Crowdsourcing Your Learning
Using Social Media To Create A Personal Learning Network
By Melissa Eaden
Learning more about software testing can be a challenge. While testing a product, at some point the realization comes that there might be more things to learn, and a wider audience to learn from than co-workers or management.
One way to accomplish this would be to reach out via the internet and find a community that could support or mentor learning about the testing craft or a special topic, like performance testing, which is relevant or holds some interest.
This could be called a personal learning network (PLN). According to Wikipedia;
“A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.”
Based on a lot of formal and informal surveys, testers are pretty good at networking with and learning from other testers already. If you are unfamiliar with working through social media to create a PLN, the tips and tricks below will help get you started.
Based on Ash Colman’s talk at TestBash Philly, 67 percent of testers responding to her poll question “How did you learn testing?”, considered themselves self-taught. It’s a large percentage of testers which actively seek out different learning opportunities to further their career. Self-taught could mean anything from reading a book, to watching videos and tutorials which center around testing.
According to the State of Testing 2017 survey, 44 percent of respondents indicated that they learned from online communities and forums. Another 36 percent indicated they also learned from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs.
Learning doesn’t have to be self-taught, it could be driven by a mentor-mentee style. It’s one which Software Testing Clinic advocates and uses to help teach new mentors how to be mentors to others. Recently, they had a training class for mentors. Many of those mentors now are running their own versions of Software Testing Clinic sessions in their own locations. Learning through mentors is important and can be as equally rewarding as self-taught learning, and often people learn about these opportunities through social media.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to learn about testing. Often, many of the ways testers have found to learn and grow into their testing career is by reaching out to the internet and looking for communities that support learning activities. A first stop for many testers to gain knowledge or build out a network of mentors are social media networks.
It’s through these networks that it quickly becomes apparent that there are more people in the community and more resources shared between those people than one person could possibly hunt down alone.
Creating A Network
Once you’ve found a community, on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, whole worlds open up and present themselves. Secondary avenues of learning like chat boards, and on tools like GroupMe, Skype, and Slack, allow for real-time interactions between those that are starting out, and those that have expertise in an area of software or hardware development.
Whether you know it or not, there is a very large presence on Twitter for the testing community. Many of the voices that helped guide the community and its practices over the last ten to fifteen years often interact with others in the community, willing to give advice, mentor, and generally be helpful to the community at-large.
Reaching out and discussing things with those in a community can be extremely valuable. It can be the beginning of creating a network of experts on various subjects. Those experts can be self-identified or identified by a community. Having multiple experts in a community allows you to ask questions to a wider audience and get several answers to choose from about the subject.
If you are on social media and can associate a topic with a name, then you are already working on your network of experts.
Topical Influencers On Twitter
Here is an example:
Software Testing Topics
Expert Software Testers
Mobile & Mobile Automation
Mob/Pair Development & Testing
These are pretty popular topics, but there are other categories that are possible. For instance, games and testing might be a subtopic that could be related to Heather Reid, and Christina Ohanian. If the topic was designing test plans, sending a note to Claire Reckless or Elizabeth Zagroba might be a good idea. Many of these folks are also experts in other topics, like speaking, note-taking, and writing.
Be careful of homogenization of your network. While most of your network could be testers, adding or following those that play other roles in the software development process is a very good idea. They may not have a specific topic you can relate them to, but their viewpoints and insights can help.
Internet Of Intent
Social media can be fraught with misunderstandings too. The medium doesn’t often lend itself well to what someone’s intent is when they post 280 character message. Sometimes wading into a debate is a good idea. Sometimes social media debates can let you reach out and talk to individuals about topics you otherwise didn’t know they had an interest, or role, in previously. If you approach it with good intentions, generally you’ll get those good intentions back.
Social media is almost as potent as a resume for some employers. Healthy, productive, conversations are a good thing and should be encouraged. It creates exposure and interest for you or your personal brand. Groom and present yourself with this in mind, knowing that this could also be a means to obtain a job later.
This is also a litmus test for a prospective company. If the company has concerns about your professional face on social media, without due cause, then maybe that’s not the right company for you.
Managing Information Overload
Getting involved with several social media platforms can get overwhelming. It might seem like you are spending more time tracking tweets and posts than doing real work. Unless organizing social media is your full time job, coming up with some strategies to maintain contact with your network and maintain a healthy relationship with social media is paramount.
Tweets, Articles, Posts: By The Numbers
Managing how much content you are getting on a daily basis is going to be the first battle you’ll want to deal with. If you start building up a network of significant size, following everyone and everything being posted by your network can be a bit daunting.
Follow as much as you like, but manage the notifications you get by limiting the number of notifications. Aggregating posts or articles by email to pick through later also allows you to catch up without the constant barrage of notifications. Look at notification options for social media apps you are using or would like to use. Set those early on so that as your network grows, managing it will be second nature.
