I was watching the latest series of MasterChef the professionals a few weeks back and found myself relating to the chefs, in that they have voluntary applied for this show to test their skills, face difficult challenges, be challenged by the best, be critiqued by their idols/inspiration and in some situations seek a confidence boast.
"Chef, this is a great plate of food, but....."If you hadn't sought such a challenge you would probably be a bit deflated at hearing "but" and indeed some of them were, however the finalist didn't, they dined on the feedback, both positive and negative then used this to improve their future dishes.
Accepting praise and receiving criticism isn't easy, but you will never know it all, your learning will never be done, so seeking some feedback is critical to your learning.
I have observed an increase in testers seeking such challenges, I am one of them, but I feel more should. I missed out on such an opportunity during RST with James Bach in March, it was of course the infamous hotseat. I was scared, I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of James, yet alone a room full of testers. I was naive, all I thought in that moment was "no way, not a chance, he will eat me alive, good luck to the poor person he choices". Someone did do the challenge, they did an excellent job, James was impressed not all because they gave some great answers, but because they evolved throughout the challenge, they took on board all the feedback during the challenge then later used it in the challenge, what an incredibly opportunity. I intend to do RST again in the future for numerous reasons, but one of them is to get my ass in that hotseat.
But what about day to day, where can you get a challenge without being at an RST course. We are blessed to have a really active community in the Software Testing world, they're opportunities everywhere!
You can ask for them, lots of people are willing to provide them. James Bach was offering free Skype challenge sessions, you will have to ask him if he still is, but could be worth checking out. Miagi-Do has a bunch of great testers willing to give you a challenge. I have seen Stephen Blower running a challenge recently, have a look at that. However you don't have to go directly to people, I saw one tester recently, @Testowanie, asking directly on twitter and receiving three almost instantly, it’s that easy, more importantly I saw them tweeting about how much they were enjoying it.
Twitter can also be used to seek challenges in a slightly different way too. You can follow testing hashtags, I have recently added a column to tweetdeck for #testing, as you can imagine not all are relevant you will also see some very obscure tweets, however you will also see opportunities for a challenge. Someone tweets something you don't agree with, reply, challenge them, you will in turn be challenged back. Got an opinion on something, state it in a tweet, people are likely to disagree, if they do they will challenge you by replying, great learning.
Blogging, start writing about your thoughts, it’s a very challenging especially if writing doesn't come easy to you like me, I personally find it difficult to dump my thoughts into words, probably why I draw a lot, but when I do blog, I feel so good after it. Things become clearer and more concise for doing it, but the great benefit of doing it on a public blog, is others will read it, some will agree and some will disagree, it could lead to someone questioning your opinions but for me that’s a bonus as the challenge was writing it in the first place.
Speaking, this is something I am still very new to, well I say new, I haven't done one longer than 5 minutes, however I will be doing a 30 min talk at Belgium Testing Days in March, I can't wait. I see speaking as the next level up from blogging, it’s a big leap of course, but you are just presenting your opinions in a different medium. The big difference comes in that you are in the same room as your audience, which makes it harder, but also appealing.
Blogging and speaking aren't easy, it’s hard to openly share your thoughts and opinions, the back thought of being ridiculed, mocked or told you haven't got a clue will always be there, but it doesn't happen often in our community, people want to help you but more importantly people want to hear your thoughts and opinions.
I strongly encourage you all to seek challenges in your career, be it an actual testing challenge or a personal challenge to share your experiences and knowledge, you will learn so much about yourself and your confidence and skills will rocket.
There is a common joke about who tests the tests, well who tests the testers? The answer is you do, I do we all do, if you allow yourself to be tested.