Incentivising Community Engagement?

I firmly believe that in order to be as effective as possible, testers need to engage with the software testing community. Learning from others, particularly outside of the companies where we work, makes us more rounded and better informed individuals. It enables us to inspire ourselves and our colleagues in ways that we could not otherwise.

Recently I’ve been wondering why more people do not engage with the community. What is stopping them, and how can we all help change this? We can explain how brilliant the wider community is, and we can give examples from our experience. We can send people to conferences and email round blog posts. What is that does not work?

What do we do about those within a team who do not want to interact? Those who do not see it as a good use of their time, and are not willing to spend time on community matters, even if that time is given to them by the company. Should we incentivise people to do so? At least in order to push them in the direction of the wider testing community, where hopefully they will get hooked? Or should we do the opposite? Is it a valid idea to make community engagement a part of people’s role description, and therefore penalise those who hold such positions and do not exhibit such engagement?

Or is there another way of persuading everyone that the software testing community is key to their personal development? I’d be interested to know what you think.

23 thoughts on “Incentivising Community Engagement?”

  1. Hi,

    Interesting set of questions.

    I tend to put attending conferences and engaging in community as part of a personal development plan, but I’ve hired testers who already show an interest in this, or are already doing it. So it’s not a massive step, if a step at all.

    With regard for working with people who don’t show an interest; the big question is why do you feel they need to engage or attend events? Are they under performing if they don’t? In which case adding it to a performance plan makes sense.

    Or are they just not that interested? In which case, should we (as testers who engage in the community) be inflicting help on those who choose not to? And if they choose not to, does that make them any worse at their job? (If so, we’re back to a performance review).

    I was a little taken back at TestBash with just how many people seemed to be relating lack of community engagement with being inferior at both their job and as a person. It’s a scary path to head down and there were some truly polarizing conversations around this.

    I personally believe that being involved in community activity has been a positive thing for me, but I also know of people who have engaged and asked question only to be shot down (quite viciously) by people in this community, resulting in them never engaging again.

    If we are to encourage people I think we need to be sure we offer a safe and welcoming environment for people to engage and share ideas, as those early steps are often the most important in keeping people engaged.

    There’s no doubt that if people want to learn then the community can provide them with opportunities. The big question is whether inflicting help on those that don’t want it (or more importantly – may not need it) is a good idea.

    Some very important questions you’ve asked. I guess the real question is “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?”.

    I have a post brewing around this 🙂

    Great post.

    Rob..

    1. Thanks for the comments Rob. I agree – it’s a scary path to start going down if we link the two things together.

  2. I completely agree community engagement is important but you have to be careful for penalizing people for not joining some forms.

    Conferences and meetups are major time commitments that can impact family life. Penalizing or recruiting from such attendees might be good in the short term but we could end up excluding people from our industry. Particularity primary care givers may struggle to attend and this will ultimately impact diversity within the industry over the long term. What talent could we be missing out on….

    1. Thanks Alan – really good points. Perhaps we need to think about other ways in which we can help people to engage as well.

  3. I agree with both Rob and Alan. I absolutely love the community engagement but it is a huge time commitment.

    I have previously worked in large test teams where I didn’t feel like I needed too much engagement. My team was there to prompt new ideas and discussions. Now I am a sole tester I love having a strong community to help me with issues.

    I hope that all testers come to see the benefit of our community but I agree that we must be welcoming. Not everybody wants to spend all night in a pub playing games, this doesn’t make them a bad tester.

    I feel like one problem is making the community visible and available to those who do want to take part.

    1. Thanks for the comments Amy. Really good point on the support from larger teams, it certainly has an impact. Although I would argue that it is possible for an entire team to be in need of some inspiration from the wider testing community, as much as a lone tester, and therefore one cannot always rely on one’s team for everything.

