Online Test Coaching and Collaboration

I’ve been watching television commercials about the amazing new world of technology since about 1997. You know the ones: people accessing the web on their phones, doctors diagnosing patients from 10,000 miles away, or people attending universities online, or meeting via video screens. The thing is, mostly this technology hasn’t worked. Mostly it has been hype.

Two years ago, I noticed that begin to change. The key moment for me was when my father had to ditch his seaplane on a remote beach, and I used my Treo 600 to access tide tables over the web to find out how soon we had to fix it before waves came up and battered the thing to pieces. Wow. I accessed the web from my phone and it actually helped me solve a practical problem.

These days I have a Blackberry, and it makes a great phone and a decent web browser. It also has great battery life, though still a little too slow on downloads and not quite compatible with every kind of website.

Video conferencing and general online collaboration remained impractical. But recently, I have experienced a collaborative revolution:

  • My son persuaded me to install Skype.
  • I upgraded to MSN Live Messenger.
  • I got a webcam.
  • I subscribed to GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar.
  • I started using Google Calendar and Google Docs.

Though still not fully realizing the promise of all those advertisements about how technology makes the world work better together, these tools definitely go a long way.

Michael Bolton and I video conference on a regular basis, now. It’s reliable and fast. It really seems to bring us closer as we develop our training materials. David Gilbert demoed his latest version of TestExplorer while we shared screens with GoToMeeting. I’m giving a webinar to a class at Calgary University, this coming Saturday, from my home in Virginia. I’ll be using Skype for the voice feed.

Just in the last six months, I have begun coaching testers online and collaborating with colleagues with unprecedented clarity. I feel almost like I’m in a cubicle cluster with my best buddies. (To me, this is a good thing. I like being interrupted.)

The capper was a few weeks ago, when Pradeep Soundararajan, in India, tested a product on my computer in Virginia, while Grig Melnick, in Calgary, looked on. We Skyped to the GoToMeeting conference bridge (not free, but not expensive by U.S. standards) and shared my screen. Apparently, we could have added another 8 people to that process with no degradation of performance.

There is sometimes a voice quality problem when I use Skype at the same time as GoToMeeting. Otherwise, I’m happy. The thing I still don’t have is a viable persistent secure online collaboration zone where I can share files and co-edit documents. Google does some of that. MSN Live Messenger almost does it, but its file sharing is still pretty much a joke. Wikis make my skin crawl.

What Difference Does it Make?

For one thing, I’m developing new testing exercises much more quickly, now. I’m doing more of them as chat sessions, too, which means I can save the results for posterity. Whenever I have an idea I can bug one of my friends to try it with me online.

I’m adapting my class for teaching online. This is not easy, because some of my exercises are very interactive and involve physical props, but I’m getting serious about it.

I’m strongly considering offering tester coaching as a new service. The way it would work is a company would pay a small monthly subscription fee for its testers to have me (and eventually a team of other coaches I call the Students Of The Craft) available via instant message, Skype, and GoToMeeting. That way, I can actually hover over their virtual shoulders as they show me their products and their test documents. I’ve done this already with a few testers. It seems to work pretty well. It may also be a way to run an economically viable tester certification service that’s based on observing skilled testers at work, over time.

Imagine being a small company, yet able to call upon a coterie of technical specialists (such as rapid testers, performance analysts, etc.) to solve specific problems as needed. We have to figure out how to make it economical, but I think it’s within reach, now that the technology is routinely able to support it.

You may see me on one of those “ain’t technology great” advertisements, before long.

15 thoughts on “Online Test Coaching and Collaboration

  1. Hi James,

    Your idea of online tester coaching is a fantastic one. Your books, talks, papers… are some of my favorite readings, and the thought of being able to show how we do things over here (London, UK) and get your feedback/advice would be a very valuable thing.

    Go for it!

    Regards,

    Marco

  2. What, no comments until now?

    I wanted to reply since this morning, but wanted to see other reactions first.

    My opinion: this is great, and I will try to use this opportunity soon :).

    It will take some efforts, especially because I think very many requests will be made for consulting, and it will take some time until all will run smoothly, but this is a great idea with great potential to improve the way some people do their work.

    I can see problems with managers hoping that renting professional training for their testers will magically improve everything (including making lazy testers want to work on their own 🙂 ). But I think that even lazy people can be taught how to think, and then even how to work smart and not hard, so this really has potential :).

    Thank you,
    Stuiber Victor

  3. I think this is an excellent idea. At the company I’m working in we have been using instant messaging applications such as MSN Live Messenger for quite a long time. There are of course advantages and disadvantages with using an application of that kind, though I believe we have mostly benefited from it.
    One disadvantage is the security issue and I know that several companies have forbidden the use of MSN Live Messenger and Skype. Another disadvantage is that face-to-face conversations might decrease. I think though that communication has actually increased with this type of media. Compared with writing an e-mail it is (or at least it feels like it) more informal and accessible. As you say – it is very easy to bug one of your friends or collegues if you happen to have an idea or a question. This is why I think it is a great tool to have in your infrastructure speading up communication and making it more easy to solve problems quickly.

    Is there by any chance that you would add me to your MSN? I think you have my e-mail.

    Have a great day,
    Maria

    [James’ Reply: I would always rather be face to face with someone I’m working with or coaching. The value of the collaboration tools is that they seem to improve long distance collaboration. Considering that I have no local colleagues or correspondents in Virginia, all of my collaboration is long distance, unless a client has me travel to see them.

    I’m ambivalent about giving out my IM details, at this point, because I’m already swamped by IM conversations. This is why I’m thinking of some kind of subscription service. But, basically, I’m end up sharing it with anyone with whom I’ve already established an email relationship.] 

  4. hi james,

    i wish to learn from you which is why i keep coming back to your site.

