Figure out who you are
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test is useful. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you handle stress? Are you a pattern-noticing person? Are you a visual, tactile, textual, or auditory person? Try a DiSC test.
Figure out how you learn
QA is a career that requires continual learning. Find out what works for you (books, video classes, working through problems, pairing with someone who knows the skill you want to develop). Experiment with different learning methods. How did your favourite teacher work?
How do you transmit information
Others learn and process information in different ways to you. Find out the ways to simply and clearly convey ideas to groups of others. Teach something to a person that does not learn the same way as you do.
How to take notes that will be helpful to you later
You’re not going to remember everything. Use flashcards, coloured sticky notes, diagrams, doodles, sketchnotes, a notebook, Evernote, Google Drive, find some way of storing data to find it later. If you use a notebook, consider indexing it (add page numbers, make a spreadsheet of topics). In six months time, you will have lost the context you currently have on your project, so find a way to record that information and get it to the people who will need it.
How to talk to difficult people
People who have done customer service or tech support have developed skills for dealing with that one customer that is furious with everyone and taking it out on you. You learn how to steer people towards an answer, how to stay calm under pressure, how to think on your feet, and how to say no. These skills are invaluable.
How to be a good part of a team
Quality Advocates are part of two teams: their product team, and the team of Quality Advocates across offices. Other QAs have a wealth of knowledge and information and they are happy to share it with you.
How to ask questions
Sometimes we ask questions we know the answer to, in order to help someone else get to the same answer. A well placed “can you help me understand X?” can uncover a hole in someone’s thinking. You learn by teaching to others, and by getting someone else to teach you, you help them know the subject better. And you learn something too.
How to listen
Listen so you can reply and add to the conversation. Don’t listen for a break so you can say the bit you were thinking about while they were talking to you. Pay attention when people are speaking.
Sharpen your observational skills
Who just got a haircut? Who looks like they didn’t sleep well last night? Who looks happy, or sad, or angry? Play ‘find the typo’ with every email you get. Learn to see visual bugs in apps, use a sticky note as a straight edge to check if things line up.
Know when and how to argue
Always fight fair. No manipulation, no passive-aggressive behaviour. Speak clearly and with precision (say “four days this week” instead of “all the time”). Don’t talk over people.
Drive your own career
You are responsible for your own growth and learning. If you need help, ask for it. If you don’t take the advice of people trying to help you, that is your choice and the consequences of your choices are on you. If you see something you want to learn, go learn it, you don’t need permission.
Practice ‘recreational QA’
Find bugs in the wild, and try to figure out how you would test so that bug did not get past you. Proofread books as you read, look for typos and wrong grammar. Try and figure out what game designers were thinking when they made your favourite game.
Talk in front of groups
In Agile retrospectives, team stand-up meetings, and other meetings, you will need to address groups. Put the points you want to cover on an index card and use it as a prompt when you get nervous. Everyone is not staring at you, they will not throw rotten fruit. Take a prop with you to hold if it makes you feel better.
Find out what resets you from stressful situations
Try a short walk, a cup of tea, a quick stretching exercise, a few minutes of silence and meditation. You will be in situations that poke your sore spots, reacting emotionally will not make things better. Recognise your emotional state and take the steps you need to return to a calm center, without freezing off or bottling up your reactions.
Figure out your blind spots
If you’re a lifelong iPhone user, find out how to test Android phones, and vice-versa. Web app people can look into iPad apps, Windows people can get a Linux VM on their machine to explore. Ask people you work with to tell you what your weaker skills are, and listen to them.
Figure out what you’re trying to improve
You improve with deliberate practice on your weak spots in an environment where it is OK to make mistakes and not be perfect. If you only operate in your strengths, you don’t improve over time. Keep your focus on the skill you want to improve and act in ways that will force that growth. Then focus on another area to improve.
From Anna Z: Always know what your short term and long term professional goals are, use SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).