Co-op Students and testing

Along with the new year we have a new co-op student (or intern if your prefer).  Although I am not directly their manager, I am the one who has been assigned to take care of the co-op student training and I also end up helping out with many of their day to day questions.  One thing that training someone who is entirely new to testing has revealed to me is that good testing is actually very hard to do and perhaps even harder to train.  How do you teach someone to be a good tester and how do you approach training someone that might only be with the company for 4 months in a way that allows them to get up to speed quickly enough to be genuinely helpful to the team?

One of the things I have noticed is that personality really comes to play here.  Those that have a more inquisitive and curious personality tend to pick things up more quickly just because they will try things out.  I love it when a co-op student shows me something they tried that I never talked about or asked them to look at (even when they have ‘done it wrong’), because then I know they are learning about the product.  I’ve noticed that the more they learn based on stuff they have sought out on their own , the more quickly they pick up the product and the more effective testers they become.

Of course you can’t have a training program that is entirely dependent on your trainee’s personality (although hopefully interviews help find those that have the needed traits), so what approach do I use?  My main ‘tool’ is to use the ‘throw them into the deep end’ approach.  I get them setup with an install and have them run through a couple of demos that we have and then give them a problem that they need to figure out on their own and that our software can help solve. By having them see (a) how our software can help them with that problem  and (b) things that are still hard to do even with our software’s help, they learn a lot about the product itself and how to use it as well as why customers pay us good money for it.

I’ve also started trying paired testing sessions with them and have found this to be another very helpful training tool.  By sitting right there with them and modeling the kind of curiosity, note taking and investigative skills that are important to have, I find they pick things up much more quickly than they would have otherwise. At first it seems that this might be expensive in terms of time commitment, but I find that often I have to heavily review their testing work anyways (especially early on as they are still learning to test) and so by being right there testing with them, I am reviewing and giving (and getting) feedback all at the same time.  It has been a helpful approach that I’ve been finding to work well and that I hope to continue to expand on

So that is largely the approach I’ve migrated to with training co-op students.  It is pretty low key and informal. Maybe it is a brilliant strategy or maybe it is just a reflection of my personality, but whatever it is, it seems to be working well so far.

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