Career tips from Alan Page

There was this free webinar by Alan Page (author of How We Test Software at Microsoft and one of the chapters from Beautiful Testing) on random career tips for testers. I was keen on seeing it but it was scheduled at a different timezone. A good thing though is that he recorded and posted it on his blog. So I was able to watch it this afternoon and get some notes out of it. Here’s the link to his blog to hear or view it first hand: http://angryweasel.com/blog/?p=297.

It’s about 50-ish minutes long inclusive of some Q&A at the end. Here’s a five-minute read on my notes on those random tips. Some notes may be verbatim, some paraphrased. Italicized stuff is all me.

1. Learn, learn, learn
Challenge yourself to learn. Practice testing (via weekend testing, testing dojos). Just don’t let yourself stagnate.

2. Learn your A-C-B’s
Categorize the work that you do according to (1) how much of it is ABOVE i.e., stuff that challenges you; (2) how much of it is CURRENT i.e., what’s expected of you; and (3) how much of it is BELOW e.g., things that aren’t really difficult but you have to do them anyway. Percentages he suggest are 30-40% for A stuff and 5-10% for B stuff. If you’re doing far too little A work, then you may not be advancing in your career. Too much of A stuff and you might be spreading yourself too thin.

3. Find the steepest learning curve
Seek out huge challenges. These offer huge learning opportunities. For his case, he cites taking on a project that might be well over his head every 1 or 2 years. This reminds me of a Courage Wolf quote: Bite off more than you can chew, and chew it!

4. Ride the gravy train
If you have a good manager, you’re working on an exciting product and you feel well taken care of, then just enjoy it. This tip only helps those who are in that good place though, but there /was/ a disclaimer at the start of the talk that not all tips apply.

5. Who do you know
Network! There’s twitter, blogs, software testing club, test republic, etc. Try to be involved in the testing community. In knowing who’s working on what, in case you come across some problem, you’ll either know someone who knows the answer or someone who can point you to someone who does.

6. Follow the leader, Lead the follower
Influence others. Help make changes happen. Help someone be successful.

7. Find a mentor
What the mentor brings to the table is fresh perspectives, more ideas. It doesn’t have to be someone in the same work place or someone senior. What’s important is having someone to talk to about testing. Likewise, look for opportunities to be a mentor but do it without being an ass.

8. Never let yourself get blocked
When you feel blocked or stuck, find a work around or another way to do things. He also cites a story wherein as he was drafting an email over something that got him blocked, he realized one or two things that he could try to actually solve his problem. This is rubber ducking at work!

9. Try a new way
Sometimes folks follow a certain way of doing things just because it’s how it has always been done. That reasoning shouldn’t keep you from trying new things because sometimes why they did it that way to begin with is no longer relevant. This reminds me of sacred cows (i.e., “something considered (perhaps unreasonably) immune from question or criticism”).

10. Don’t flip the bozo bit
People sometimes do or say things that could easily pass off as stupid. For that single instance, some of us might be too hasty and flag them as dumb or stupid right away. He suggests, “Don’t.” Try to understand why they would say something like that or where they are coming from. My friend asked me though, “but what if it’s chronic?”

11. …And don’t burn bridges either
You never know when you’ll have to work with (or for) someone again. So play nice.

12. 3 P’s
Seek out the 3 P’s: People — folks you like working with; Person — work for someone you respect; Product — or technology that you’re passionate about. These drive happiness at work.

13. A career is a journey, not a sprint
These tips have someone who is looking at testing as a career and not just a short-term job. With a career, you’re looking for continuous growth, challenges, and ways to get better.

14. Have fun
Fun != goofing around. This is more about enjoying what you’re doing.

15. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion
With this last slide, he promotes two of the books he has worked on and mentions one more is on the way.

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