  4. I have always tried to educate myself but found that carving out time to do this has been harder than I would have liked. So over the years, I have attended the odd conference but mainly read books and articles to keep abreast of the changes in the industry. It has taken quite a while for someone at work to convince me to write any external facing material, as I assumed everyone knew what I knew. However he pointed out that even if they do, they have not heard it from my perspective.
    I have come across many great testers over the years who have chosen not to involve themselves in the community and I don’t believe it is essential, in order to be good at what you do. I do find people who do not appear to want to progress their skills at all, frustrating though. I don’t think I fully understand people’s reluctantance to join in, I can only speak from mine where insecurity might have played a large part, along with time. I think if it had been made a part of my weekly work when I first became a tester it might have felt more normal.
    I love the diversity of the community and the ability to be able to learn from everyone’s experiences. It gives the chance to gain perspective on what you are doing and see alternatives. Sometimes it prewarns and orearms you for what might be coming next too.
    I agree with Rob, that it is essential the community is an open one, where people feel comfortable voicing an opinion.
    Really enjoyed the post, thank you

    1. Thanks for the comments Emma. Totally agree with you and Rob, we need a community that is open, friendly and welcoming and that will hopefully encourage more to join.

  5. It has to be okay…

    Some years ago, I was quite into flight simulators. We had a community, a online place were we gathered, and flew missions all over the world. We also had forums were we could talk about the Ju-87 most optimal dive speed and angle, about flight dynamics and about planes. Sounds familiar?

    Still, I had some friends in real world, who never liked the online thing, and even they tried, they lacked something… they were just not interested in being part of a online community.

    But they did like to fly, they were passionated about the performances, the dynamics, the setups…

    Our job is about testing software, and being part of a online community is a great way to share your experiences, and by that to improve our skills… but it is not the only way, it can not be.

    So, let’s just foster curiosity, let’s recommend books, videos, tutorials… things that can be done without interacting with other people, let’s foster other people to develop their own curiosity, and to do it that way. I believe we ough to respect these testers.

    As long they get out of zombieland… it’s going to be okay whatever path they decide to choose.

    Thanks for such a nice post.

    1. Really good points – there’s more than one way to crack a nut, as we’d say in the UK 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  6. Hi Stephen,

    I think a lot of this boils down to personal preference regarding interacting with others.

    The behaviours we should be looking for in good testers include an enquiring mind, discussing testing with other people, helping other people to become very good at what they are doing from a testing perspective and promoting good communication. These can be honed as part of the testing community within an organisation if it’s large but, like Amy, for me it requires me to come out of my organisation and involve myself with a much wider and more diverse community of testers.

    I would not penalise someone who is not part of our wider community if that does not appeal to them either even if they are just a one-man band but I would seek to challenge them to make sure they are growing in their abilities as testers. If they are not growing then I might look to encourage them to attend events, *cough* join the Software Testing Club, etc.

    Hope that helps. In summary it’s the behaviours that are exhibited in the testing community that should be present and part of appraisal in my opinion.

    Stephen

    1. Thanks for the comments Stephen. It is all about the development. Some people may develop in their role enough without the testing community and some not so. Really important to recognise that, as you mention.

  7. Some people are not that into their jobs.

    Some people are shy.

    Some people are working mums or dads.

    Some people are single muns or dads.

    Some people are introverts.

    Some people are engaging with other communities, and only occasionally engage with ours.

    Some people are into their jobs, and good at them, but not into the community engagement thing.

    Some people would prefer to read books.

    Some people don’t like our communities, by inclination or experience.

    There are lots if possibilities( and lots of questions to be asked, perhaps). But each observation is an issue, just like the issues we encounter while testing. Issues in testing are things that potentially threaten the value of the testing; issues in general are things that potentially threaten some dimension of value.

    And when confronted with an issue, two important questions to ask are “Is there a problem here?” and “Are we okay with that?”

    —Michael B.

    1. Very good points Michael, thanks for commenting. I agree – boiling it down to the fundamental questions does cause one to ask that ‘are we okay with that’ question. I’m not totally sure whether I am or am not right now, hence the post. But everyone’s comments are really helping move my thoughts on.

  8. As a long time tester (14+ years and fairly successful in my career) but a first time conference attendee (TestBash 3 was my first) I have a couple of different views on this.
    1. Communitee engagement is great and helps to keep the enthusiasm and development of both you and the industry alive.
    I was getting low and feeling apathetic. But after TestBash I am now re-invigorated and planning new initiatives in my company.
    2. Communitee engagement is not essential. I have worked for 14 years without a single conference or publishing a single blog etc and have risen by hard work and self development to EMEA Test Manager for a global company effectively running UAT globally. Not bad.
    3. Some people are happiest and most effective when just getting on with their job. Being told what to do and learning as they go.
    4. Some people are to busy and not given time to study/participate outside of the company and after 14hr days it’s hard to turn around and blog/read/go out or even stay awake.

