Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mentor in software testing

Growing in testing
Over the years I read books, I attended conferences, read blogs, participate on forums and talk with colleagues about software testing. I also started my own blog just to write down ideas or information. All this time I had the idea that there must be more I can do. I already heard about Test Oracles, coaches and mentors and decided I to see how I could find a mentor. This made me post a question on Test Republic: How to find your mentor?
On that question I got great responses which made me write it down in this blog.
I believe the question and responses it selves is an good example about mentoring. Sharing information based on questions, starting discussions, asking for clarification to get the proper context and leaving space to make up your own mind. To all who participated in this question: Thanks!

Coaching vs Mentoring
Across the responses I noticed that some talk about coaching and some about mentoring. Is this the same? On the internet I found an interesting post from Keith Rosen posted about this Coach vs. Mentor: What's the Difference?

An expert on people and personal development. …. A coach works on the whole person and is multidimensional, rather than focusing only on what the person is already doing. The coaching relationship is built on choice rather than necessity.

An expert in a field, industry, or at a company who typically acts as an internal advisor. …. Often, mentors are not trained, and their guidance is based more on their experience rather than the skills or proficiencies needed to mentor. Often, the mentoring relationship is need-driven rather than driven by choice.

To my opinion the similarity in this is:
- both guide you- both are helping you in an objective manner;
- both are letting you make your own decisions;

The difference could be:
- a mentor has experience and skills in the same field of business and even a bit beyond, the questions from a mentor can help you to make the step a bit faster;
- a coach can also be a person without any knowledge of your field of expertise

This still leaves the space that a few coaches together can be your mentor.

The test mentor
A test mentor is:
- Not a person who tells you what to do.
- Not written or single direction information sharing (conferences/courses/workshops/seminars)
- A person who provides you challenges and possible directions to define your own opinion or not. That is your own choice and the mentor’s choice.

Finding the mentor
Although some mentioned that mentors shouldn’t only be persons; it can also be books, articles, blogs, conferences etc. I still believe the power of mentoring is interaction. This leaves me to the original question to see if there is a fixed process for finding a mentor.

As Pradeep Soundararajan mentioned in this post “It ain't a process. Or maybe,”.
I agree with him, you cannot narrow it down in specific defined actions.

I came up with the following process steps:
1. Be ware of your own knowledge skills
2. Identify people who have something to say and might have more to show
3. Get known to those people
4. Trigger them to challenge you
5. Be open to their suggestions (questions)
6. Perhaps you will be challenged on regular basis or not

As you see, there is lot of space left for interpretation.

Shrini Kulkarni showed some similar steps:
1. Look inword - what your personal ideology, personal value system and philosophy
2. Look outwards and around to seek someone who aligns with (1) and who appears to be more knowledgeable or someone who can possibly know more about the subject than you
3. Establish the relationship with the selected mentor as in (2)

Establish the relationship
The contributors of this question showed me some ways how they found their mentor. As what I understand it can be hard: a lot of e-mails to be send; and also easy: You might be introduced.

It seems to be easy to find the names of mentors you think can help you. I have the impression that you are not alone who approach them. So you have to do more. You have to impress them and contact them on the right time. Their time is also valuable for them and of course they don’t want to spoil it either. Pradeep mentioned he got some challenges to beat. Matthew Heusser told about some heavy “black-belt” challenges. He uses this to make a shifting. And no, this is not an idea to introduce new certifications in mentoring like Six-Sigma. It is used as example within a certain context.

As far as I see it you have to be careful who you pick out as mentor. You also have to be ready. When taking mentoring too light you will waste either’s time.

When the time is right
This might differ for everyone. I noticed that the time might be right quite soon. I based this statement on:
- Leaving the methods I have been taught alone and use it as a reference to my experience;
- I started to make up my own ideas;
- I’m reading/listening between lines and words and try to figure out how it (can) helps me and also what feeling certain thought gives me;
- I’m willing to share my knowledge, ideas with others and willing to learn how it supports them.

The mentor and mentee
A relationship between mentor and mentee is not just one you have to take for granted. You must ask yourselves the question:”How far are you willing to go?” Pradeep Soundararajan pointed me at the following site: This is a good example to keep in mind about the price are you willing to pay for mentorship.

Another aspect is the time which is spent. Not every one has the same amount of time or is available on the time you need.

What I see as a good example of mentoring is how Matt responded to my question. He picked some parts from the discussions and came up with an example how he would do it without saying this is how it must be done. Although he was quite clear, he leaves me space to continue thinking. I think this is one part of the relation. Ask question, respond with an example, accept this example and continue thinking about this trying to place it in other contexts, to come up with your own context.

Beside the obvious respect it is also important to be open for other contexts of thinking and try to learn how people are so you also understand their context. Sometimes words have other meanings then they were told.

What is mentoring after all?
Not knowing how to write it down in words
Mentoring is not just gaining information. It is sharing thoughts and creating thoughts within a broad spectrum.

Unattended mentoring can be done on several occasions like between colleagues while having a short break or at conferences were also a lot of people can be met. (I deliberately am not using words like: "formal" and "informal" mentoring as this gives the suggestion that there is a kind of contract.)

I would divide Attended mentoring into "Indirect" and "Direct" mentoring
Indirect mentoring: being available when the occasion is there
Direct Mentoring: be on scheduled terms or when needed

Though it is not a process with defined activities. It can be captured in few process steps were the outcome is not defined and should not be defined.


  1. A timely post - where I work we have just established a mentoring scheme. I am aiming to do both - be mentored and be a mentor so your post has given me some things to think about

    good luck on your quest to find a mentor

  2. Hello Phil,
    Thanks for passing by. This post is somekind a summary about the question I asked on combined with own ideas.

    You have a point there, aiming to do both. Currently they see me as a coach/mentor at my company. I think there is a level of mentoring and to become better in mentoring I need to be mentored myself.


  3. we identified skills people had and who were willing to act as mentors

    I will be mentored on test management by a guy with 13 years experience of it

    My talent for building up networks and communuties ( eg Software Testing Club ) was recognised so I'll mentor anyone who wants to know more about bloging, social networks etc

    so you could do the same - what skills/knowledge do you want to learn - and what can you pass on