This weekend I caught myself in the car with my oldest son, who’s almost 5 years old, in one of those incredible conversations one can only have with a kid his age who’s discovering the World and its workings.
The subject of this specific conversation is not really important, although in the last couple of months we’ve dissected (there’s no other word to describe it) topics like planes and how they fly, how come the Prime Minister can make decisions for all of us, War, the judiciary system (cops <-> judges <-> jail), Money, what does it mean when someone sings on the radio “you stole my heart” and how come the cops don’t come to take it back, etc.
What I hadn’t realized until this weekend is that my son is actually testing HIS world, and using some simple tools we can all re-use as testers in our daily work.
5 simple testing tools to “re-learn” from our kids
1. Ask all the questions
My kid is constantly asking questions, going on and on and on until he fully understands the point. His questions are sometimes linked to each other, while other times they seem to be completely unrelated, but in the end you can always see how he uses all the answers to paint himself a complete picture.
The simplest thing to remember as a tester is to ask all the questions. There really are no stupid questions, but there are plenty of stupid mistakes we can avoid if we are not afraid to “look bad” by asking.
This goes both for cases where we are afraid to ask because we think we will look inexperienced, as well as those cases where instead of asking questions we (wrongly!!) assume we already understand everything.
2. Keep your eyes and ears open
My son is always listening, sometimes I think he even listens when he sleeps, and he will then surprise me with comments or questions about stuff I was not aware he heard. It is even more amazing when I realize that some of his comments came from understanding something new about topics we last talked about two or tree weeks ago.
What we should re-learn from this is that, as testers, we need to keep our eyes and ears open. We should be able to capture even unrelated information that within the right context may help us make better sense of what is really going on in our projects.
One thing I explain to all my new hires is that our job is not (only!) to find bugs, but to provide visibility to the whole team and specially to our management in order for them to make the best possible decisions.
Good visibility is the result from looking at the same picture from all possible angles and tying together all the strings of information that will help people assess the risks and make a good decision.
3. Don’t be afraid to try, or to ask for help if don’t succeed
As every parent knows, kids love trying things for themselves – specially when you tell them NOT to do something. My son is no exception. But I also saw that he has a quality many of us grown-ups lack, he knows when to ask for help when he doesn’t succeed.
As a manager I love hiring testers who like to try new things and I also like testers who enjoy taking on technological challenges. But on the other hand, a big problem with these guys is that when they get stuck they usually waste a lot of time trying to solve the issues by themselves instead of asking for help.
So here the lesson to re-learn is twofold. You need to dare to do more things by yourself, but you also need to recognize on-time when you are stuck and ask for help in order to save valuable time and resources.
4. Work with energy from start to end
I love this in particular about kids, when they do something they put all their hearts and energies on it. I see it all the time with mine, when they are coloring with crayons, playing “catch” in the park, or simply splashing water during bath time, they are 100% focused on their current task; you hardly ever see a kid who is only partially concentrated on what he is doing right now.
Grown-ups in general and testers in particular should re-learn to put all our efforts in the task currently at hand. Too many times I see testers (sometimes I even catch myself!) working on a task while thinking about one or a number of other things in parallel.
Regardless of your personal take on multitasking, there is no way you will achieve the same results on any task if you are at the same time thinking or working on another one.
So the lesson to re-learn here is to fully concentrate on the task you are doing right now. So simple, yet so hard to achieve…
5. Looking at your work through the eyes of a kid
Kids see all that surrounds them with positive naivety. For them all people are good unless proven bad, all tasks are achievable unless proven (multiple times) unreachable, and most importantly all situations are positive unless a grown-up comes to spoils their fun.
We testers need to re-learn to look at our tasks through the eyes of a kid.
Let’s start by imagining the product working correctly and only then to go and look for the bugs, let’s understand how the features should work correctly and them to find the flaws in the business flows, and most importantly, let’s provide positive and constructive feedback at the same time that we report about the things that are not working correctly.
Our work can be very negative if we focus only on the bad, and this is why we need to re-learn to inject positive naivety into it.
Dad and mom, help your kids to learn and discover.
Hold their hands and don’t push them back.
I started this blog by describing how my son is constantly asking questions. Sometimes, specially when it is late in the day and I am tired from all the “challenges” I had to overcome at work, I start loosing my patience and my ability to answer his questions with real and building answers. On these times I wish I could just ask him to hold his questions until tomorrow, or better yet to go and ask someone else.
But then I remind myself that he is asking me because he trusts me to provide him with the answers that will help him to keep learning and testing the world that surrounds him.
This is why I ask you, as a parent and less as a tester, not only to enjoy these moments but to flourish them, these are the times when you can really help your kids grow; maybe not in a physical way, but surely in an intellectual way, which is no less important in the long run.
Some time ago I wrote a blog about learning to test from our kids. I guess this blog can be taken as a continuation of that previous one, although my feeling is that it stands-up by itself.