    I’ve been 1,2 and 4, and made good use of 3 in my teams.
    And with some upward management I intend to swing more to 1, and away from 4. Part of that has been to slip in a an objective to promote the company and quality with in the company externally by engaging with the communitee. Atending conferences, writing blogs, engaging in social media. So far my boss hasn’t rejected the objective and I used it to justify TestBash, as I named it specifically.
    So objectives are one way of getting people to engage, but it should be agreed, not forced.
    I like one idea that was put out there in the testbash 99 sec talks. Have inter company meetups. Get someone else in to meet the team and talk testing. It’s a way to make engagement relevant to all team members and show how fun and usefull being involved it.

    After all of that, remember: When you do courses on building teams you are reminded that it takes all sorts of type to make a strong effective team. One of those types is the foot soldier, the person who just gets on with it. So don’t knock the tester who doesn’t engage. They are an important part of the industry. So don’t be worried if some of your team don’t want to engage. They are happy and happy workers are good workers. Surprising as it seems, they may actually have a life outside of testing.

  9. Interestingly, the two important questions Michael states are equally applicable to those testers who are unable to (or choose not to) engage with the wider community. I guess the answer to these questions – as an introspection – itself may prove to be incentivising (or otherwise) for the individual if we talk of personal development.

    Many, including me, have benefitted immensely by engaging with testers within the community and what we take away from this ‘symbiotic’ relationship reflects into our individual efforts and performance at work; I like to think, that, in itself is incentive enough (for me).

    1. I totally agree, I get a lot from the testing community myself and certainly find that personally incentivising. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Hi Steve,

    It was good to meet you at last week’s TestBash. It was my first conference, and I suppose that prior to that I identified myself with the community, and participated with it from a distance, but I couldn’t truly say I was part of it.
    A bit like dark matter, I was part of the ninety nine percent that is out there but can’t be seen. Yet I was reading blogs and books, sending the odd tweet and most importantly, downloading ‘Testing in the Pub’.

    I do contract work, and live and work four hundred miles from Brighton, so taking the extra step to attend a conference and get more involved is a fair commitment; two days unpaid from work, two nights in a hotel etc. It’s easy to not bother, especially as you can catch up with the conference on Twitter, Vimeo etc.

    Having met testing folk in person, what came across to me was a community of genuine, honest and committed people who care about others and selflessly want to help the testing world. I wouldn’t have seen that without going. I came home feeling positive about it, and wanting to do more.

    The testing community is like any other, a set of people with similar outlooks and interests who converge around a set of shared values. You wouldn’t expect Jeremy Clarkson at a Green Party conference. However, if this community is seen as narrow, with an accepted orthodoxy, then testers coming from outside may not feel truly comfortable with it.

    For example the orthodoxy of playing to the gallery by decrying the ISTQB and all its works, listing books from the canon that you really must read etc. We should be sensitive to how this may come across to a new starter who has just taken their ISTQB foundation, or a top rank tester who thinks for herself and does excellent work but isn’t necessarily versed in the context school vernacular.

    I thought it was slightly ironic that a video at TestBash was shown with James Bach saying that we need debate and argument in the testing community, but I don’t seem to hear that much. However I must confess I haven’t dissented much myself. Testers being people with critical thinking skills, I was expecting to hear a wider range of views. Twitter seems to amplify this monoculture. I’d be thinking a talk was “practical, very good”, or “erudite, well presented” or “I agree with some aspect of that”, then I’d look online and all I see is a tide of “Awesome!!!”, “Mind Blowing”, and then I’d be wondering if there’s something I’d missed.

    Or maybe folks don’t join in more because of vegetarian conference food. Come 17:30 last Friday I was straight to Greggs for a 90p sausage roll 😉

  11. Nice post Steve!

    I think a lot of responses seem to detail reasons why people might not be interested, but I believe there are 3 types of people…

    – People that /are/ involved in the community (as a participant or spectator).

    – People that /can’t/ get involved in the community for some “blocking reason” (like other commitments, lack of time, other responsibilities, dont know about it… etc).

    – People who /don’t want/ to be part of the community even although they have ample opportunities to get involved and have nothing blocking them.

    I totally understand why people might not be able to get involved for whatever reason, but I don’t understand why people that do have the availability and no restrictions choose not to get involved. Even when they say that they strive to be better.
    Is it purely because they don’t see any value in the community? How can we change that?

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