How To Keep Track Of Social Media Posts:
Curating, Idea Generation, Notetaking, Bookmarking
If you like to keep track of things you find, or write blurbs about them to yourself, or manage your day-to-day social activities along with work or recreational activities, finding a tool which can help manage those things in a nice format is a good idea.
Tooling options range from pretty simple to complex. EverNote, OneNote, and Notion all present some complex organizational features that you can use for any number of things. Some of these tools have publishing and collaboration capabilities which do make it easier to share curated lists or thoughts. You can use Curator.io to aggregate your various social media feeds as well.
Signing up for a Medium account not only gives you access to their blogging functionality, but you can follow organizations, writers, and threads which can deliver a lot of content in digest form via email. You can pluck the ones you like from the emails and add it to your collaboration/sharing tool.
Newsblur is a tool that can aggregate sites and blog posts, letting you tag the content, share the stories you’ve found and serve them up in categories depending on how they were tagged. There is also the Ministry of Testing Flipboard if you’d like more testing related articles and info.
Some folks like writing them in old fashioned notebooks before committing them to the computer screen. There is something about an old fashioned pen and paper that can give someone a thrill.
Benefits From Different Kinds Of Social Media
Some folks could be hesitant to jump into a particular social media platform for various reasons. One reason could be how safe they feel on a platform. The hesitation is understandable if you’ve heard stories. Despite the drawbacks, there is a thriving community of software development professionals online, ready to listen, encourage, and respectfully engage you on various topics. Becoming part of the conversation is extremely rewarding and lets you keep a tab on new and up-and-coming events, speakers, ideas, methods, and technologies. It also can help you build your virtual professional network.
If you are unaware of the testing community on Twitter, I suggest that you check it out. Even if you don’t join, you can find names, topics, meetups, conferences and so much more around testing, to add to your network.
Twitter is the quickest way to follow someone you see speak at a conference or meet in the audience. It’s an instant rolodex of people that have ideas and specialties that could help you learn something or inspire you.
Often there are Twitter contests which can win you free tickets to conferences if you are watching/following a particular conference’s tweets. (I know, I’ve done this myself, twice!)
A majority of the testing community that write blog posts, create podcasts, or vlogs, also post those on Twitter. This is a very quick way to find content based on your interests and needs.
There are several Slack communities for Testing and Testers. These can provide great opportunities for group discussions and one-on-one conversations.
Group topics/channels are a great chance to jump in and discuss something with your professional peer group. You can join at any time, leave when you need to pair down due to lack of bandwidth, then join again. Getting an answer to a question by asking a group is great fun and could start a conversation. Be sure to follow the code of conduct while chatting on channels to keep it a fun, safe place for people to interact.
Another example of how you could learn from Slack is by presenting a problem to someone in your network that could either direct you to someone or be an expert themselves on a topic. That you and the expert of your choice can work on the problem in real-time, figuring out a solution and allowing you both to benefit from the knowledge. It’s this kind of learning and collaboration Slack is known to have.
Other kinds of collaboration could be around planning and presenting conferences or conference talks. Speakeasy is a great example of a channel you can pop into on the Testers.io Slack and get help, or pair with someone who is a veteran speaker to submit a paper or present a topic. It’s also a great organizational tool that can let you quickly discuss issues and streamline tasks.
If you haven’t joined The Club yet, I would recommend doing so as soon as you can. Even without joining you can search the posted topics and read through submitted answers. Think of it as a sort of StackOverflow for testers. Getting involved is easy and once you sign up, you can post your own topics for discussion and supply answers to others.
Facebook and LinkedIn can be awesome ways to connect with other testers and companies that are working in software development. While one leans towards more of a professional network than the other, both can be extremely helpful in making connections and learning about information provided by connected parties. Not only can you build a professional network with these platforms you can follow companies associated with folks in your network. This can provide a great opportunity for you if you are job seeking or looking for new opportunities whether those are jobs or volunteer projects.
You Know More Than You Think
It’s possible you are wondering what you might be able to give back to the conversation on social media about testing. Often times, you might not know what you know until you jump into a conversation about a topic you are passionate about. It’s good to find these topics and discover things around them. This is how social media can help grow your network around that topic but also help you grow an understanding of the trends and ideas associated with it so you too can become a reference point or an expert for someone else’s network. Don’t be afraid of contributing, whether you’ve been in the industry for a while or it’s your first day on the job, it’s how everybody can learn.
- Why Bother With Twitter?
- Personal Learning Network
- A Post About My New Job (and the Ones I Didn’t Get)
Melissa Eaden has worked for more than a decade with tech companies and currently enjoys working for ThoughtWorks, in Dallas, Texas. Melissa’s previous career in mass media continues to lend itself to her current career endeavors. She enjoys being EditorBoss for Ministry of Testing, supporting their community mission for software testers globally. She can be found on Twitter and Slack @melthetester.