Meeta Prakash has been involved in testing for twelve years. In this installment of the From One Expert to Another interview series, Anne-Marie Charrette speaks with her about her testing experience, coaching, and the importance of understanding the different cultures with which you engage.
Dr. Meeta Prakash is an intelligent, thoughtful coach and mentor, and her enthusiasm for testing is infectious. In this interview, we discuss many aspects of testing and coaching.
Anne-Marie Charrette: How did you get involved in coaching in testing?
Meeta Prakash: My experience with coaching started during my PhD program with A. K. Tripathi, my mentor and guide, and my initial jobs at engineering institutes as a professor. But, then it was lost somewhere as I stepped out into the IT industry. It was revived in 2006-2007 when I joined the first online black box software testing (BBST) instructors program with Cem Kaner. My first experience of giving online coaching was the BBST course which, today, the AST regularly provides online. I had the opportunity to work with Karen Johnson, Scott Barber, James Bach, Ben Simo, Cem Kaner, and many others when the course was initially launched. This experience set the stepping stone for me into the world of coaching in testing.
My other memorable experience of a more personal form of coaching was from Michael Bolton. For the first time in my life, I sat through a session from morning to night without even batting so much as an eye. His approach was unconventional, using lots of examples and magic tricks and then relating them to day-to-day activities in testing. It was an interesting session to attend for exploratory testing and a real eye opener.
I have had the opportunity to constantly improve myself through multiple learning lessons with Tripathi, Kaner, James Bach, Jon Bach, Bolton, and others including my peers and reportees.
Of course, there’s also the weekend testers, where I was involved as a mentor. Today, the weekend testing phenomenon has taken off and is practiced around the globe. It has predominant recognition, and so many seniors from the testing industry step in to provide mentoring to aspiring testers. It was a wonderful way for me to be able to give back to the testing community when I joined the wave, but I also learned a lot from the sessions. They opened my mind to new ideas and extended my concept of testing. Even now, I try to join the sessions whenever possible either as a participant or as a mentor.
Anne-Marie Charrette: Where do you think the testing industry is going?
Meeta Prakash: Up until now, many people were confused about what testing is. They used to see it as drab and boring—a job in IT that had a low status. But, that’s changing. Kaner runs a major course at the Florida Institute of Technology. There are initiatives like the weekend testers that help testers improve their skills. Stalwarts like James Bach, Kaner, Bolton, and many others are available and easily approachable to resolve and mentor aspirants.
Testers are discovering that testing is a journey. You may start off following a similar path to other testers, but soon you will find new discoveries—different paths from those before you. By sharing the journey together, we help improve for everyone how we test.
I will never forget a weekend tester session I was part of. The focus was on tester pairing. One tester, though, wanted to try a different approach. Instead of pairing, he wanted to maintain individuality by first testing alone and later pairing to compare results. During the debriefing, it turned out that his approach had found a critical defect. What’s more, because it was during a weekend testers session, many people benefited from this learning experience.
Today, testing stands strongly independent and is important, but there is still much to be worked on to gain distinction and respect. Worldwide, there is a lot of effort to mark the differentiators but, sadly, the university courses in software still have development and architecture as preferred programs over testing. There is still much to improve regarding the recognition to testing, and that’s where distinctive testing coaching becomes essential and important in my view.
Anne-Marie Charrette: Do you see universities embracing online coaching and weekend testing?
Meeta Prakash: Universities and corporations need to embraces these ideas. There cannot be resistance for long. With time, we are moving to a matrix-like world, where software is becoming more and more complex. As these systems become more complex and life-critical with high dependencies, testing is going to be an integral part of the whole process.
It is essential now for companies that develop this type of software that testers have clarity in their approach. They will need maturity in their cognitive thinking. Good coaching and mentorship is essential in developing this. Starting the skill development early in the learning process will be the key to efficiency tomorrow.
Anne-Marie Charrette: How important is personality in the effectiveness of your coaching?
Meeta Prakash: It is helpful to be a charismatic figure but more important that you speak with authority. Without that, people will detect a lack of conviction in your approach. This is true for both online and classroom programs.
You can’t demand respect in a classroom, you have to command it. This comes with depth of experience, maturity, and practice. You should also be able to empathize with your audience and make them relate to your thought process.
Anne-Marie Charrette: What other skills and personality traits are required?
Meeta Prakash: Don’t be a dictator when teaching, mentoring, or coaching. Build a consensus by using explanations, examples, and ideas, bringing clarity and sharing what you learn. Let people discover their own paths by giving them the sufficient space to learn and share the journey with you.
I call that a type of humility—not being the authority on something, but allowing people the respect to engage. But, yes, there might be times when you need to be assertive or strong in your expressions or else the focus of the session can get lost.
Anne-Marie Charrette: How important is understanding a culture in coaching?
Meeta Prakash: In virtual, non-interactive sessions, this is not such a problem. But, in an interactive session, an awareness of someone’s culture helps. It helps you deliver better through active audience engagement.
The usual philosophy coming from ancient India is that "you should never question teachers. They are positioned higher than a god. It is a teacher who shows you the right path in life.” Now, times are changing. A new generation with more exposure to different ideas has a different attitude, but India is still very traditional most of the time. Hence, you might have a scenario where people are just listening to you and not interacting. Knowing the background might help you impart information better in a session.
Whereas an Indian might wait until the lecture ends and then ask a question, people in the US are outspoken and feel comfortable interrupting you immediately with a question when in doubt.
In China, often language is a problem. People might say yes to everything but actually might not have completely understood what you said.
In Europe, people may not be so fluent with spoken English and may avoid speaking in fear that their grammar is incorrect.
Doing hands-on, practical sessions and having short one-to-one quizzes, feedback, and Q&A sessions after small group deliveries works really well in such places. In these personal environments, people were not scared to voice their opinions.
So, you see, knowing these differences can assist in coaching someone from a culture different to yours.
Anne-Marie Charrette: Many thanks , Meeta. It was wonderful getting to know such a respected and intelligent software tester.