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In our latest Ask Me Anything event, our community joined Andrew Knight, author of the award-winning blog, Automation Panda to discuss the topic of mentorship in the field of testing, automation, and software development. Read on for more with Andrew and Tristan Lombard, Community Manager at Testim.
Andy, we are so happy to have you with us today. Before we dive into our community questions, can you please share with our community how you define mentoring?
Thanks, man! I’m glad to be here and absolutely. Mentoring is a 1:1 relationship in which the experienced guides the inexperienced.
- It is explicit in that the two people formally agree to the relationship.
- It is long-term in that the relationship is ongoing.
- It is purposeful in that the relationship has a goal or development objective.
- It is meaningful in that growth happens for both people.
Thanks, Andy, and that’s a powerful definition. Thank you for setting the tone of our conversation. Why did you want to speak about this topic in particular?
I care deeply about mentoring because I think the role of software testing is both very important and underserved. I also had great mentors growing up (school, Boy Scouts, etc.). In addition, I’ve mentored a few folks over the past ten years in software roles.
Excellent. Thanks, Andy. Let’s get to the first community question!
I am a junior developer at a small company and our team doesn’t have the bandwidth to mentor internally. Do you have any recommendations to find mentors elsewhere?
Oh, that’s a great question. I’d recommend attacking this on two fronts. First, raise this as a major concern within your company. “We don’t have the time for you” is never a good reason. Although you may not be able to get a good internal mentor today, a good company should ultimately listen to your concern and work towards improvement.
Second, yes, you can certainly find mentors outside your company. I’d recommend looking to your local software communities. Attend a few events and try to get to know folks in the community. You will gain info from talks and such, but once you get plugged into the community, you’ll get to know people and then you can start asking around for mentors.
I am 100 percent positive that you’ll be able to find someone who is willing to spend time with you and help you grow on a long-term basis. Folks like myself, Tristan, or others we know can help you network to find the right folks. Internal mentors are preferable because they know your company, but external mentors will be less biased in how they help you — a hard truth.
What are your expectations for your mentee when mentoring?
Oh, I have high expectations. I expect the mentoring relationship to be explicit, long-term, purposeful, and meaningful, as I mentioned prior in this conversation. The main thing I seek from a mentee is commitment. If I’m going to spend my time with a mentee, I need to have assurance that they want to learn and grow. There’s a big difference between emailing help questions and forming a mentoring relationship.
Mentoring is a commitment. I expect mentees to come prepared to learn and have their questions ready. Mentees should have already tried and recorded their answers so they don’t ask the same things over and over again. Furthermore, I expect mentees to practice what they learn. If they learn a new test automation design principle, then I expect to see it show up in code reviews. I don’t expect a mentee to be perfect, but I expect grit. And, I expect to see fruits of growth over time.
Can you share some concrete examples for practicing mentorship in the workplace setting? Specifically for those of us looking to gain new skills in test automation?
First, there needs to be a champion/leader/expert to lead the training/development/growth for new folks. This person must have strong experience and well-formed opinions. That person should then craft a long-term technical development program for the testers-to-be. The program should start with theory and the big picture. I always walk folks through things like buzzword bingo, the Testing Pyramid, the clear definitions that I will use (so we don’t argue over “unit test”), etc.
Second, I like to schedule a series of 1:1 meetings (or perhaps small groups, if others want to learn) with a white board in which we cover this info. 1:1 intentional time is more meaningful than suggested to go read some wiki doc. I interweave reading assignments or practice materials, such as courses from Test Automation University. I also interweave actual work items, such as “Go automate a few simple tests for this feature, and we will review them together.” Over time, there are fewer 1:1 learning sessions and more, meatier work items.
Lastly, I carefully select, prepare, and assign work items to build a path of increasing difficulty and increasingly wider exposure to different things. That way, they learn through all styles and sensory inputs, while feeling a sense of progress with increasing accomplishments. They also don’t get bored of any one particular kind of activity.
Thankfully, we do have resources like TAU that teach theory and practice. Unfortunately, within a team’s context, there are team-specific things that must be taught or toughed out, such as how your team does branching or how your framework works. Team context or tribal knowledge is where you as the mentor must go technically deeper.
How has mentoring others changed the way that you lead?
As I mentioned prior, I was in the Boy Scouts for many years, I was mentored and ultimately became a mentor for other boys. Mentoring creates a 1:1 relationship that lasts a lifetime. I learn to care more about people when I’m a mentor or a mentee.
Leadership is influential. When people care about each other, imparting influence is much easier. I feel more empathetic when I think of mentorship as part of leadership, I am more apt to listen to other ideas, and I feel deeper trust with those around me.
Andy, this conversation has been such a gift. Any additional thoughts regarding this topic for our community?
Absolutely. Mentoring is important for continuity and legacy. Toughing things out can work, but it’s very inefficient and can also burn people out. Forcing others to tough things out can also be a form of hazing. Mentoring is a much faster and rewarding way to bring people up to speed in tech. Mentoring in software testing is also an underserved need. There are TONS of resources now on how to “get into coding” or “become a developer,” but not as much about getting into testing and automation.
We are starting to see good resources come out, such as TAU, communities like this one here with Testim, and different blogs. However, these resources all revolve around folks who are established in testing communities. We need to do a better job advocating for our roles. We should also try to make aspects of testing a larger part of university programs so that students entering the job markets know there are more software roles than just “developer.” Feel free to reach out to me any time through Twitter or through my blog, Automation Panda. Thank you all for having me today.
Andy, thank you for being such a fierce advocate for mentorship in our community. We hope that this conversation sparks more dialogues in our industry and inspires others to consider mentoring. We are grateful to have leaders like yourself championing this cause.
About Andrew Knight
I’m originally from Baltimore, MD and went to school at Rochester Institute of Technology in NY. I currently live in Raleigh, NC (Cary to be exact). I’m a Software Engineer in Test — I specialize in building solutions to testing problems, and currently work as the Lead SET at PrecisionLender, a Q2 Company. Connect with me on Twitter and learn more about automation at my blog, Automation Panda.
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