03 June 2020

Kseniya Lopatina

QA Specialist

School for testers. What it was like

Main picture

There are a million opportunities to learn new things online – foreign languages, programming, design and anything else... Testing is up to speed: there are courses, training and schools. Despite this, in December last year, we decided to organize our own training. This happened long before student life moved into Zoom, so learning took place in person.

I work in the testing department, and I was among those who organized and conducted the training. In this article, I will tell you how we created the course, what difficulties we encountered, what we got as the result. I think our experience will help people who are yet planning to start their own training, whether online or face-to-face. After all, the quarantine will be over, and we wil go back to the offices and lecture halls to learn not only through the laptop screen.

Setting the task

One day the manager gathered our department and said: "We should organize a school for testers – a series of lectures on software testing for senior students."

The main goal of creating the school was to develop the department. We expected that when preparing lectures and workshops, testers would look around – both at the experience of other organizations and at what has been accumulated within our own company. This will improve the testing process, help employees grow into QA specialists, and identify leaders.

Alexander Brukhanov, Head of Development and Testing

I work in the testing department, and I was among those who organized and conducted the training. In this article, I will tell you how we created the course, what difficulties we encountered, what we got as the result. I think our experience will help people who are yet planning to start their own training, whether online or face-to-face. After all, the quarantine will be over, and we wil go back to the offices and lecture halls to learn not only through the laptop screen.

An idea bears chaos

Everyone came to the first organizational meeting prepared, but everyone with a vision of his or her own. Teams have different needs and testing goals, so different approaches were used. Everyone insisted on his or her own, pulled the blanket toward themselves, and in the end, controversy broke out.

Everyone forgot that the course had to be devoted to testing as a whole, not to specific technologies. Nobody recorded interesting thoughts voiced in the heat of the dispute – there was no time. Having spent two and a half hours in the discussion room, we went out with a mess in our heads and no result. We agreed to rethink the ideas and share them in a chat room.

When messages poured into the chat room, I started writing down important thoughts in a document. We got a draft of the future plan of classes, and it helped us move on. At the next meeting, we discussed each item, added new ideas to the document and even defined the topics of the first two sessions. Having decided that these two classes should be developed in more detail, we split up. In general, the second meeting was a little more productive than the first, but it could have been better.

In preparation for the third meeting, we almost got back into arguments, but everything was resolved by Elena Kamyshova. She simply proposed a future course plan based on our discussions and basic testing programs.

I found the results of the first meetings unsatisfactory because we never had a common understanding of how much knowledge and skills we want and can convey. We had only been wasting our working time in discussions. Therefore, I took responsibility and immersed myself in studying the programs of all basic QA-courses that I could find on the Internet. I compared them to each other, as well as to our chaotic ideas. As a result, I put together a draft of the future course, which included a summary of all the theoretical classes, small practical interactive exercises and homework.


Elena Kamyshova, QA specialist

A plan is born from chaos

Together we finalized Elena's plan, and that is where we drew the line. At the same time, we chose the training tactic — what the classes and homework would be like. Here is what we got.

Future course plan

  1. Introductory class
  2. Definition of a tester.
  3. Testing the interface.
  4. How to document a bug.
  5. Fundamentals of console.
  6. API testing (and a little automation).
  7. How to make regression testing easier.
  8. Security testing. Load testing.
  9. Product quality assessment and control.
  10. First job in the IT-industry. Career prospects.

Structure of each class

  1. Theoretical part with an emphasis on basics, without going deep into tools.
  2. A small practical task.
  3. Homework related to the following class.

Alexei Sorokin, Head of UX Design, suggested an unusual approach to homework: the homework should be based on the topic of the following rather than the previous class. So that the next class would explain how it should be solved.


For example, a task is given to check the interface and describe errors in a free form, and in the next class, we tell you how to properly document bug reports. Looking ahead, the approach had proven to be very effective.

A similar method is used for adult education: with no prior explanation, a task is given to be solved using the student's own ideas and experience. People try to solve a problem, come to some result, and then they are told the method to be used properly. It may appear confusing, but that is how the material is perceived better: only having tried to solve the problem independently, people begin to value and appreciate the method they are presented.


Alexei Sorokin, Head of UX Design

From plan to action

We assigned coordinators to each topic. Everyone chose what they were interested in and prepared both the theoretical and practical part. We wanted to make the course useful, understandable and without actual errors, so we agreed to do test runs. Twice a week we got together and listened to each other's lectures. We exchanged comments and improved the material.


