How Do You Practice Software Testing?
By: Michael Kelly.
Many of us can play a simple tune on the piano. If we want to actually play the piano, though, that takes practice. Mike Kelly shows some simple techniques that can help you to get away from being a "one-tune tester" to developing real testing skills through practice.
Focusing Your Practice
Restak writes, "[For superior performers,] the goal isn't just repeating the same thing again and again but achieving higher levels of control over every aspect of their performance. That's why they don't find practice boring. Each practice session, they are working on doing something better than they did the last time."
For example, a musician doesn't play a scale repeatedly just for the sake of playing the scale. When I repeat a scale while playing the guitar, it's not so I'll learn the scale; I know the scale. It's so I can get my fingers to know the scale. I want them to move faster and with more confidence. I'm attempting to achieve a higher level of control over my performance. If I can better develop my fingering technique on that scale, I can better control my fingering in other aspects of my playing.
Each time you practice testing, you should be interested in doing some specific thing better. By improving one specific technique at a time, you gradually improve your overall ability over time. In music, I might focus on a specific song for an hour, or a specific type of music (jazz, rock, ska...). The focus of that practice is not the repetition of that specific song or style of music; the focus is on improving a specific aspect of what I'm practicing (speed, technique, experimenting with pedals or amplifiers, and so on). A generic goal of practicing just to "play better" isn't practical. To be more effective in my practice, I need to focus on one specific thing and do that thing better.
Avoiding Automated Performance
Restak also writes, "In order to achieve superior performance in a chosen field, the expert must counteract the natural impulse to gain an automated performance as soon as possible." When I first started learning guitar, I wanted to play songs—specific songs. In addition, I wanted to play them well. I would practice a song here or a song there, but always the same set of songs and always in the same style. Over time, I played those songs rather well. Had I continued down that path, my guess is that I could have mastered those songs—providing an automated performance.
One day I wanted to play something else. I tried and I failed. I couldn't bring my mind and fingers to play a different type of music or a different song. To do so, I would have had to start over from the beginning and repeat the whole process for the new song. I was always attempting to automate my performance. But what I needed to learn was technique, not automation—so that, over time, it would only take me minutes, not days, to be able to learn a song. I had focused too much on automation and not enough on superior performance.
How much of your testing is like this? How easily do you fall into automated performance with what you do every day? Practice can build new thought patterns—and can also reinforce existing thought patterns. By doing something over and over or repeatedly thinking about something in a specific way, you actually change the way your mind works. Remember that the goal of practice is to stretch yourself and to increase your control over your performance.
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