Of learning and conferences

Of learning

In my “Let’s Learn: Experience learning through gaming” tutorial I distinguished between learning a skill and learning about a system/object:

Learning a skill – Ability to use the skill on different targets well

Learning a product – Ability to use different skills on target product efficiently

This differentiation might be better as they definitely have some overlap, but it seems to be clear enough for focusing on one of them for the remainder of this post. Learning a skill, especially physical activity, has different focus points and is more difficult, I think. At the end of the tutorial I summarized the learning steps (or phases) as following:

Build the first model

Analyzing what you already know about the “new” (or think we know)
Understanding why do you need to know/understand this “new”
Explore the “new”, to make give it some shape, to build the first model (with gaps)
Reflect on what are you missing (to learn it efficiently)

Update model

Set clear goals to focus on filling in the gaps
Get into details, go deep, make the effort
Revisit and challenge your model, to find new gaps
Polish your skills/tools
Make systematic notes, update and share them

Stable rhythm, and beyond

Get ready to dealing with changes
Analyze and improve your behavior
Battle stress and biases
Make conscious decisions about why are you going to do something

 In tutorial I only touched briefly the ‘beyond‘ part – where you get to a level of understanding the target so well, that we can see similar systems in other products, or how this is part of bigger system. How you start to see ‘not just forest behind the trees’ but how forests combine into ecosystem on the planet. And you are able quickly adapt to new information, seeing it spreading through your model like a ‘tap on spiders web’ making ripples of small changes that lead to new understanding. This is when you instinctively know why something happens, or what any change in the system will affect. At the same time it is very difficult to accept something new about the target, as you are so sure you already know everything. Remembering to be open minded and challenging your biases will help you the most.


My experience of conferences

I would like to illustrate these steps by showing how this understanding has changed my behavior when going to conferences.

Year 2008, Eurostar, Hague:

My little testing experience was from whatever I had done at work and heard from fellow testers. Which isn’t much. Most of the testing was trying to minimize known issues and creating/following quite detailed test cases. There was a bit of exploration work in there, but not much.
So when the company offered to go I was glad to go, but I didn’t know what to expect. Someone helped me to choose the tutorials and tracks to go to, mostly by their speaking skills, and paying little attention to the content. It was hit-and-miss, I was quite bored half the time there.
Long story short, I ended up meeting Julian Harty and Michael Bolton, and discovered a hole, the size of a planet, in my model of software testing.

I continued exploring, getting as much info as I could, from blogs, articles, etc. To understand what I was missing. I didn’t really care, what exactly I read, as long as it gave some insight. I was searching for people who could help me learn more, more quickly.

Year 2010, RST course with James Bach

Finally, a real expert, in my own country. I could not afford to go to conferences or trainings so far, but I managed to talk myself into this one when it came to Estonia. I had already spent a while on Skype talking to James and so the training started to fill in very many gaps with first-hand experience.

I started to understand the craft enough to try my first steps in explaining it to others. Thus, structuring my notes, my understanding and finding out things I could not reliably explain yet. I set upon finding new ways for testing in my company, having risen to position of testing team lead. Looking for blogs and people connected to the embedded world, facing similar problems as I was.

I followed it up with RST for manager and RTI online. And with big help from James Bach(and Oliver Vilson) started PEST, peer conference for Estonian context driven testers.

Year 2013

Let’s Test
Having talked my way through training budget freeze in company I was able to get to the Conference everyone was talking about.
I had spent the effort of analyzing the tracks, the people who I wanted to talk to. There was not a moment of ‘wasted’ time for me.

Nordic Testing Days
It was not as interesting, tracks were boring for me. I already knew the topics and thought I could do them better. It was not the conference, it was me. I was hoping to get something without putting in the effort. It was not completely wasted time, as I very much enjoyed talking to people between the tracks.

Year 2014

Let’s Test, Nordic Testing Days
Doing a workshop at Let’s Test changed my view on the conference entirely. And of testing. I was more looking at the ways of how different people approached teaching it. How they posed challenges, how gave their feedback. And I didn’t really care about a specific topic. I was just looking for new information regarding this new field of teaching testing. Many times I skipped tracks to chat with someone in the hallway, or observe people test (and talk about their work) in the Test Lab.

And again, I found that my time was very well spent, having so much to learn.

Year 2015

Let’s Test, Nordic Testing Days
I’m still learning. May-be I’m a bit more focused now on detailed aspects of teaching testing, building workshops, giving feedback, etc. At the same time I’ve discovered that keeping an open mind and actively listening I was surprised by how much I learned of the “old things” when someone talked about it from a different angle than I had considered so far. The differences were very small, but I suddenly saw very much new in for my self in it. Building on that change of perspective.

Doing the homework of who to listen and what aspects to focus on made the conferences a wonderful learning experience for me. Even if I was a little distracted by my work situation.

There is still a lot to learn and I’m very much looking forward to new conferences and experiences. To find new gaps in my models, to find new changes to trigger more learning. To help me grow.


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