In a month and a half, we had almost all the classes ready. It was time to address organizational issues. We chose the time, services for communication, and our approach to evaluation.


Time was set to be Tuesday and Friday nights. The time suited most of the students. Tuesday and Friday were chosen to provide students with a time span for the homework.


Communication – via Google Classroom and Telegram. We chose Google Classroom to publish our materials in and to check the assignments; and it coped with the task perfectly. To communicate with students, we created a chat room at Telegram, it turned out to be enough for us as well.


Rating – no grades. We decided not to give grades, but rather use "passed/failed" and give comments on each work.

When all the lectures were ready, we asked HR Dept to recruit our students. They wrote the announcement letter and published it in the company's social media accounts. Over 50 potential participants came in two days.

It was the first time we organized training in our office, so we did not count on a large flow of people. Our conference room seats 60, so we thought that 25 will be plenty for the first time. To be sure to get 25 participants, we opened registration two weeks in advance and planned to publish the announcement letter in several online communities. However, no additional channels were needed: more than 50 people signed up in two days, and registration was closed early.


Olga Syrovatskaya, Head of HR

Expectations and reality

Eventually, our Day X came. We were excited and did not quite know what to expect. It turned out that our concerns were not in vane: some of our expectations did not meet the reality.

Expectation


Not all those who sign up will actually come. We are going to have about 20 people, all of which will probably be junior and senior students.

Reality


Full room, 50 people. About a half of them are professionals with experience in IT.

We were counting on university students for the course, so we were a little confused by the actual audience. At the same time, it was nice to know that developers and testers from other companies came to learn from us. The full house did not last long, and over time, the audience decreased.

Expectation


Students will ask many questions on the course organization and lecture topics.

Reality


Students asked questions about the organization of testing in our company.

The questions were mostly related not to the lectures, but the testing process in our company. Many questions were running ahead of the course plan: answers to these questions would spoil the following lectures for everyone. There were also provocative questions, something like: “What is your salary level? Why do you prefer to work for this company?” We had to wiggle our way out of these.

The activity of experienced students gave rise to another problem: shy students were unable to ask a question. Then we decided to arrange the chaos into a waiting line. I came up with the idea of using "Homunculus loxodontus", a soft knitted toy. A student with a question raised his/her hand, got a toy and waited in line with it. Nobody was allowed to get ahead of that student. Even though the audience was fully grown men/women, everyone wanted to touch the toy and see it close up. The idea worked! The toy helped us overcome the chaos and shyness.

Expectation


The first homework will only be done by give-or-take 10 students, it will not take us long to check it with the group.

Reality


30 completed assignments were sent in by the deadline. Several more came after the deadline.

It was no easy task to check the homework. Especially for the first time. When our deadline on the homework coincided with the day of the following lecture, we had to both get prepared for the lecture and check the assignments. This turned out to be quite challenging. We wanted to leave a sufficient amount of time to check everything without rush and be able to delivery useful feedback. So, we divided the homework among ourselves and checked it in parallel, trying not to miss errors and give a comment to each student.

Expectation


On the day of the lecture, every lecturer is fully prepared.

Reality


Sometimes we would find faults in lectures a couple of hours before they were to be held.

Of course, sometimes things did not go as planned. It was not easy, but we did not get discouraged and rearranged matters quickly by making corrections on the fly.

Testers as lecturers

None of our testers had any prior lecturing experience. Many have recently graduated from the university themselves and everybody had their own fears. I was most afraid of public speaking, others feared they would make a mistake or not be able to answer a tricky question. To overcome these concerns, we prepared for the lectures thoroughly.


Over the course of time, we even developed our own system. Our colleague Natalya Bezyazykova has shared the approach she used.

The three steps of preparing for a lecture by Natalya Bezyazykova:

  1. Introductory class
  2. Recognizing the objective. The first thing you need to understand is what it is that you want to tell the audience? What is its practical use?
  3. Preparing the material. Take all the non-essential out and live only the critical in, that way you can be sure to fit everything in one hour and a half.
  4. Presentation. Confidence in voice and knowledge of the subject guarantee 100% success of the lecture. Test runs will help you gain that assurance. We would rehearse our lectures in the office, and I even sought advice from my family. My test students included my husband, friends, and even a stuffed hippo.

