Live Blog: Delivering Good Quality with Trainees in Your Team – Maja Schreiner

We’ve had a break (I stocked up on tea and chocolates and water). The experience of live blogging is making me really appreciate breaks after every 2 talks!

Maja is telling us how she got into testing: she was a developer, and was working with a legacy application. She explored it to found out about it, and discovered that she enjoyed testing. She now says that she is a much better tester than she was a developer.

Maja starts by explaining the context she’s working in. They have multiple teams, and require at least one tester per team. It can be hard to hire very experienced testers and it can also be hard to retain talent once you’ve trained people. The philosophy of the company is to invest in the next generation. That works well for Maja, because she loves to help and she loves working with younger generations. Due to apprenticeship schemes in Switzerland, many of the new trainees she’s working with are quite young.

The first aspect of working in this situation is that there are differences in how people of different ages think and work. That can be a challenge.

When she gets to training the new people, there’s a lot of very smart people to learn from. But how can that be condensed into a plan for new people and where you start? Coding? ISTQB? CDT? Heuristics? There’s so much to do.

Alongside the literature, it’s important to work hands-on with them. Pair testing, sitting next to them and asking questions, showing them how you test (my note: yes! So interested in this!).

As a teacher, she needs to balance her operational and strategic tasks across teams. Time management is critical for her so that she doesn’t get lost in daily tasks or doesn’t lose sight of the larger goals.

She’s discovered that trust is important. If she gives them an important component to test and feels that she needs to test it herself as well – that’s a telling sign.

It’s obvious that there are problems and challenges with this approach. One is time. The sprint will be over quickly, and there isn’t a lot of time to do testing. Especially for young people who are starting their career, this can feel very stressful and be unsustainable. It can be hard to teach them as well to give feedback in a timely manner – not waiting until the end of the day to mention they’ve found three critical bugs!

Another challenge can be the motivation. Not everyone loves testing as much as Maja does (oh, I feel that!!). It can be demotivating for the coach or trainer if their trainees don’t share their passion. Maja’s approach to this was to explore more with them and speak about the skills they are using and can develop doing this.

Proactivity was another hurdle she encountered. If people are shy, not self-confident or don’t understand the importance of proactivity, then it can be risky.

Obviously, experience (or lack of it) is also a risk. Experience can be gained quickly in the right environment. By introducing testers step by step to more difficult tasks, they can be guided to gain more experience.

Finally, a problem she faced was recognition. The younger testers weren’t getting much appreciation from the senior developers. She heard things like “well, if these young people can do it, then anyone can”. Maja had to have a lot of conversations and discussions with the senior members of the project to try to alter their world view.

There are factors that can make the team successful. Using collaboration tools in a smart way and doing good communication is key. Knowledge sharing needs to be made as easy as possible. Socially, the team also needs to know each other well. They need to know expectations, ways of working, and they need to have some interest in knowing something about the whole person and their life. A factor that, in Maja’s words, works magic, is pair testing and joint testing sessions with the whole team and product owner (like mob testing).

Many of these things are linked to coaching and leadership. Her role is to apply systems thinking, how to listen and how to coach. Just because you are an expert doesn’t mean that you are always right. Interrupting people mid-sentence because you think you know the idea can demotivate them. There’s more information on these things in the book “coaching competencies” (can’t see the author right now, and no time to google. It’s Lisa someone). Maja’s also doing a shout out to Maaret Pyhäjärvi and her words on kindness, respect and consideration. Even if you yourself are stressed, kindness is key.

Working like this has given the teams achievements. She mentions product testing heroes – because of the placement in the teams, the tester within that team became an expert in a particular matter. They have had recognition from developers for the testers and two of the apprentices stayed for an extra 6 months.

As final tips, Maja suggests having a weekly task plan with clear priorities and also regular feedback (daily, weekly, over the whole term).

She’s finishing by saying that there is a mindset for training and supporting new people – not just with one person, but within the whole company. Courage is also important on both sides. There were a couple more words on the slide, but we ran out of time so you’ll have to catch it on the dojo.

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