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Coaching Software Testers Q&A with Anne Mare Charrett

  • 07/08/2012
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR


Anne-Marie Charrett recently gave a must-see webinar on Coaching Software Testers. This webinar was a little different from our usual ones in that Anne-Marie demonstrated one of her live Coaching Sessions via Skype. We were overwhelmed with the questions afterward so it took Anne-Marie a little more time to get through them all, but now here they are for anyone who was waiting on an answer, and to those who are just curious to find out what they missed! If you want to see another webinar from Anne-Marie on coaching please let us know through the comment box below.

Coaching Software Testers

James Bach and I have been developing a model for coaching software testers. We’ve been doing this by coaching hundreds of testers and reviewing their transcripts. We’ve identified patterns of behaviour for both student and coach, a coaching space we describes important aspects of coaching.

The type of coaching that we do is focused on helping testers think for themselves. There is a challenge (and perhaps a paradox) that in order for people to learn how to think for themselves, they need to be taught.

We’ve developed this model, based on the Socratic method of teaching which encourages the student to logically reason through challenges placed in front of them with the purpose of helping them be aware of the complexity and ambiguity that we know exists in software testing. It’s based on the premise that to develop understanding (or ‘know’) software testing, the coach must first understand the boundaries of a persons knowledge and then help them extend it.

This is different to say life coaching which is more of a peer to peer relationship and doesn’t require the coach to have an in depth knowledge of the topic at hand.

In this recording I provide an example of a coaching session and go to explain some of the patterns James and I have identified through our analysis of the coaching transcripts.

There is also a video of the coaching transcript in an animated format that identifies some of the patterns.


Q: Does Anne-Marie also use video skype?
A: Very rarely because this means I don’t have a transcript to analyse. I have gone to video in a coaching session to observe a tester perform a task or exercise.

Q: Anne-Marie used a small test. I could imagine that to ‘critical’ testers this might not seem real testing. How do you handle this critique.
A: I answered this at the session, but I want to add some more.
If a tester is finds a coaching session unhelpful, it maybe that I’m not fully following the students energy. If I sensed that this type of task is frustrating or disappointing a tester I would try and find out what they did want to learn. Having said that, I think its important for a coach not to make assumptions that a student understands some of the basic fundamentals of software testing and so some basic diagnosis is important.

Q: You say you follow the energy of the student…. also when it’s negative?
A: Hmm, depends what you mean by negative….I think its fine for a tester to disagree with me, in fact I welcome it! What I do ask is that they are able to explain why in a way that’s reasonable and thoughtful.

Q: Do you ever say “sorry I don’t think testing is a career for you”
A: Personally no, I’m not convinced I see that as part of coaching. If I felt this was the case, then I would hope that the people discover this for themselves. What I might do is set them tasks to help them discover this.

Q: You mentioned about techniques to resolve “wandering sheep” and “shallow answers” what are these?
A: Here’s a more complete answer.

For wandering lamb, I use a pattern called “refocus and clarify” where I keep bringing the student back to the topic at hand. I found when I first started out coaching, I had a bad case of the wandering shepherd syndrome, which funnily enough often exacerbates the wandering lamb syndrome, so having some sense of where the coaching session is going is important too.

For shallow answers, I keep using the “drill down” pattern. When a short trite answer is given, I ask “Can you be more specific” or “can you give me an example”?

Q: In the explore scene slide, would you have many of these “key moments”?
A: It depends on the energy of the student, but generally yes. I do remember one coaching session where James had 4 different key moments and named each one after a barrel (nod to the Jaws movie)

Q: Is this type of coaching suitable for people who are completely new to testing or only those with some experience to give them a point of reference?
A: Definitely open to both experienced and inexperienced testers. All testers in the type of software testing have to be able to solve problems such as what is the best test for me to run right now? How do I know if something is a bug? How will I know if I’m done testing? Its only through working through these problems in a critical manner can a tester come to these answers.

However with inexperienced testers I will make sure that the session is fun and that they leave motivated and excited about learning more about testing.

