Ways to keep up your development skills as a Test Engineer

Earlier this year I made the decision to switch back to being a QA Engineer. Due to the nature of the tech that I was now being exposed to, I wasn’t able to flex my coding muscles everyday like my previous role. I started to think that my programming skills would slowly dwindle if I didn’t do something about it, particularly the C# and .NET skills I’d spent the last two and a half years developing.

So, I endeavored to take up activities that would encourage, keep active and stretch my development skills. I have tried and keep them aligned somewhat with my new role so that I continue to improve in the field of testing as well.

If you find yourself in a similar position, here’s how you can do the same.

Before You Begin

Make sure you know what skills you’re going to be building. Have a list ready to work on or a certain project that you’re going to create so that at the end of your learning you have produced a tangible result. I use a Trello board to manage the tasks on my projects, but good old fashioned lists work just as well. Just make sure that they work for you.

Identify Your Free Time

Everyone has some time where they’re free. That morning commute where you’re sitting for 30 minutes, that walk to the bus stop that takes 15 minutes or even your lunch hour. See what I’m getting at? You just need to identify where your free time slots are, then find an appropriate action to do within that time.

Take your weekly calendar and block of these times. Seeing it highlighted in chunks can really open your eyes. Then figure out what you want to do to further your learning and what action would suit that time slot best.

Got a topic but don’t know how to progress? Having a varied selection of learning resources across different formats will mean that you can you easily slip in a bit of learning during any type of free time you have.

What You Can Do

Here’s some tasks that I recommend you try.

1. Read other developer’s code

Reading others developer’s code, especially those that are more experienced than you, can help you see how to write cleaner code.

The best thing you can do when reading others code is to try and understand why they have used the methods and patterns that they have. If after reading the code you can’t figure out the reason, why not ask them? Discussing a developer’s thought process when tackling a problem is a great way to gain insight into how you should approach a technical challenge.

Learning by yourself may take a long time. Talking with someone more experienced that have overcome the same issue could save you hours, months or even years or trial and error. So take advantage!

2. Get your work code reviewed

The feedback you get from someone external to the project (and especially those more experienced) can yield some valuable tips. You could learn how to improve your code to make it more efficient, readable, testable and durable over time.

3. Watch Pluralsight videos

Pluralsight is a online library of technical videos. I’ll be amazed if you can’t find a video here on any technical subject that you can Google.

The vast amount of videos on Pluralsight are being continually added to by professionals in their fields. Pluralsight also vets any new submissions from existing and new authors to ensure they keep the quality of their videos high.

I enjoy using Pluralsight because sometimes watching videos is easier to digest and concentrate on than reading a book cover to cover. And, when you read a technical book, you may not need every part of that book to understand the topic. Pluralsight videos are broken down into digestible chunks so you can consume short videos in small areas of your chosen topic quickly and easily.

Updating videos is also a lot easier than updating books, so you’re more likely to get up-to-date content in your topic on this platform. They also offer a download service so you can take your courses on the go and watch offline on any smartphone or tablet device.

Ok, so Pluralsight isn’t free no. But they do offer a ten day free trial to see whether you’d like it. And they have different subscription methods to ensure that you always have an option.

Why not take the free trial and see how you do. Pick a topic and see how much you can learn during your free trial.

4. Read technical books, news sites and technical blogs

Watching technical resources is great, but sometimes the information is only available in a text only.

Reading technical books that are timeless like Clean Code by Robert Martin aren’t available on any other format currently, so you have to read the book. Choose wisely what you spend your time reading as books usually take a lot more of your time than anything else to consume.

News sites are good because they offer the latest information to keep your skills and knowledge sharp and up-to-date in small articles.

Technical blogs are good at getting the opinions of those in the industry but make sure the content you read is good quality. Anyone can write a blog nowadays. I’m not saying good articles can’t be written by those less experienced in a subject. I suggest that if you are working from the advice of someone new to the area you’re studying, work through what they suggest to verify their work.

5. Listen to coding or development podcasts

Utilising the time you spend traveling from one location to another is the most overlooked part of your day to use to learn.

During this time, providing you know where you’re going and aren’t talking to someone or doing something else at the same time, you can listen to coding and/or development podcasts to help you improve your skills. I find most of these aren’t too coding heavy but more often discuss high level concepts, technical updates, short code-based questions (that require short answers) or soft skills for software developers. Some coding/development podcasts I listen to are the Xamarin podcast, Simple Programmer and Hanselminutes.

