How Can A Trainee Improve His (Her) Skills

A blogger on TestRepublic asks “How can a trainee improve his/her skill sets in testing?”

This is what I do. I recommend it to all trainees (or “freshers”, as they say in India).

Find something that interests you, or something that would be useful to you or to a client, or something that you must do, or a problem that you need to solve, or something that you think might be fun. Listen, talk, ask questions, read, write, watch, learn, do, practice, teach, study. Solicit feedback. Practice.

Think critically. Monitor your mental and emotional state. Hang around with people who inspire you on some level. Offer help to them, and ask them for help; more often than not, they’ll provide it. Practice.

Think systematically. Seek the avant garde. Defocus; look elsewhere or do something else for a while.

Practice. Observe the things in your environment; direct your focus to something to which you hadn’t paid attention before. Seek connections with stuff you already know. Look to the traditional. Refocus.

Learn, by practice, to do all of the above at the same time. Tell people about what you’ve discovered, and listen to what they tell you in return. Recognize and embrace how much more you still have to learn. Get used to that; learn to love it. Repeat the cycle continuously.


It’s the same with any skill set. For me, it has worked for testing; it has worked for playing mandolin; it has worked for being a parent—even though there’s a universe of stuff that I still have to learn about all of those things. When I use the approach above, I make progress rapidly. When I don’t, I stall pretty quickly.

My friend and colleague James Bach has a similar approach for living and learning, and he’s written a book about it. It’s called Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success.

These approaches are at the heart of the Rapid Software Testing mindset. They’re also a big part of what we try to teach people by example and by experience in the Rapid Software Testing course. It may sound as though there are lots of bits and pieces to cover—and there are—but they all fit together, and we give you exercises and practice in them to get you started. And these approaches seem to help people and get them inspired.

At conferences or association meetings, we present some of what we’ve learned in a formal way, but we also get up early in the morning and/or hang out in the pub in the evening, chatting with people, playing games, exchanging puzzles, trading testing stories. When we’re on the road, we try to contact other people in our network, and hang out with them. We blog, and we read blogs. We read in the forums, we write in the forums. We seek out passionate people from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. We point people to books and resources that we think would assist them in their quests to develop skill, and ask them to do the same for us. As a novice, you can do almost all of this stuff right away, and make goals of whatever is left.

In addition to Rapid Software Testing, one of the places that we regularly point new testers is the Black Box Software Testing course, available free for self-study at, or in an instructor-led version from the Association for Software Testing. That course, co-authored by Cem Kaner and James Bach, but increasingly refined by collaboration between authors, instructors, and students, will give you lots of excellent knowledge and techniques and exercises.

The skill part—that comes with practice, and that’s up to you.

5 replies to “How Can A Trainee Improve His (Her) Skills”

  1. Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar — what a great title. And with an appropriately long subtitle too!

    Love your blog by the way. Unfortunately I’m spending way too much time reading blogs lately. I’m supposed to be trying to get my own test consultancy started, and justify it as research.

  2. A colleague mailed this blog to me and I found it very interesting.
    I am a software test mentor, and have integrated the activities you mention into a mentoring programme for our employees.
    I have also included Reflective Observation, as learned from David Kolb’s Adult Learning Cycle. This involves critical reflection – what have I learned/noticed, what it means to me, how it impacts my work, etc.
    Thank you for your insights.


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