Saturday, December 6, 2014

Skills and habits

Within the context-driven testing community, we talk a lot about skilled testing. Skilled testing is a great replacement for manual testing - a phrase that should really be banned as testing is done with brains and has very little resemblance to manual work.

We talk about a great number of skills. Exploratory Testing Dynamics cheat sheet by James Bach sums up nicely some of them. Critical thinking is core to it all. We need to be able to model and think of the system and it's context of use in many dimensions, observe, work with test ideas and design experiments, report and describe the work to evaluate the product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation.

I love the message James and Michael deliver on the list of skills they've identified: each of them is teachable. Each of them can be learned, and learned more deeply.

Skilled testing - and the skills of testing - have been my focus for a long time. We have a Finnish non-profit founded this year on this very theme: testing worth appreciating, as it requires skills that don't exist everywhere. Skill allows us to do deep testing (as opposed to shallow testing) and surface threats to value and awareness about risks.

A week ago, a consultant friend took an afternoon to spend with my team at work. Something he said after that session stuck with me with relevance to all the thinking about skills we work on. He mentioned that during our session of group programming, there were examples of skills that we have but habits that we were missing, and that we need to work with those skills more to build habits. The particular skill example Llewellyn used was checking code in for the version control without checking all the details of what we had just changed, something every one of us can clearly do but with that example, we clearly were not doing enough of it to make it a habit that would not scare us and require focus.

My colleague in test, Alexandra Casapu, did a talk about testing skills and she pointed out that skills atrophy. When unexercised, things you used to be able to do go away. This is very much related to choices on the habits choose to have.

I find this a good thing to remember. It's not just skills we're acquiring, but we're also turning those skills into habits so that we can effectively use them. Without regular practice, the habits won't get built. Some skills deserve to be left to side and let atrophy. Some habits we've built should perhaps be allowed to wither away sooner than later - unlearning is also needed.

Never a dull day when learning more. The choices of where to focus one's time just seem hard - all the time.