At high school, I learned remarkably little: or to be more precise, I remember very little of what I was taught. As best as I can recall, my teachers took me for a whirlwind tour of their syllabi. Facts flew by, each another faceless town; there was never any opportunity to stop and look around. Taking computer science as an example, whilst I struggle to remember a single thing we did in class the lessons that I learned whilst writing keyloggers and DoSing the Vax have stuck with me to this day.
As an undergraduate, I was…well, let’s just say that I was a little distracted. I remember pieces of the syllabus, but debt and hunger taught me the most important lesson of those years: they taught me a work ethic. As a postgraduate, things were different. The opportunity costs of taking time out from work were too great, so I studied for my masters in my own time. Many facts continued to pass me by, sticking long enough to write an exam, but each term I’d learn new ways of looking at a subject, and find things that resonated with my daily working experiences. I learned about ways of solving problems that I could put into practice immediately. I developed skills. I began to learn how to learn: I realized that facts don’t stick too well, but that skills and experiences do. And in an age where a dazzling array of facts is just a few clicks away, what is the value of memorizing an encyclopedia?
When I started testing, I muddled through for a while until a hideously embarrassing interview showed me the extent of my own ignorance. I resolved to learn more and applied what I’d learned as a postgrad. I read, I studied, and I followed many interesting diversions. I applied anything and everything I could on the projects I was testing on. I learned SQL when I needed to. I taught myself Java when I needed some quick and dirty automation. I sought opportunities to teach when I realized the power that this has to deepen my own understanding. I also learned that the toughest most painful projects are invariably those that provide the greatest opportunities for growth.
This week, I was fortunate enough to attend Rapid Software Testing (RST) run by Michael Bolton. This is a splendid course that focuses on skills, mindset and different ways of breaking down testing problems. It does so through experiences: games and exercises that are fun and sometimes a little painful too. I merrily leapt feet first into a number of traps; and suitably humbled found both new ideas and added depth to old knowledge. Whilst there is no silver bullet when it comes to learning, I have no doubt that I will continue to draw lessons from RST for years to come. Learning is a lifelong journey, not a whistle stop tour. When there’s no destination, then short cuts make no sense. I’m enjoying taking the long way round.