Monday, 12 November 2012

Learning and Teaching - by asking questions

One thing that's often said is there's no such thing as a stupid question. It's something that's close to my heart as throughout my career I've had to ask a lot of questions, some of which have made me feel a bit less enlightened than others around me. The thing is we really have no choice but to take a deep breath and just ask these questions, stupid or not.

Think about it, how else are we going to learn? If we try to avoid asking what may appear to be daft questions then where will our information come from? The options are things like meetings or conversations with others, perhaps documentation that’s been provided or the application we may be testing. Now, what’s the likelihood of these sources answering all our questions and providing us with complete knowledge? Highly unlikely and in the main we know it and we expect to, and do, come to a point where we have questions to ask.

I’d suggest questions however can be put into two rough groups. The first being simple gaps in knowledge, often about technical or business aspects that are beyond our experience. For example you might ask, could you tell me exactly what the difference is in testing needs when something moves to a Solaris container? You could ask this or you may already think this is a daft question.

The second group of questions are those which relate to things you are sure everyone knows and understands. How many times have you heard the phrase “…but everybody knows that”, while you’re thinking, “…well I don’t know it!”. Ever been in a meeting feeling confused, yet everyone else seems perfectly clear on something about the slicing of a cube and how it gives a view on data or some such. You understand the words but the meaning is lost.

In other words and to follow the popular pattern; stuff you know you don’t know and stuff you think you’re supposed to know but know you don’t. Both are in need of you asking questions, but do you always do it?

Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking

One thing I’ve often found it that if you’re not clear, others probably aren’t that clear either. But guess what, they’re afraid to ask daft questions! Remember, there is so much technology, a lot of it customised, that you can never know everything. What’s more, you can only be where you are right now in terms of your knowledge and experience, so don’t beat yourself up over it.

When you’re not clear, go right ahead and ask for something to be clarified. State that you’re not sure how that affects testing. Just ask “Just so I’m clear, can you run through some ways that affects testing?”. If you’re in a meeting and you think everyone else is rolling on with a conversation, “Just to say this, I’m not completely up to speed on this topic. If someone can give me the 2 minute rundown now then great, or so an not to slow the meeting who can give me 5 minutes afterwards?”. It’s easy enough and there’s no embarrassment.

While I’d encourage you to ask questions openly I realise there are some caveats. There are situations when others, perhaps clients, will expect you ‘to just know’ and not doing may cause your company or the wider project team embarrassment or at least just raise some eyebrows. In this case you still need to ask, just more discreetly. Make notes of some kind for any points or phrases, ideas or concepts that you’re not totally clear on and note who seems to be talking confidently about them. If they’re on-your-side, afterwards wander over to them and say “Hey, in the meeting before you mentioned (insert topic here), I’m not sure I’m as clear as I need to be about how this affects testing, could you give me a back to basics run down of it, just so I clarify my understanding?”. Most people will be flattered that you asked.

That's a Good Question: How to Teach by Asking Questions 

There will come a point on any project or in any employment when you really should be up to speed. Don’t leave it so long in asking your questions as to be a problem when you hit that point. There’s always a grace period at the start when it’s OK to not know, but it doesn’t last forever. You cannot hide and hope knowledge will just come your way. Go and seek it and use it to enhance what you do, then help others in the same way!

Mark.

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