6. Write different types of test automation e.g. Unit, integration, UI

You should understand the different types of tests that you can create for different stages of development. But, I would also recommend trying to learn how to develop these tests as well within your company’s tech stack.

Being able to apply what you have learned is more important than just saying you know how to do it.

Regardless of your job role, you may find that you have the opportunity to add some unit tests or write an integration test. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this is completely dependant on the attitude of your company and the developers in your team. You are a developer too, so if you want to contribute to these types of tests, make sure your team are aware of your interest and figure out how to get started.

At the end of the day, being well versed in different types of automation testing will make you invaluable to any team and any company.

7. Attend conferences and events

These can be free or not. The cost of the event doesn’t necessarily correlate to what you’ll learn from the event.

If you don’t know where to start, check your local meetups for events.

Early in September, I attended the ASOS QA meetup event in London where Simon Stewart spoke about the future of Selenium. It was great. I learned a lot about the history of how Selenium came to be one of the most common automation testing frameworks. I also spoke with some really nice, passionate people about their roles in the field of testing.

You can learn lots from conferences and events, not only from the scheduled talks, but from the people also attending. If you do decide to go, try and speak to at least one new person and find out about them.

People going to conferences usually have the same goals, to network and learn. The problem is that many who attend are usually shy, so why not be the first one to be brave and start a conversation.

Also, don’t limit yourself to only testing events. Make sure you go to both testing and development ones. You have skills in both fields so it makes sense that you might get something out of both types of events.

Don’t put a limit on your learning resources or experiences. You don’t grow if you’re not stretched.

8. Write a blog about testing while you learn

John Sonmez says in his 10 steps to learn anything quickly course, that the best way to solidify what you’ve learned is to teach it to others. The fastest, lowest barrier and least intimidating way to teach people is to start a blog detailing what you’re learning.

First, start by picking your blog topic and ensure you pick something niche. For example, don’t write about video games, write about the presence of females in video games between 1990 to 2000 within the role-playing (RPG) genre (if anyone had started a blog about this I would definitely subscribe!).

Next, commit to a schedule. I know it’s hard to stick to schedules because you do so much in life, but this is where identifying the free gaps in your week can help. Pick one of those gaps and dedicate it to writing articles for your blog.

Most new blogs fail within the first three months. Having a schedule will make sure you keep your blog content fresh and interesting to encourage new and returning readers to keep visiting.

A clear focus for your blog will help you to filter out any ideas for posts that may divide your decisions about what you write about. Having a clear focus also helps your audience as they’ll know if they have a problem or want to learn about the most well-known female RPG character in 1995, then your blog is what they need to be reading.

It can be hard to continually think of subjects to write about whenever your schedule dictates. Why not keep a list of your topics so you can regularly pick from it so you don’t have to think about what you’re writing about next? This is what I do. I keep a Trello board because it’s easy to access from a desktop or my mobile when I’m planning my daily tasks on a commute. And it’s very simple to use and tailor to my workflows. It’s also free, so there’s no reason why you can’t give it a try.

9. Write your own code

Practice makes perfect. Figure out what you want to learn or what side project to be focusing on to help you progress in your goals. Then, you can start planning the classes or methods you’ll need. If you’re practicing test-driven development, you may want to start writing unit tests but if not you can start crafting a class and basic method and go from there. Being able to refactor your code is a skill that writing code a lot can build. So the faster you begin the faster your skills grow.

Don’t have a goal? Get one. Do anything even if it’s small so you can practice writing code. The hardest part is starting.

Start With Just One

Try to build a habit of doing this so it’s second nature and you feel like you’ve missed something if you don’t complete your task. Once you’re happy you’ve successfully worked it into your routine, start adding another into your schedule.

Even if you’re only able to enforce and keep up one new habit you’ll soon notice results. I can’t guarantee perfect results fast but I can tell you that when you start doing these things regularly, it will make to think differently about how you approach a task so that you apply what you have learned.

For more ways of keeping up your coding skills, John Sonnez has written a similar post that you may want to read.

And that’s the secret to keeping up your skills. To keep learning a little at a time and applying what you learn in practical ways.

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