coaching insight

What drives your learning?

What drives people to take up my offer of free Skype coaching?
Most testers when asked give on of the following reasons:

1) they want to pass an exam
2) They are having difficulty at work and need to get over some particular obstacle
3) They want to test themselves
4) They want a particular question answered
5) They want to know more about a topic
6) They want to learn how to coach other testers
7) They want to become a better tester – topic irrelevant

Many come to coaching with a mixture of frustration in their work or because they feel disillusioned.

It we seems that for many,  testers need drivers and general discontent to push them into learning something more. Few testers come forward wanting to simply learn.

It’s not all that surprising. I myself have just completed a gruelling year of full time work. It’s hard to allow yourself time to reflect and pause when you hop from one crisis to another and when you do, its more likely to be related to the challenges your working on at the time.

But I really admire the the testers that come wanting to learn more. Willing to take a punt at contacting someone they’ve never met and ask them to be coached. I salute you!

What drives these people? Is knowledge some kind of drug to these people? Do they simply want to know more? Do they want to be the best at what they can do?

I think its important to understand this question as people who want to learn for the pure joy of learning have a major advantage over others. They continue to learn and grow despite the daily challenges around them. Its not the challenge or goal that drives them to learn, its the learning that drives them to challenge themselves.

Common external drivers are completing a project, passing an exam, getting a job promotion and getting external approval from others. But what happens when the inevitable happens and the goal is completed or the challenge disappears? What happens to your thirst of learning? Does it die away?

Does that tell you anything?

Removing external oracles (those things you judge yourself by) casts your thirst for knowledge in a very different light, but its not a bad light, its an honest one and it belongs to you.

I believe we have to own our own learning. Drivers to learning can often be short lived. Have a goal to become a test manager, only to discover you’ve plateaued?  I suspect your learning may be driven by goals.

Imagine a world where you can tap into this love of learning as some testers do. Imagine learning for the pure enjoyment of discovering something new. Feel the satisfaction of overcoming a hurdle you have set yourself.

These testers they have taken responsibility for their learning. They see it as a way to develop and grow themselves. Their oracles to learning are inner satisfaction and self respect. They shine with the confidence of owning their own learning.

So do yourself a favour, spend a little time identifying what’s driving your learning and ask yourself “how is that working for me?”

Post Note:

If you want an example of a tester that learns for the love of learning, read Pete Whalen’s post on Rising from the Ashes.



5 replies on “What drives your learning?”

An interesting topic, but one that goes a long way beyond the relatively narrow field of software testing.
My (limited) experience indicates that it’s not just the reason, but primarily the matter of external vs internal . That is, if I’m being driven by anything other than myself, it’s just not going to be as strong as when something/someone is pushing you.

Learning something for the sake of learning it doesn’t grab me, to be honest. If you can’t apply it, what’s the point? Oh, of course there are often theoretical concepts that need to be grasped while learning but the main thrust of the learning should have a heavy practical element. That’s probably open to debate though.

Hmmmm, I could probably phrase this much better but it’s late. Sorry…

Anne-Marie’s Reply: I’ve been someone driven by goals for most of my life. At 13 I decided I wanted to become an engineer. After overcoming many hurdles including failing to get a sufficient grade in Maths, I took a tech course, whilst repeating my maths and finally went on to achieve my goal graduating as Electrical Engineer. It was one of the proudest and also on of the most disillusioning experience I’ve had. It turned me off wanting to learn anything new – (at that time I didn’t understand that I had control over my learning and that I didn’t have to rely on formal education to educate myself).

My point is, until you let go of these goals and look to learning as a means of satisfying your own curiosity (you do still have curiosity don’t you?) its hard to discover the joy of learning for learning’s sake.

Something else worth saying, is that I’m not suggesting that you never have goals to drive some of your achievements. I suspect you need a mix of the two.

But look, I’m just really starting this journey myself, don’t take my word for it, but so far its working for me!

I’m a self-driven person myself, but being pragmatic as you are, I’ve decided to start a side business to apply the bunch of knowledge I’ve acquired reading blogs, doing internal projects and the like. I am an Agilista in my goals, and so I change them according to opportunity.

Great post and interesting questions – I’ve reflected a bit on this in my latest blog.Where does my love of learning come from ? Really good question – I guess I dont like being bored and I like to know how something works.

The problem I do have is how to set limits – there’s only so much time in the day…

he he – maybe there’s some sort of collective unconscious phenomena in the software testing world..:)

Thanks for the shout-out. I find the idea of “what do I need right NOW” to be fairly self-limiting. That may partly be the result of a history professor I had a long time ago making the off-hand observation that sometimes it is less what you learn than it is how you learn it. The process of learning anything and enlighten you in other ways. Then again, I was the only non-history major in a class of 20 on Rstoration/Post-Cromwellian English History.
It is quite possibly why on the bookshelf in my office I have copies of a couple of Weinberg’s books sandwiched between Dot Graham’s book on test automation on one side, and Musashi’s A Book of Five Rings” and two different transalations of Suntzu’s “Art of War”.

Your post strikes me hard, as I’m in a newly found company, where most of its 18 testers spend their iddle time facebooking instead of going ahead and learning automation, getting a certification in testing or anything of the sort. Some prefer to read blogs in the area and write blog posts in return. Others find side jobs to make an extra money. Very few try to find a value add for the company (They’re being paid anyhow). How do you break that vicious cycle?
Anne-Marie’s Reply: The beauty of learning is that its a personal choice, of what and how you learn. Yu mention little about what you are doing to learn new things? If you are keen to discover more about testing, start with yourself.

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