Transitioning non-technical teams to be technical – Part 3 - The mentoring process
Once you’ve set the vision, created an environment for tolerance and learning and tackle your recruitment to now cater for the technical testing journey, you now sit with the long and hard task of mentoring people into a technical direction.
Of every part of your journey to transition to a technical team, this is easily the most important part of the process. You can’t simply just replace you team – you need to rather provide mentoring which can help those who are capable of making the transition, actually have the support and framework to do. It’s also not just about the transition, but a continued learning because your team will never get to a point where everything is perfect – they will always need to be learning from one another and working on improving themselves.
Of course, before you can look at mentoring, you need to have mentors. Now this might prove to be difficult if you’re still in the early phases of transitioning to a technical team and perhaps don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to help out. The good news is that, while it certainly helps to have a mentor be more technical than the mentee, it’s not a given requirement. Essentially, all you’re looking for is a person with the correct problem solving mind-set, some basic technical understanding and the ability to ask good questions. The latter being arguably the most important requirement in the equation. You also don’t need to have only one person mentor another, as a person can have many mentors in each of the respective areas. So in the case a technical tester, you can easily have them mentored by a developer on some of the coding aspects and architectural aspect while perhaps getting mentored by another person on some of them more testing specific ones and another for gaining business context. All aspects of creating a highly skilled and equipped tester.
What if I can’t find the perfect mentors?
News flash – you never will. No person is perfect and similarly we shouldn’t expect a person to have every part of the mentoring process down before he can mentor others, because how else can they learn. While it certainly helps to have the more senior and experience people help out, at the end of the day as long as there is someone to provide a support structure to get things started, you’re moving in the right direction. As you develop more technically minded people, this will become easier and easier, but at first it will take time to get right. And that’s okay. Growing a strong team is more akin to a marathon than a sprint and it will take time.
Have a transition plan
In the case of transitioning testers to become more technical, it helps to have some set plan that people can work through. While they can perhaps pace themselves at their own speed, the material and approach should be consistent to ensure each is learning the correct things and that it’s easy for you, as a company, to track the progress of your transition.
This plan should not only incorporate a list of courses or materials for people to work though, but also include practical exercises that they can work through with mentors and goals like automated coding submissions, etc., to help them translate the theory they are learning into practical application. Tracking progress also makes it easier on the team member to know what their next steps are while also making overall progress more measurable. It’s not a perfect measurement, but it provides good guideline on being able to at least track the progress you are making.
As mentioned earlier, mentoring should never stop and is really about the continuous learning in your teams. No person should ever stop mentoring and it’s important that you allow people to form long term relationships with others that will benefit all aspects of their career. When it comes to the technical development side of things though these mentoring relationships are likely to jump around a little more because a person may need work on different technical aspects during the course of their development and thereby move around to the appropriate person who can assist them.
Pair up technical mentors
Nothing helps people develop more than personal mentoring and if you want people to develop technically, you need to surround them with strong technical people who can assist them with this transition. You might not have enough technical testers to do this when you start with this process, but then you utilize developers and software architects who can explain technical concepts, software architectures and basic programming logic to them. The trick here though is finding people who are willing to explain it at a basic level which the testers understand. Your technical testers don’t need to be as clued up on some technical topics, so it’s breaking it down into things that are valid for them. From experience the things I have found are important for technical testers to understand is the software architecture (both the structures and the why), continuous integration pipelines, exerts in automation, performance, security and then obviously business experts who understand how the different systems work together and provide value for the business and end-users. These will likely all be different people who can assist in different aspects and help the person understand these different aspects as they look to add more value to your organization.
Mentoring is a time-consuming and continuous process that you will need to always keep an eye on to ensure you are progressing as a company/team. There is no set approach or way of doing this as it is different for every person, but that’s all the more reason why having some form of mentoring process in action will help move people forward regardless of where they are in their careers. You will also need it to not only thrive in your transition to technical testing, but also to continue evolve and improve as technology continues to change and ensure you and your teams stay relevant.