Q: Is coaching only for testers or can it be expanded to test leads and managers?
A: Its for anyone who has a problem to solve in software testing. I have coached test managers on being influential and persuasive, on interviewing and recruiting.

Q: Is there any literature on this subject?
A: James Bach and I are in the process of writing a book on the topic of coaching software testers.

Q: When will be the next presentation ?
A: On coaching? There are a couple of workshops planned next year in Europe/London.

I’m happy to give another webinar on coaching software testers with EuroSTAR people. (EuroSTAR would be happy to do another one – let us know in the comments if you would like one and we will organize with Anne-Marie – Miriam)

Q: How do you know if enough coaching has been undertaken?
A: When the student decides that they have done enough. I find as time goes on, the coaching relationship may change from a coach/student relationship to more a peer/peer relationship, but there is always plenty to learn.

Q: Can you give us a pointer to more information on the socratic questioning?
A: There’s heaps of information on the web.
One book I like on socratic questioning is “the art of socratic questioning” by Linda Elder & Richard Paul . Another way is to read the socratic dialogues in particular Playto’s Euthyphro

Q: Is coaching in small or larger groups using these patterns effective?
I perform coaching one -on -one as I find that most effective. The problem with a group of people is that its hard to work out everybody’s level of knowledge. If I apply a drill down method, it has to work for all involved, what happens if some students drill down quicker than others, and what if one student requires a different pattern to the rest?

What I do with the test team I’m coaching at the moment is to have regular coaching sessions booked into the schedule. These coaching sessions are optional, though I’ve yet to meet one tester that doesn’t enjoy having this time.

Q: Should you give up on ‘lost cases’, where coaching appears to have no benefit?
A: You know, maybe it’s the romantic in me, but is anyone ever truly a lost cause? Perhaps they feel its not the right moment in time to be inquisitive? Maybe they have different goals.

What I have learned (from my own experience) is that your goals in your life do change and who knows, maybe one day you will find the inner desire to question, query and learn more.

Q: It might be quite common and just unknown to me, but what would you refer to by “Socratic work”?
A: Great question!
The socratic method encourages debate by asking questions and providing answers. This is opposite to the type of teaching most of us have received were we are ‘fed’ information and then asked to regurgitate it out.

These series of questions put forward require the respondent to work through their answers using logical reasoning. This approach demands that the respondent works through the task or key idea. In my experience I gain a much deeper understanding of a topic when I work through the idea. Its something I have learned, as opposed to being ‘taught’ making the whole experience more meaningful. Greater meaning increases my understanding and confidence about a topic.

Q: Can we get a copy of the test example you used?
A: The game is called Escapa, you can find a version of it here:

Q: Hi Anne-Marie, you mention throughout the presentation that you use ‘patterns’. Are these patterns widely accepted, or have you invented these yourself? Are the patterns listed somewhere?
A:James Bach and I have identified these coaching patterns after coaching and then analyzing the transcripts. We haven’t made a full list of the patterns, but we will be including them in the book we are writing about this topic.

Q: Great presentation! In your experience using the Socratic method, how many sessions on average does it take to become proficient in coaching using this method?
A: Thanks. Your question is a bit like asking “how long do I need to look out of the windscreen of my car when driving to Edinburgh?” I’ve been coaching for two years now and I’m learning new things every day.

I do think to begin to coach using this model you need a certain level of understanding about what testing is. As for coaching, ping me on Skype and we can have as session.

Q: How do you identify when coaching or another learning method (eg just telling) is a more appropriate approach to a testers learning need?
A: You’ve hit on another of our patterns. One of the coaching actions we have is called feeding. Generally, I want to avoid feeding a student information until the student has at least made some effort to answer and apply his mind to the task, we call this pattern: “Matching Grant”.

But its not helpful (in my view) for a student to struggle too long as they can get discouraged, and the goal of my coaching is motivational. I want them to feel excited and inspired to learn more about software testing.

Q: do you have online couching?
A: Yes, most of the coaching perform is online. I offer free online coaching on Skype to testers. My Id is Charretts. You can ping me there or email me at [email protected]

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