Learning by Osmosis

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Don't squander your attention! Spend it intelligently, and make sure you get something for it!

Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory have written for some time about the importance of continuous learning for testers. Their recent article Learning for Agile Testers (part 1, part 2) contains a great overview of some of the skills testers should learn and pointers to some of the ways one might pursue those skills.

Nothing really substitutes for software conferences, workshops, and other events where you can focus completely on learning. However, we rarely get to attend as many of these as we would like. So, how do we keep up a steady pace of learning in the interim?

In this age of information plenty, we take in information constantly: books, websites, radio, television, social media, and even speaking face to face with other people. This incessant deluge of information can be a running source of new ideas and knowledge, or it can stress us out and fill our heads with static.

Sadly, we can never hope to take in everything; each of us has only a certain amount of attention to spend in a day. Thus, it is imperative to take a critical look at what you are paying attention to and examine whether or not you are getting the best value in exchange for it.

Adjusting your information intake is an ongoing process and starts with being aware of incoming information. Each television show, each radio broadcast, each blog you read, each person you follow, and each email list you subscribe to is yet another information source that occupies your attention. As you go about your day, every time you encounter one of these, ask yourself: Does this make my life better? Is it worth my time and attention? If not, pare it out.

Be bold in deciding what to jettison. If you later find that you are missing something, it's easy to pick it up again.

Each of us will have different ideas about what constitutes a positive contribution to our lives. Here are some questions that might help as a starting point:

      • Is this teaching me something new or just going over things I know already?
      • Is it largely duplicating things I'll hear about elsewhere?
      • Do I truly find it useful, or am I just doing it out of habit?
      • Can it be replaced with something better, like a podcast focused on my interests instead of a less-relevant radio show?

To be clear, something doesn't have to be directly tied to your career to be worthwhile. Some of the best ideas come from fields that seem to have nothing to do with the work. Everyone needs balance in their lives. If lolcats help you cope with the stress of a busy workplace, then they are a positive use of your time.

Take a look at what your learning goals are, and try to add resources that will support them. What do you want to learn about? How can you get more of that in your life?

Again, different solutions will work better for different people. Want some different perspectives on software testing? There are plenty of blogs for that. Interested in learning about security testing? Perhaps a few security podcasts will fit nicely into your life.

As you, your learning goals, and the information sources you subscribe to change over time, the information mix you want will change as well. Continuously reevaluating what you're spending your time on will help ensure you're getting maximum benefit from it.

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Rick Scott

Rick Scott is a Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. Rick's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic. When he's not in front of a computer, you'll find Rick hiking, making cupcakes, or honing his viola technique.