Day 6 – How do you stay tool aware?

First off, I’m going to discuss what it means to be tool aware. I believe it means that we have minimal knowledge of a wide range of tools that could be used to help us do our jobs. We don’t need expert knowledge of all these tools. To be an expert in a tool you’d need several months of experience using that tool so to be an expert in every tool would be impossible. Instead, we just need be aware that the tool exists and know what it does.

Why do we need to be tool aware? We’re not always given the opportunity to choose the tools we use. There is a good chance you will one day need to use a tool that you have no experience using. It is scary learning how to use a new tool, but it will be much easier if you at least know what the tool is generally used for. If you know what a tool does, then you’ll know if you’ve used any similar tools in the past. Looking back at previous experience using similar tools will help when learning how to use new tools. Being able to say ‘I know that the tool does this, and I know its similar to this tool which I have experience using’ will make learning new tools less intimidating.

How do I stay tool aware? By attending conferences and meetups. Most conferences will include an Expo where sponsors of the event can demo their products. As well as being a great source of freebies (I’ve not had to buy pens for years) they are also a great opportunity to learn about these products. When I go to an event, I make sure I visit every exhibit and ask as many questions about the products as I can.

For those who don’t have the opportunity to attend conferences, I’d recommend attending meetups. In 2020 I set myself a challenge to attend at least 3 meetups a month (this had to be abandoned as most meetups were cancelled due to the pandemic). I didn’t want to limit myself to testing themed meetups, I looked up any tech themed meetup that was going. Due to the diversity of those attending, everyone will have used different tools in their day to day job. Networking isn’t just about collecting contacts. Its also about learning about others experiences, so asking other tech professionals about the tools they use and how they use them is a great way to building your tool awareness.

For me, word of mouth has always been the best way to learn more about different tools. As you can imagine, the pandemic has made building tool awareness a challenge. Other methods to learning about tools have included listening to podcasts. The main one I recommend is Joe Colantonio’s Test Talks podcast. Its a weekly podcast that includes interviews with testers from around the world, and they often name drop various tools that they use in their day to day jobs.

Questions from the Challenge

With a whole load of tools out there to discover and rediscover, how do you keep on top of everything that’s available?

Before the pandemic I used to like finding out about other available tools by attending conferences and meetups. Conference Expos are an excellent opportunity to learn about different tools and ask lots of questions. Networking at conferences and meetups is also a great way to find out what tools are used testing teams in other organisations.

I also like listening to podcasts, especially ones that include interviews with other testers. They often provide useful nuggets of information about the tools that they use.

Since the pandemic has moved conferences and meetups online, I’ve found remaining tool aware a challenge since my main method of learning about tools was through networking.

How do you know you’ll need to use that tool at some point and in what context?

I never know. But I do find that occasionally someone will mention a tool they are thinking of using and most of the time I’ll be able to say exactly what the tool does. I’ll also be able to mention some other tools that might be worth investigating as well which colleagues will find useful. I think that if you can do that for most types of tools, then you can say that

How do you keep a database of tools that you could use now or later?

I do seem to have a gift of a good memory meaning that I don’t really need a database. I wouldn’t say its a perfect memory, but I often find that I have a vague recollection of speaking to someone about a particular tool, or attending a demo for that tool, or speaking to an exhibitor at an expo. The recollection may be vague but its enough for me to do a quick google about the tool and learn enough to decide if its one that might be useful.

Stickers! I have loads of stickers on all my notebooks for products and applications I’ve never used. They were collected from Expos at conferences. I didn’t collect them because I like freebies (although I do love freebies). These stickers are a great reminder of the various products available. Just seeing the sticker reminds me what the product is and what it does. That’s all you need to know to be ‘aware’ of it.

What’s a good way to stay tool aware and how can we help each other to do so?

Networking! Asking people about their jobs and the tools they use. You should also return the favour and share the tools that you use.

Further Reading

Ministry of Testing Club Day 6 activity discussion – Read about how others stay tool aware

Test Talks Podcast by Joe Colantonio – a useful podcast that can provide some helpful insights into test automation