I am sure I mentioned this in the past at some point. But since it’s one of the biggest lessons I ever got as a Tester I think it’s worth repeating, and even expanding on it.
Some 15 years ago I had a great manager called Noam. Among the other stuff he thought me, Noam once introduced me the concept of the “Virtual Toolbox”.
He explained that each of us has his or her own Virtual Toolbox, consisting of all the skills and some of the experiences we’ve gathered over the years. This toolbox is the place we reach in to find solutions for the problems that pop-up in our daily lives.
We have different tools in our toolbox
Just like most toolboxes, some of the tools were acquired in an organized and concentrated way (for example the things we learned in College), and some came from individual and maybe even random acts (e.g. when we learned how to change a car tire).
Some tools are technical in nature, while some refer to soft skills.
As you surely imagine, some tools are used almost daily and so we have them handy. While other tools are seldom used, and when they become necessary we have to look for them at the bottom of the pile.
There are even tools we forgot we acquired in the past, and it’s not until we encounter a very specific problem that we remember about their existence.
It’s good to refine and sometimes replace our tools.
Newer tools will evolve to solve old problems, for example a new scripting language may provide a faster and more effective solution to write tests in certain situations.
It is also normal to change over the years, so that our current experience will allow us to acquire tools that were not available previously. For example, you may now have more experience and also the time to formally learn coaching skills, and this in turn will help you find a job as a consultant.
We have to take stock of our existing tools, and actively seek the new tools we need now.
This is what I wanted to talk about today…
Once in a while you need to take stock of your Virtual Toolbox, think about your current needs and map the tools you are missing.
Don’t leave to chance the decision of what new skills you learn and include in your Virtual Toolbox. Maybe this was a good approach when you were young and “all the paths were open”, but as you grow into your professional career path there is a need to be more explicit and focused on the tools you acquire.
Specially because as you grow in your career, the tools you need are usually more “expensive” (difficult to acquire) and also more specific. But still, having these tools can prove to be the decisive factor when you need to solve a problem – specially because it is so specific and particular in nature.
Tools will be found in many different and peculiar places.
No teacher has all the things you need to learn, just as not all the tools can be found in one single place.
A balanced toolbox, as I wrote above, will include technical as well as soft skills. It will also have tools you need at work as well as those you will use at home or with friends. Most importantly, the set of tools will also be custom-fit to your needs and your approach. Do not try to look at someone else and try to have all the tools she or he has, thinking it will make you be more like them – this is both useless and foolish.
It is good to look at people who have a specific tool you seek. For example, you may want to learn how to take feedback in a positive way just like one of your co-workers does. Observe this person from a distance, approach her for advice, ask her where and how you can learn this skill, you can go as far as asking this person to teach or coach you. Just don’t expect to copy her 100%, since they way you apply this tool will be based on who you are and what other tools you have at your disposal.
You can also learn tools from books, from online courses, from reading books, from mobile apps, even from playing games online. I’ve noticed lately how my oldest son has become great at planning building houses on an online platforms he plays at with his friends, I am not sure how this will help him in the future but it is surely a skill he did not have before and will have in his toolbox when he needs it later on in life.
Start by mapping your available tools, that’s already a good first step
As we are starting 2021 I recommend you take some time taking stock of your virtual toolbox.
Make a list (an actual list!) of all the skills you have, include both the ones that help you a lot and those that are not that common but can also potentially help in the future. Once you’ve done this, make a second list of the skills that would compliment the first one.
Then, select the ones you will add to your Virtual Toolbox in this coming year. Don’t jump over your head, start with a small number, as you can always add more later in the year – patience is also a tool to acquire, btw 😉
It’s never too late, and never a waste of time, to learn a new skill.
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