Monday, April 20, 2015


This was written a long time ago...but finally edited to readability.

So I just finished the AST BBST Instructors course. In it, we started by introducing ourselves. I of course summarized my introduction from this blog cause I was being lazy, and it said what I thought I wanted to say.

In response to that I was asked:
"It sounds like you have the confidence and experience to be a manager, but I wonder if this might make it hard for you to teach? What do you think?" - Another Student

I responded with:
"Yes I find that my mental model has a hard time bonding with people who aren't also self-starters and/or newbies. However I've been specifically working on how do we 'as a testing community' get the first level of people into testing. I still have a problem dealing with people who just want to be spoon-feed information.
My experience is mainly in taking people with 3-5 years of experience and tuning (yes tuning) them into the next skill they need to be the best at their current position. However so far this has been limited to where I work, as I usually understand the context enough to say "if you could do this" it's the next skill you should learn.
So part of my goal is to be able to teach less experienced people. But I still struggle with if I should TRY to deal with non-self-starters…"

I’d like to take a more detailed look at my personal thoughts on the matter. Specifically around, “Does your own attitude and personality cause you difficulty in teaching people?” I’m going to try and detail an internal dialogue I’ve been having about this lately. I first tried to sum up some feelings in an older blog about Expectations.

This is what I mean when I say, "not-self starters". There have always been people at places I've worked that are comfortable doing just the basics, show up at work, do their job, go home. These are the people that when asked in an interview "What do you do to improve your skills", have an answer similar to "On the job training". These are the people that don't seem to want to take time outside of work to improve their skills (which to me translates to "I don't consider this job a career"). Some of these people seem bright, others are merely content at getting along and that's enough for them.

Then there are the self-starter people who will go out of their way to learn new things. These people ask you questions, and when you say, "tell me what you know about it so far", they blow your mind with the research they have done. Or alter your understanding of the subject with some new pieces that you haven't heard or seen of yet. Sometimes at a minimum they have clearly researched and/or understood the material, but don't change your level of knowledge.

I know mentors / leaders want to use terms like taught, educated or instructed. But when you have self-starters, that isn't the appropriate wording. The closest I've come is tuning them. When I chat with a self-starter cause they are asking "What should I learn next?" (and them asking is one of the key points). There are a couple of ways to encourage them. And generally that is all you can do. Point in a direction, say 'that way', and then get out of their way.
  • Have them learn a new skill. Sometimes these are easy for beginning self-starters. Don't know SQL, yep I have yet to meet any tester that doesn't benefit from knowing it. As the self-starters get more and more experience, this can get harder and harder to find for each individual. Currently I've had serious success with just allowing them the freedom to find new things. This is the real power of the self-starter, they aren't okay with sitting idly by and surfing reddit, they WANT to provide value, they WANT to solve problems.
  • Have them level up a skill they are already strong in. This helps those who have just finished something rigorous, demanding or seriously mentally intensive. (This can be work related like finishing a project or a mentally challenging class, or a non work related life changing event.) It allows them to learn something, but with the permission to not be as intensive with it. An example would be having someone learn the singleton pattern, instead of a whole new programming paradigm like LISP.
  • Have them up a skill they are weak in. I don't normally recommend this for very many people. I tend to follow the Good to Great idea, that weakness isn't inherently bad. But there are genuinely some weaknesses you need to either compensate for, or bring up to a minimum bar.

Sometimes even that isn't enough. I recall one situation where I was attempting to tune someone I classify as a full-blown self-starter. We were going over the OSI model, and I was attempting to explain how each layer could be an attack point for testing. Unfortunately we were not speaking the same language, after about 30 minutes, they were frustrated and on the verge of crying. I was frustrated and not understanding why they couldn't get the 'simple concepts'. We parted that day, and I don’t recall us ever trying to train together again. I took this as a personal failure…how could I not explain such simple concepts (which OSI is and is not) to someone who tries really hard when they self-educate and generally succeeds? It took me a long time to understand that I had a base of knowledge about computers that they had never had exposure to. Bad on me for assuming what they knew. The problem was that I know stuff they didn't. They also know stuff I don't. It takes time and effort to truly get to know people. I hadn't taken the time or maybe didn't have the perception to understand that they had no idea what I was talking about. They didn't have the trust to tell me 'What the hell are you talking about'.

S'long as you learn to temper what you tell people you want, with realistic acceptance of what people can really accomplish. It all comes down to do you trust your people to work hard, do they trust you to not hose them with unreasonable expectations. It takes some serious time to build that trust. It's why you see people follow a strong leader around to companies.

If you don't fall into the category of self-starter as I've laid out here. There is still hope, you can become one. Start today, motivation breeds motivation, find something interesting, and learn it. When you're done learning that, find another. Then repeat ad nauseum.

I've going to wrap up and caveat this entire article with a thinking exercise for you.
Can your expectations be too high? Is this a bad thing?
How else would we ever achieve something new?

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