Planning and managing my learning… at least trying to

The truth is that when I think of all the things I want to learn (or think I HAVE to learn) about testing… then I want to go HOLY CRAP!!!! THERE IS SO MUCH TO LEARN! I FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO RUN IN EVERY DIRECTION!!!!!!!1!!!!

Yes, really.

And of course I’ve realized multiple times that I need to plan my learning and manage it. Somehow.

Tobbe Ryber’s keynote at Nordic Testing Days in June this year about what he did to become a better tester was inspiring. But I also felt ashamed that I actually HAVE NOT transferred my plan from the back of my head into reality. So I vowed myself that after I have been able to catch my breath (I had just defended my thesis in May), I’ll get to work.

It’s freaking October now, and I can’t say I have made much progress.

And then I thought it’s so true that nothing changes if you’re comfortable. I think I should go DIY and make posters with this message, and plaster my home AND my desk at work.

So I can freely admit that I had been comfortable for a while. And tired, too. It’s only recently that I feel like I can probably switch to top gear and do a lot of stuff like I used to. It’s not like I’ve done nothing but if I compare myself to what I was like earlier, I see the difference.

So after Nordic Testing Days I was brooding over where to start. I got involved in some programming (just a bit) and it was very interesting. Even from this bit I learned a lot about my thinking.

I do a lot of thinking at the back of my mind when doing other things… so my brain hasn’t been completely idle.

Then in September I read the post by Rosie at Software Testing Club (

The question is simple: what do you do and how you do it?

Now I have my mind set to “do something about it”. But then I got stuck with the the “how”. I know that I have the tendency to overthink things (sometimes :))… but it seems like the execution part IS very important to me to get right. The truth is that I have tried it before. So what I’ve ended up with are:

  • notes about articles in my notebook
  • notes about these articles on the printouts of those articles
  • bookmarks to these articles in my browser
  • some notes on ideas in some file on the hard drive
  • some notes on a random piece of paper
  • some ideas lost…
  • some organized and some disorganized mindmaps
  • files scattered between my work laptop and personal one
  • bookmarks in another browser
  • stuff in Google reader
  • some random Google docs

You get the picture.

I can be systematic and organized with other things…. or maybe this is what I like to think of myself… But here the problem seems to be that there are many different sources of information that it probably takes a lot more discipline to get it organized than I have exercised so far.

What to do about it?

File distribution between computers is not really a problem. I’ve been using dropbox for years, and now there are other solutions available that are even more convenient (such as SugarSync). So I just have to start using it for storing and organizing my files, articles, mindmaps, etc. PERIOD.

Notes are a different matter. I like to take notes while reading but I read online, I read books, I sometimes print stuff out so I can curl up on the couch with it. Soon I’ll have a Kindle, so that will complicate it even further. I guess I should choose one method, and then if I use another one, be disciplined about transferring information.

I have used Notepad++ but then saving the files was uncomfortable and I had to remember where my stuff was. I have used mindmaps but they don’t always work for note taking. I like to scribble things using my pen as I go.

Recently, I have started using Evernote. I like the way I can easily create new notes, I see what I have created and I can switch between them without opening a file from hard drive. I love that I don’t have to worry about saving stuff anywhere. So I guess I will stick with this one for a while unless somebody can recommend me something better.

I’ve also seen people use Sublime Text for note taking. Not a bad idea, actually, considering this example: I haven’t used it for notes but I like it in general. I think it has great features (and I like their color schemes for code…).

Bookmarks seem to be a trivial topic and I think I just haven’t researched enough to find a good solution. For some reason, I haven’t used Google Bookmarks so far. I’ve tried Delicious but this wore me out. So now I have looked into some options, and I have started organizing the links in Google Bookmarks by tagging them. Other suggestions are also welcome.

Mindmaps are a tool I like to use for different things… Brainstorming, planning, note taking on some occasions… It’s their vice and virtue that they can be used for so many different things. So I’m thinking it may make sense to use them for specific things such as building a model of something I have thought about but not for note taking so that I could keep my READING notes in one place only.

Blogs are a massive source of information, inspiration, and ideas and I usually keep them in my Google Reader. I suspect I have quite a few links among my bookmarks as well. Sometimes I don’t want to subscribe but just store this one entry, hence the bookmarking. I should also make it a task for myself to comment more on the blogs. Sometimes I read a blog and think “hmmm…. this got me thinking”. But then I’d have to sit on this for a while to be able to think it through… and by that time… I’ve forgotten or I don’t go back. Or I’ve lost the link.

Good old notebook is what I like to use from time to time. Yes, it’s a Moleskine. It’s black. I can take it with me wherever I go. Sure, I have the Evernote app and MS Office on my Windows Phone but you know… sometimes, just sometimes it’s good to be offline and not at your computer. I feel that I should cut the time I spend at laptop. I work hard, and then I need to read about stuff… so it’s easily at least 12 hours a day that I spend staring at the screen.

Also, I like to go to a cafe and sit down with an article or a book on testing and read it, and take notes, sip my coffee and let my mind wander. So my notebook is not going anywhere.

Planning my learning is something for which I haven’t used a specific tool yet. Pekka cut to the chase and created a mindmap:

Another pretty cool tool I learned about from a colleague (she uses it for managing the writing of her MA thesis) is Trello:

So I haven’t decided on this one yet but it would be nice to use something to track the progress (which would allow me to feel good about myself, of course).

Reflection. Thinking about my thinking and discussing it with someone is by far the most important learning activity I can think of. This is what I need to take time for more often. I need to reflect on my experiences, what I do, how I solve problems at my job. My mentor says that I have quite a bit to share. However, I don’t tend to see it that way most of the time as I perceive the things I do as… usual, regular, not newsworthy in general. One of the reasons, though, can be that I don’t distance myself enough from the daily toil. So to reflect, I need to take the time, talk to people, take notes on my thoughts, and I need to blog more often!!!

Anyway, if you got to the end of this rant (thanks for bearing with me), I’d like to hear your thoughts about how you organize your learning.

I think the best thing about writing this blog post is that it enabled me to organize my thoughts and realize that I shouldn’t be sitting on my hands. Even if I feel fed up and tired I should remember that nothing changes if you’re comfortable.