and find:

  • The most expensive
  • A search that returned only one result
  • A search that returned an unusual item

I asked him to document what he did, what he found and most important his thought process.

The results of this first testing session are amazing – I think I have found I natural tester…… I will publish the results of this first testing effort in my next article.

If anyone wants to help/encourage/support or advise Matt then please get in touch with him on twitter (@Matt_wellington)

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