Question: How do you stay sharp as a tester?

Shrini writes: How does a good tester keep his testing abilities sharpened all the times. compare it with keep our body fit as we grow old ( walking, jogging and going to Gym, eating healthyfood etc) – what you suggest for keeping “Tester health”? in “fit and sound”? condition?

Testing is analysis and problem solving. Here is what I did, this past week:

  • I solved about 50 problems from the book “Lateral Logic Puzzles” with my son.
  • Paul Jorgensen sent me an exploratory testing challenge, in the form of a spreadsheet with a bug in it. I investigated the bug and wrote a play-by-play description of what I did.
  • I wrote a Perl script to generate some experimental tests.
  • I practiced Sudoku with my Nintendo DS Sudoku game.
  • I analytically solved a conditional probability problem (the taxicab problem) that is often associated with the Representativeness Bias. This was part of working out a testing exercise based on that bias. (Then I tried the new exercise with Michael Bolton.)
  • I read some of a testing book from 1986 that Mike Kelly lent me. I’m trying to characterize the difference between “modern” testing ideas and those from 20 years ago.
  • This morning, I derived the formula for calculating the distance to the horizon based on eye level. It’s been a long time since I did trigonometry, but it was fun rediscovering sines and cosines.
  • I listened to a few hours of lectures from the Teaching Company about Neo-platonism and other philosophical trends of the dark and middle ages.
  • I skimmed several articles, including Knowledge And Software Engineering: A Methodological Framework To Symbiotic Software Process Modeling, and Blooming E-learning: Adapting Bloom’s Taxonomy into the content of e-learning course to promote life long learning through Metacognition, and Third Cybernetic Revolution: Beyond Open to Dialogic System Theories.
    It may not seem like it from the titles, but they have a lot to do with analyzing testing practices and becoming a better tester.
  • I received Pradeep’s Soundararajan’s startlingly incisive answer to the Wine Glass factoring exercise I gave him (“Describe all the dimensions of a wine glass that may be relevant to testing it.”), which helped me see more angles and subtleties to my question. Then I transpected with Michael Bolton as he worked through the same problem.
  • I worked on answers to testing questions submitted by my readers.

As you see, I stay sharp in testing by finding and solving problems, including testing problems; and reading or listening to philosophical ideas that I use to understand testing better; and by trying to help other testers learn, or by watching them learn; and by actually testing.

I’m not in a project, at the moment, for a paying client. If I were, I would be staying sharp by solving problems for my client. I do my best to find excuses to learn new things while working for pay.

When I worked at Apple Computer, I often stole away to the Donut Wheel, across the street, to read about software engineering. When I worked at Borland, I stayed late and worked on test methodology documents and articles. At SmartPatents, I learned Perl and formed my first thoughts about agile test automation.

Some people, and I know you are like this too, Shrini, sharpen themselves no matter what else is going on.

4 thoughts on “Question: How do you stay sharp as a tester?

  1. I work as a tester at a big company, but besides my daily work (what my leader tells me to do) I do the following:
    -In the recent months I found great interest on reading articles from you experts (Bach, Kaner, Pettichord… ) Everytime I switch to a different task I read something, and Mind-map it for future mind-refresh. I find this a way to keep focus on important stuff, and don’t let age and experience banalize testing activity
    -Find, implement and later evaluate new testing strategies. For example, new ways of keeping relevant information, like twikis, or new test documentation tools, like TestLink. Efficiency in the testing effort is a never ending field for research and improvements. Often I find myself thinking: if I had done this in a different way I would have saved a lot of time…
    -I do some “bricolage” and with it I learn that the more you think about something, the better is the solution. Simple things like gardening, protecting garden stuff from winter season, home work are often interesting challenges.

  2. Sounds like a fun week – I’m jealous. I like the balance of the above list (reading, thinking and doing), and think it’s a good model to follow.

    I know you mentioned that when you are working for a customer that you concentrate on solving their problems, but I’m curious as to how much of the other things you still try to fit in. I have a full time job and have two kids under the age of three. As you expect, I have much less time to stay sharp – but still think exercising the brain is extremely important and I’m curious what you do to stay sharp *while* you’re consulting. I, of course, realize that it’s not an entirely apples to apples comparison as your clients may have different expectations from you while you’re working than a full time employer does.

    As an example, last week (in addition to my day job), I did these things to stay sharp:
    – solved 2 problems from project euler (
    – reviewed 2 chapters in the Schaum’s discrete mathematics outline
    – read “The Wisdom of Crowds”
    – Re-read various Richard Feynman essays

    I also read a handful of testing articles and chapters from testing books, wrote some sample code for a course I’m teaching, and did some research on Customer Focus Design, but fortunately, I consider that part of my job and did most of it while “on the clock”.

  3. I’m on down-time between projects, though luckily being employed by a large company so the money and security is there…

    My routine as follows:
    Read emails
    Read blogs and geek websites
    Polish up on Rational
    Watch day time TV, (try not to commit suicide)
    Think about picking up weighty testing practioneer book (think day time TV is probably less dull)
    Read some more emails
    Look at jobsites
    Wait for next project
    Become very bored
    Read article about offshore testing market expanding
    Pick up that book 🙂

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