On April 19, 2010, I was interviewed by Gil Broza. In preparation for that interview, we solicited questions from the listeners, and I promised to answer them either in the interview or in my blog. Here’s the first one.
How to deal with un-experienced testers? is there a test approach that suits better for them?
Here’s what I’d do: I’d train them. I’d pair them up with more experienced testers (typically test leads or coaches). I’d start them with things that are relatively easy to test, gradually increasing the difficulty of the assignments and the responsibilities of the tester. I’d watch closely to make sure that the test leads and the novices were talking to each other a lot during testing sessions. I’d debrief them both together and individually. I’d have the novices read books, articles, and blog posts, and ask them for summary reviews, and then we’d talk about them. I’d give them experiential exercises, in in which they and other members of the team would try to solve a testing puzzle, and then we’d talk about it afterwards. I’d reward them for demonstrating increasing skill: participating in Weekend Testing sessions; writing blog posts or articles for internal or external consumption; building tools and contributing to our development group or to the wider community.
Some might object that this approach is time-consuming. It certainly consumes some time, but it’s the fastest way I know to develop skill, and it’s similar in a general way to the training approaches for doctors, pilots, and skilled trades: involve them in the work, supervise them closely, and make them increasingly responsible for increasingly challenging work.
Here’s what I wouldn’t do: I wouldn’t give them a script to follow unsupervised and then presume that they’re going to do or learn the work. Everything that we know about learning and about testing suggests that both will be highly limited with this hands-off approach. My friend Joey McAllister recently tweeted “The Barista at this Target Starbucks didn’t know if a mocha came with a shot of espresso in it. And she was working alone.” Most of the products that we’re testing aren’t simple cups of mocha. People are likely to suffer loss or harm if we take the approach that someone took with this barista.