In these tough economic times, many testers can't access formal training. In this week's column, testing consultant Fiona Charles describes the wealth of low- or no-dollar resources available for professional development and invites readers to share their ideas.
Times are tough. For those who have jobs, training budgets are minimal and there is no travel money for activities not directly contributing to the bottom line. Most can't afford to pay their own professional education costs, and so this year many conferences and courses are running at half their usual attendance. Some courses have been cancelled
If you can't take courses or attend conferences, do you put professional development on hold until money starts flowing again? Or do you look for other ways to keep yourself and your skills growing?
In reality, courses and conferences can't teach everything you need to be a great tester. There are so many ways you can learn new skills and enhance your personal effectiveness that you should never limit yourself to formal training-whatever the state of the economy.
What follows is an outline of career-enhancing things I've done, heard of, or thought of that cost little or nothing in monetary terms.
Think About How You Want to Grow
Whether you're a planner who plots out your career development or someone who's happier with a less structured approach, it's helpful to sit back occasionally and assess where you are now, where you want to get to, and what you could do to close the gaps.
Don't limit your thinking. It's good to start with skills, but look also at the personal qualities of a great tester, such as courage, empathy, and adaptability.
Books and Web Resources
Reading is free, though books are not. If you can't afford to build your own library with the many excellent testing books available, ask your colleagues if they have books they're willing to lend. Will your company fund an in-house library? Likely your company already has programming language manuals. If your technical skills could use a boost, why not use the manuals to teach yourself programming or improve your SQL?
If you're reading this column on StickyMinds.com, you already take advantage of at least some of the free resources available on the Web. A StickyMinds Powerpass is an inexpensive pathway to a rich storehouse of material. Look also at Web sites belonging to authors you admire. Besides blogs, many feature papers, articles, and links to sites they value, including free journals. There are also many online lists and groups where testers discuss everything from practical experiences to theories and philosophies about their craft.
Free (or Almost) Training
The most comprehensive test training I know of is the series of Black Box Software Testing courses offered online by the Association for Software Testing (AST). Free to members, these are serious courses with student-instructor interaction and exams. Aspiring students should be prepared to devote substantial time to learning and completing assignments.
Several organizations (e.g., SQE, ComputerAid, EuroSTAR) offer free webinars on software and testing topics. Typically, these give an overview of a topic that should help you decide whether to explore it in more detail.
Some groups specialize in people skills. Toastmasters, for example, teaches presentation skills and helps participants overcome inhibitions about public speaking.
Open source development projects often welcome testers. Mozilla is an obvious example, with its QMO site. There is also uTest, a commercial site that hosts "crowdtests." Registered testers get paid for the approved bugs they find on customer-submitted applications. Particularly for new testers, this can be a useful way to gain hands-on experience. For experienced testers, sites like these provide opportunities to try out techniques away from their work.
Joining your local quality group is a great way to share experiences (and job opportunities) with a wider group of testers than you