Monday, October 20, 2014

The Beginner's Mind Applied to Software Testing

Something has been bothering me for some time now as I conduct software testing training classes on a wide variety of topics - ISTQB certification, test management, test automation, and many others.

But it's not only in that venue I see the issue. I also see it in conferences where people attend, sit through presentations - some good and some not so good - and leave with comments like "I didn't learn anything new." Really?

I remember way back in the day when I chaired QAI's International Testing Conference (1995 - 2000) reading comments like those and asking "How could this be?" I knew we had people presenting techniques that were innovations at the time. One specific example was how to create test cases from use cases. At the time, it was a new and hot idea.

So this nagging feeling has been rolling around in my mind for weeks now. Then, this past week I had the need to learn more about something not related to testing at all. One article I found told of the author's similar quest. All of his previous attempts to solve the problem ended up looking similar, so he started over - again - except this time with a mindset in which he knew nothing about the subject. Then, he went on to describe the idea of the "Beginner's Mind." Then, it all clicked for me.

When I studied and practiced martial arts for about ten years, my fellow students and I learned that if we trusted in our belt color, or how many years we had been learning, we would get our butts kicked. In the martial arts, beginners and experts train in the same class and nobody complains. The experts mentor the beginners and they also perfect the minor flaws in their techniques. The real danger was when we thought we already knew what the teacher was teaching.

Now...back to testing training...

I respect that someone may have 30 years experience in software testing. However, those 30 years may be limited by working for one company or a few companies. Also, the person may only have worked in a single industry. Even if the experience is as wide as possible, you still don't have 100% knowledge of anything.

The best innovators I know in software testing are those that can take very basic ideas and combine them, or find a new twist on them and innovate a new (and better) way of doing something. But you can't do that if you think you already know it all.

In the ISTQB courses, I always tell my students, "You are going to need to 'un-learn' some things and not rely solely on your experience, as great as that might be." That's because the ISTQB has some specific ways it defines things. If you miss those nuances because you are thinking "Been there, done that," you may very well miss questions on the exam. I've seen it happen too many times. I've seen people with 30+ years of experience fail the exam even after taking a class!

So the next time you are at a conference, reading a book, attending a class, etc. and you start to get bored, adopt the beginner's mind. Look at the material, listen to the speaker and ask beginner questions, like "Why is this technique better that another one?", "Why can't you do ..... instead?", or "What would happen if I combined technique X with technique Y."

Adopt the beginner's mind and you might just find a whole new world of innovation and improvement waiting for you!

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