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Pairing for Learning

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Pairing can be used to learn new topics that you can take back to the workplace, and to make your accomplishments visible and celebrate success together. Learning partners can encourage each other to make bold statements, commit to do something, and gently push each other to make it happen.

Toyer Mamoojee, QA technical lead, and Elisabeth Hocke, senior agile tester, will speak about finding a learning partner in the testing community at the European Testing Conference 2018. This conference will be held February 19-20 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands:

Testing is important. This conference is about getting experts and practitioners together to talk, learn and practice the art of testing. We're looking into advanced new methods into making our testing more effective, as well as enrich our understanding of fundamental methods to grow a stronger community.

InfoQ interviewed Mamoojee and Hocke about how they paired up for learning and what they got out of it.

InfoQ: What made you decide to pair up for learning?

Toyer Mamoojee: Our deal that Lisi and I made at Agile Testing days 2016. Once we made a pact to present at the following years' conference, we decided that we should keep a connection going. It was at that point that we set up regular sessions to share information about testing aspects. This opened up many doors to avenues we never felt was possible. We just kept evolving and learning as we went on.

Elisabeth Hocke: Agile Testing Days 2016 had a wonderful opening keynote by Abby Fichtner, "Pushing the Edge on What’s Possible". She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt advicing to "Do one thing every day that scares you." The whole talk really inspired people to think and talk about their fears. Toyer and I met the next day over lunch and did the same - sharing our fears. And guess what, public speaking was among our major fears. Suddenly Toyer offered me a deal: if he submits a paper for next year’s conference, I have to submit one, too; and if I do, he has to do it as well. Getting confronted like that I normally would have never agreed to such kind of a pact; but in this situation I felt so inspired that I took a leap and accepted the deal. It has brought us far, and we’re excited to tell our story at European Testing Conference this year in the hope of inspiring others to pair up for learning as well!

InfoQ: What topics did you pick to learn? Why these?

Hocke: Our major topic was our pact, of course: returning to Agile Testing Days, but this time to speak. So one of the first things we learned together was how to craft a good paper proposal to submit. This included finding our topics to speak about, creating a catchy abstract to sell the topic to the program committee as well as later on to the conference attendees, getting the papers reviewed by several people, and revising them according to their feedback. Our lessons learned on this part of our speaker journey were already invaluable. When we finally submitted our very first paper proposals ever, it was time to celebrate! And once again when we learned that we indeed both got selected for individual talks. Now we had more things to learn together: crafting great slides, how to tell our stories on stage, what to clarify with organizers, how to overcome stage fright, and many more. But besides public speaking, we found that we share several other topics as well where we could learn from each other.

Mamoojee: A great tangible topic thats comes to mind, which I could physically take back to my workplace was using mind maps to draw up test scenarios/cases. This proved a massive success back at my workplace and I could really show the benefit that pairing brought to myself and my team. We previously used test management tools or Excel to document test cases but in Agile environment we wanted something faster to aid delivery. Lisi suggested mind maps which they use to great success in her project. It was only because of this learning partner advice that I could implement something as unique at my workplace. Some other topics included mentoring junior testers, vacation replacement, promotion challenges, Mob Programming, T-Shirt Size estimations and community involvement.

InfoQ: Which tips do you have when people want to pair up remotely for learning?

Mamoojee: The world is your oyster, so let you learnings blossom under this statement too. There are a multitude of amazing tools and resources available to people nowadays, not taking advantage of these resources would be a shame. So my advice would be to find that learning partner regardless of where they are based and just keep sharing information regularly preferably via a video chat or meeting. When you do find that perfect match of a learning partner you will find yourselves inspiring each other on your goals regardless of whether those goals are the same or different. During your first few sessions of pairing up you should take notes and keep in mind areas where you would like to learn from the other and also aspects which you would like to share to them. This "give and take" mindset makes the relationship worthwhile.

Hocke: Sometimes geographical distance is just used as an excuse to not have these kind of learning partnerships. But not being collocated can even be a benefit. For example, living in two different continents, you can hardly think the other one would be a competitor, which makes it really safe to help each other grow. Still, this kind of partnership is way more personal than reaching out on the internet in general for advice, like on forums, on Twitter, or even in one of the Slack teams. We know each other’s work context, our personal background, what makes us tick. Invaluable.

InfoQ: What benefits did you get from learning together?

Hocke: We discovered many benefits our learning partnership gives us. One of the major advantages I feel is that we have each other as sort of "accountability buddies". You know, we encourage each other to make bold statements, committing to do something until our next call. This could be writing a blog post about the experiences with our teams of last week. For instance, this made me write about Our Team’s First Mobbing Session. Even if we are not completely sure we are going to make it, we can gently push each other to make it happen. You always have the other one in mind, expecting your blog post! And you don’t want to disappoint your accountability buddy, right? This works wonders and we found a good balance between encouraging and pushing, but not pushing too much.

Another invaluable benefit for me was that together we made our accomplishments really visible for ourselves and could celebrate them together. Before, this often felt like bragging to me, not allowing myself to be proud. Having our achievements in black and white and cheering each other on them, I now learned to acknowledge them for myself.

Mamoojee: The stand out benefit for me was the other providing objective advice (Lisi now understood my work situation from number of testers, tools we used and processes we followed) to pushing each other to achieve short, medium and long term goals, we have encountered it all. We also got access to each others networks, people who we would never usually have access to, in this way we lived the phrase "the world is a small place". We leveraged of this extended network and made new connections all around the world.

InfoQ: What did you learn about learning together?

Mamoojee: I am so grateful to Lisi in pushing my career to a new dimension. There were certain things I always wanted to do in my career, but always had that doubt in mind. When I paired up I learnt that I was not alone in those fears and that we could both face our fears together. Motivation, inspiration and drive is what we both got during this learning. We probably always had it in us, but the other person was needed to bring it out and allow each other to share it to the world. I also learnt so much about myself from my learning style, my strengths (and weaknesses) and how to respond to feedback. One massive thing I learnt was "how your environment or everything you do in your daily job" can be an inspirational story that someone else would value to make a change in their environment. So don’t be afraid to share, share and share!

Hocke: I have to admit I was rather a solo-learner before, and I still might be that in some aspects. Interestingly, it was the same with how I contributed at work. I always loved teamwork, but then went to do "my tasks" on my own. Last year showed me in many ways how much more I can learn when learning together with others. The learning partnership with Toyer made me achieve things I would have never thought possible, and starting mobbing and pairing at work made me realize how invaluable learning together hands-on can be. This even pushed me to my part of our new pact for this year: doing a testing tour, visiting other testers and doing hands-on testing together to help each other grow. Really looking forward to what I can share afterwards! And the best thing: I know Toyer will support to keep me on track; and I’ve got his back for his endeavors as well.

InfoQ is covering the European Testing Conference with interviews and articles.

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