    I will be glad to do whatever it takes to be a perfect tester since I am passionate about testing.

    I look forward to reading your posts about testing !!!

    [James’ Reply: Thank you!]

  5. You may like to think about the concept of elearning and Learning Management Systems (LMS), depends how far you want to take it.

    Moodle is the main Open Source LMS out there. Various other commercial ones are out there too. I get involved in (testing) these kind of implementations, done properly it can be very beneficial.

    [James’ Reply: You mean, like this?] 

  6. I remember there’s an application, you can have right to control other’s machine. For example, if I request to operate your machine, and you accept, then I can log to your machine and do operations (like remoting), and you also can see what operations I would do(remoting can’t do this). — This is convinent.

    My MSN: longarxin@hotmail.com; I know the chance you add me to your MSN would be zero…:-P

  7. Hi James,

    Nice post on collaboration. I’ve been reading your stuff since I was hired as the tester for a company that builds a project management tool for virtual teams.

    You may want to check Groove out. Groove has been around for a while and was bought by Microsoft about a year and half ago. They let you create “workspaces” and have several tools that you can add to the workspaces. It all decentralized and keeps a local copy of the space and content on every workspace member’s computer. Any changes in the space are disseminated to all other members automatically so everything stays in synch in close to real time. And it works across firewalls!

    It is going to be part of Office 2007 but you can get it stand-alone or as an annual subscription as a Live Office solution. You may still be able to get the 2007 Beta, but I’m not sure.

    I didn’t really want to plug Groove like that, but it is a great tool.

    Cheers,
    Brandon

    [James’ Reply: I’ll take a look at it. I was under the impression that Microsoft had already warped Groove into LiveMeeting or something. I assumed it was dead.]

  8. Hello James; your idea is very interesting. I just read about a company called Ether take wrote software to enable exactly this kind of thing – http://www.ether.com.

    In fact, I read about it in US News and World Report this week, so, apparently, it’s like, a real thing and stuff. Add a link to your website, people click on it, fill in finacial details, and your phone rings. Your phone doesn’t ring unless Ether has allready collected the fee for you. When you’re done, the money goes into paypal or something.

  9. James, do you think that skills and knowledge are acquirable but not the talent? (http://kvinayaks.blogspot.com/2006/12/skills-knowledge-adn-talents-for.html) If yes, how do you ensure that only the people with required talents get your coaching on what I consider to be a skill called Rapid Software Testing? Or do you think Rapid Software Testing in itself is a distinct talent? How can I be assured that if I take courses like Rapid Software Testing I am really going to be benefited? Or if you think RST is a skill and it requires specific talents to absorb it what are those talents?

    [James’ Reply: Thank you for blogging on this worthy subject. It’s the sort of thing we need to talk about more often and more deeply.

    I think the most prevalent connotation of talent is “the natural endowments of a person” (from Webster’s), as opposed to what is acquired. Skill and knowledge are acquired.

    I associate talent with interest. If you truly have no talent for an intellectual pursuit, I conjecture that you will not be able to sustain your interest in it. That’s why, when I start coaching someone, I ask him or her to perform an exercise that is difficult and time consuming. I expect untalented or uncommitted people to fade away, at that point. The few people who remain get my further attention. Someone may have less talent and more commitment, but someone with too little talent will eventually give up under the normal stress of the job (never mind the unusual stresses).

    I’m not worried too much about talent, because everyone has a talent for something. My wife has a talent for taking care of the logistical details of living. She was a highly regarded secretary at Apple Computer, when I met her. I would say she has very little talent for testing, per se, but because of her, I am a better tester. When I am doing my work, she flutters about like an angel of snacks and errands, relieving me and my teammates from any other concern but testing– therefore her talent can make a better test team.

    Looking at the activity of testing itself, software testing of the kind I teach requires a certain modicum of talent so that your learning curve is not so slow that you get discouraged. Some of the talents are: ability to operate and make progress despite high levels of uncertainty and complexity; ability to pursue a line of inquiry; ability to practice philosophy; ability to suspend judgment; ability to responsibly apply heuristics; ability to learn.

    Here’s how you can be sure you will benefit from taking the Rapid Software Testing class (or any class): develop the ability to benefit from anything that is happening around you. If you put me in a dark quiet room for 90 minutes, I promise you I will benefit from it. That is under my control, not the room’s control. The better question is whether Rapid Software Testing is a better use of your time than a dark quiet room, or some alternative class. I can’t answer that for you. However, I have designed the class to be one that I would like to take. I have designed it to challenge your mind. I enjoy teaching it, because it challenges me almost as much as it does the students.

    If, when I tell you I will challenge your mind, the feeling you have is excitement, perhaps you have a talent for this sort of thing.]

  10. James, I just started reading your blog. I really like your passion for testing. You seem to be one of very few people who really delve deep into this subject and came up with some invaluable understanding that is actually useful in practice. I hope there are more people in the techology field like you, who really puts his heart and soul into “the right way” of doing things, regardless of what the industry trend or what some books say. Keep up the great work!

    [James’ Reply: Thank you, Yan.]

  11. I’ve tried a lot of different programs for similar needs. I recently started using Yugma (www.yugma.com) and am very impressed with how fast and easy it is. Works on Windows and Mac! And they are stating that their basic version will be free forever…. it let’s you present and share with up to 10 other people!!! Worth a look

  12. If you are looking for resources on online
    degrees
    , distance learning or online
    schools come to GuideToOnlineSchools.com.

    [James’ Reply: Bruce originally approached me to pay for putting this link on my site. But I looked at the site and it seems to reasonably related to the things I’m talking about. I appreciate being asked, but I will allow commercial links on my site, free of charge (for now, at least), if I believe they serve my readers.]

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