Everyone had his or her own way of getting prepared. Some rehearsed in front of the mirror; some used family members as test audience. The most important is that everyone approached the mission with due responsibility and care. The help offered by our co-workers was equally important. We would give honest feedback at test runs and came to lectures with each other as a support group. The help was quite real.


All lectures were filmed: this way the lecturers were given a chance to have an outside view of themselves, and the students were able to catch up with the lectures they had missed.

The final project

We have created the course for the sake of development of the testing department, but in fact more than that. We wanted both the company in general and its particular products to profit as well. Therefore, for the students who made it to the end, about 25 of them, we prepared a large practical task.

Each student was expected to contribute to the overall benefit, so we based the final assignment on team tasks. We selected the features to be tested in the current sprint, broke them down into variants and gave to the students.


Natalia Bezyazykova, QA Specialist

Eventually, we had five variants of the final project: to test three features of Vepp (Google Analytics, Google Drive, antivirus); and to perform a load test of Vepp and Cartbee.

I suggested that students do load tests for the Cartbee service. The students were eager to sign up, but only one succeeded to accomplish the task. I am uncertain as to what may have been cause: perhaps the students were lazy or lacked the time; or maybe it was actually quite difficult to find their way through "Yandex.Tank" and "Grafana". Nevertheless, the experience was interesting – both for me as a product tester and for students who were not previously familiar with the process. However, I have noticed that load testing is not the best task for entering the profession of a tester.


Zlata Mineeva, QA Specialist

Student reviews

In my view, the testing school went great. Different topics were presented by different people, so it was even more interesting, because everyone has a different vision. I started to be interested in testing six months before school, during the course I learned a lot, and it helped me a lot in my future work. After the course I was invited for a job interview, I passed it and now I work as a tester for the Vepp team.

In my view, the testing school went great. Different topics were presented by different people, so it was even more interesting, because everyone has a different vision. I started to be interested in testing six months before school, during the course I learned a lot, and it helped me a lot in my future work. After the course I was invited for a job interview, I passed it and now I work as a tester for the Vepp team.


Yulia Butina, Testing Department

I had already had general understanding of testing as an area of activity: my knowledge was based on university courses and things I was able to find myself. But many issues of QA were explained in the school in plain and understandable terms. I appreciated a lot of practical knowledge shared with us. You could give everything a try yourself. Up to now, the knowledge I got from the school keeps helping me out. I write tests and often catch myself thinking: “Wait a minute, I know how it's done”.


Denis Tchernikov, Testing Department

At school of testers I got acquainted with work in the field, and received not only theoretical knowledge, but also tried myself in practical problems. The latter is especially valuable, as it is very difficult to obtain such knowledge on your own. It was very interesting to interact with experienced testers. After the final project, I was invited for a job interview, which I passed, and now I work as a tester for the VMmanager team.


Sergei Gruchik, Testing Department

The results

After the school, all of us undoubtedly derived something for ourselves, re-arranged our knowledge in a more efficient way, and acquired new skills. For me, it was a cool experience that pumped up organizational skills, hard skills and, of course, helped me to overcome the fear of public speaking.


In addition to the valuable input into our personal skills growth, we were able to benefit the company and its particular products. This is fantastic.

You can, of course, hold department meetings and "share experience", go to specialized conferences (which we do!). Nevertheless, it is one thing to tell something to your colleagues who will "forgive and understand", or listen and sometimes hear reports, and quite another thing to tell something to people from the street. The fact that the audience is unfamiliar has made us approach the task with more responsibility.

Thanks to the school, employees gained experience in public speaking and raised the company's recognition. Meanwhile, the company's hired some promising new employees, which is yet another benefit.


Alexander Brukhanov, Head of Development and Testing

As expected, not all trainees stayed until the end of the course, for various reasons. However, the core group of 25 people showed excellent attendance, and we gained an exceptional experience in organizing such activities in our office. Beyond doubt, more events like this will come in the future.


Olga Syrovatskaya, Head of HR

Room for improvement

In a meeting of our department that followed the event, we shared our views on what could be done better next time. Here is what we came up with:

  1. You need to know your audience and customize your lectures. We were aiming at university students, and, perhaps, experienced professionals were bored at times.
  2. When you prepare for the course, it is vital that one or two responsible coordinators gather all the suggestions put forward by the team and make decisions to avoid unproductive controversy.
  3. Even more practice and master classes should be added to the program.
  4. Homework deadlines should be coordinated to ensure that all can be checked before the following lecture.

Kseniya Lopatina

QA Specialist