Next, I want to talk about coaching. I mentioned in the previous post that the best way to master something is to learn it well enough that you can effectively explain it to someone else.
Have you ever tried explaining something to a toddler?
You: “Don’t kick the ball in the house”,
Y: “Because you might break something”,
T: “but Why?”,
Y: “because you might hit a vase and make it fall down and break”,
Y: “so your mum would be upset if the vase broke”,
Y: “because she likes it”,
Y: “I don’t know”,
T: “why not” …
You get the point, when you try to explain something, people tend to ask why, which can really stretch your understanding and beliefs. You’ve developed a set of assumptions that the way you do things now is the best way to do it, or that it’s too hard to change. You teach this message to someone else, but they don’t agree, they might say, ‘Why don’t you try writing a program to do that for you?’ … Perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised and discover a new solution that works better and say: I hadn’t thought of that, or I don’t know how to do that. Or in other words, that sounds like something I need to change, something new for me to learn. Great!
As you spend time coaching someone, you are being tested each day to deeply understand what you are teaching as you explain it to someone else. It’s a great way to find out if you’ve thought of all the different options or to cement your knowledge.
In a sport’s team, it’s the coach’s job to help show people where they need to improve, and guide them through how to improve. A coach within testing works the same way, pointing out areas for growth, and assisting through the growth. Having someone coach you in testing is quite beneficial for you in helping to identify your weak spots and help you develop a plan to get better. Perhaps the areas of your role that you’ve always stayed clear of will become a little less intimidating, or you are challenged to approach a situation differently. Either way, there are changes for you to make, challenges to take on and new growth to be found.
Here’s some examples where I’ve tried this. The first one is actually the reason I’m presenting this series. I have a mentor, Katrina Clokie, who I was connected with through the SpeakEasy mentoring program who has been mentoring me in how to write a talk to
present at a conference. Just over a year ago, we started connecting via fortnightly skype sessions, discussing what I would need to do in order to speak at a conference. Starting from fine tuning ideas, to learning how to communicate these ideas into an abstract and right through to actually putting the talk together and creating slides. I knew something about these skills previously, but definitely learnt a lot from her guidance.
I learnt how to assess what ideas were worth sharing. I learnt about having a target audience in mind when writing so that the content can be more intentional and actionable. And I learnt about how to communicate my ideas. If you are interested in speaking at conferences, I definitely recommend reaching out to SpeakEasy to get yourself a mentor.
From the viewpoint of being the coach, I’ve found my skills and understanding of writing automated testing solutions have really been challenged when I try to explain my test approaches to my workmates and explain how and why I’ve made the choices I did. Solutions I thought were quite clever and effective or just the only way to do things were challenged as i explained and presented them. I’ve been challenged to investigate whole new technologies and code structures to get a better solution which of course means stepping away from my comfort zone and trying new things which means areas for growth.
I’ve learnt a lot about re-using code, readability of code, maintainability, and much more from the feedback of others as I’ve tried to coach them in the way I’ve written my automated solutions.
The other main source of learning I’ve had from others coaching me is actually indirect coaching through attending conferences, going on training courses and reading blogs. These are all great ways to indirectly have other people coach you as they share their knowledge to a group. There are hundreds of testing blogs, several testing conferences and training courses that are worth going to and provide great opportunities to learn. Which of course, you already know because that’s why you are reading this blog! Keep using these opportunities all around you.
I’ve also experienced this side for learning as the coach as I’ve shared some of my learnings on this blog and had hundreds of people from all over the world read my posts to learn from me. It’s amazing how many people from so many countries want to learn about testing. Communicating my ideas well is certainly an area requiring constant improvement for me.
So the take home challenge for this section is probably pretty easy to guess. Find someone you can coach in a skill you are familiar with so they can challenge you and push you to really master it. And going the other way, find someone who can coach you to teach you new skills, whether someone in your company or perhaps in a local meetup, or if needed even indirectly via the internet. Having someone to coach you means they can teach you new skills that they have and challenge you to grow in different areas.
This is part 2 of 3, Stay tuned for part 3 coming soon! Or take another look at part 1