Learning Through Volunteering: Testing For The Experience
by Melissa Eaden
Take a moment and step away from the day-to-day activities of your normal work environment. Do you need a break, or do you need some fresh perspective on your testing activities? Maybe the trick to keep boredom at bay would be to do some volunteer testing. Below are some excellent options to break out of your daily grind and think outside of the box when you test.
For Love & Money: Tester For Hire
It's an interesting environment a tester can find themselves in when they go from a more traditional development shop to one where you apply to be in test cycles and might or might not get paid for finding defects for contracted clients.
There are several services available. One of the more popular is UTest. While some people will find the structure of the platform restrictive, it can give you lots of opportunities. It offers paid and unpaid short term testing gigs, with a chance to test applications, devices, and workflows. UTest drives their testing via contract work and then crowdsources it with the most qualified candidates.
Signing up for it is fairly simple. You fill out a profile and then wait for an opportunity to join a sandbox testing group where they test your ability to use the platform, write bugs EXACTLY to their specifications and follow a test plan. Whether you pass the sandbox trial or not, it doesn't seem to matter as long as you are engaged with the the platform and earning points. The key is to be active and apply for testing opportunities that fit your profile. They might even contact you for local opportunities and on-site opportunities with companies.
For example, I applied for a Samsung UX testing opportunity and found out it was really a focus group with other testers involved. It was a very enlightening experience to discuss an application for customer service that Samsung was currently developing for its products. For basically about 90 minutes, I sat in a room with eight other people and discussed the application. It's not a lot of money sometimes, but the focus group was a pretty decent payout for the time spent.
There are other platforms you can sign up for such as Freelancer.com, BugWolf, and Crowdsourced Testing. These all have a platform and strict protocols for testing applications. The opportunities to learn something about an application you don't test on a regular basis is pretty good as long as you stay active on their social media platform and online community.
Meetups & Chats: Getting Into Social Testing & Networking
Some of the best places to find new ideas or stuff (Yes, stuff, not just applications, which I will explain more about soon) are chats and meetups.
If you haven't checked out Ministry of Testing or Testing Community (at Testers.io) on Slack I definitely encourage you check those out. People are exchanging ideas all the time and sharing problems along with opportunities to help someone else out in the community. Whether you are proofreading or solving a pesky automation problem with someone, it's a great community to belong to and experience.
Another experience is Weekend Testers. This group has weekend testing events for different parts of the world once or twice a month depending on your location. You can signup via email and then join a Skype chat for a few hours. The testing event sets everyone up with the same application and then gathers experiences and data from the testers as they report their results back to the Skype channel. It's an active two hour discussion and covers all kinds of web and mobile applications, sometimes with a focus, sometimes just to see what people report. There is a large social element to this as there can be a lot of people posting into the channel and cross-talk between channel members. It's decent paced and could be the nice shot-in-the-arm your testing mind needs to break the toil of the everyday grind.
There are QA and Testing meetups available which a majority can be found at meetup.com in some areas. They are great things to attend and learn about testing in your local community, but I'm going to suggest a few outside of those that might be a good idea to join as a tester.
Women Who Code
This is a global organization who sponsors and has meetups for women, by women. It's for woman (cis or trans) interested in development or the topics associated with it. Testers are definitely welcome to these events. They also have a Slack channel available for the local groups (check availability in your area). The opportunity presented itself to speak at a meeting and since then, I've made it a mission to present testing and offer testing services to other women in this group. It's been a great networking experience as well.
Agile Sig And Other Coding Groups
From agile to ruby, you can probably find a meetup that has your flavor of code or interest level involved. Go to these groups and declare you are a tester. Offer your services to developers in exchange for a new experience. This is also a good way to flex your testing muscle in a different direction, and network into a different company by demoing what you can do with their app. It's always good to be able to demonstrate what you know and show you can learn at the same time.
Board Game Developers
This is the point where I explain the "stuff" I mentioned earlier. If you are into gaming at all, whether it's video games or board games, learning the rules and applying them to achieve a result is a skill that is invaluable for testers. By putting your testing skills to a physical concept you can see the immediate results of your game play and decision logic. By working with other players to understand the roles and rules of the game, you can re-enforce many good testing practices and maybe even learn new ones to apply later to your software testing as well.
Other Organizations With Volunteer Groups
There are some large organizations that recruit volunteers to test. Two of them are Mozilla and Wikimedia. You can join specific forums with these organizations and become their network of crowdsourced testing while they introduce changes to their production environments. Other non-profit groups have similar communities and offer opportunities to volunteer your time and talent to maintaining the quality of the project.
Open source projects, while often associated with development and coding do look for testers when the projects have something which does need testing. All it takes is letting the project organizers know you are available. A good place to start with open source projects is GitHub. They suggest starting with the Explore GitHub page which shows trending repos and active developers in the community. It would also be a good time to open your own github account.
Another opportunity to volunteer test could be with local charities and organizations you are passionate about. Oftering to test web sites or applications under development for your favorite charity or organization allows you to donate your time to a worthy cause and practice your skills in the process. These kinds of activities can be excellent resume material as well.
Two For The Price of One: Domain Knowledge Testing
There are some companies that have very specific domain knowledge that you learn over time, and use pretty extensively. Companies that deal a lot in finance, medicine, education, insurance, and legal, all have one thing in common - a wealth of domain knowledge and subcategories which can have very specific domain knowledge under that domain. An example is how finance can have subsections like online transactions, stock trading, or billing with foreign currency involved. Those topics all require a certain amount of training to test accurately.
An example of helping to test domain knowledge in the medical profession under medicare and medicaid coding recently presented itself when the government was updating from ICD-9 to ICD-10 codes. This was going to have many ramifications on billing, not just at the state and federal levels but many third party software vendors who use the codes to bill electronically to the state and federal government.
During the ongoing release of the new code set, there was a request for volunteer companies to test the new billing codes and give feedback to the agency that governs the use of those codes. This was a great opportunity to gain even more domain knowledge and help perfect a system not directly under test, but one that definitely had an influencing factor to anyone working on medical record software.
These opportunities are generally only every few years when updates are needed. The best plan for hearing about them as they come up is to keep track of any websites or publications that contain domain related information. As long as you are working a specific field of knowledge, expanding your knowledge of it, is never a bad thing.
There are a few kinds of "beta" testing. The kind of beta tests more widely known are in the gaming industry where there can be public and private beta tests conducted for a product.
Private beta tests are usually by invite only. Typically, after being invited, you are required to sign an NDA and could be required to sign a waiver saying you won't sue for damages if the program or app happens to trash your hardware in the process of you running the beta version. These can be a lot of fun and offer a small amount of prestige among friends that use the same gaming platforms.
Public beta tests can be found in almost any domain area. Often it's features that are marked with a flag which indicate they are in some kind of beta state where they have been released to the public, but there might be issues with the feature. Or the other often seen kind of public beta tests are brand new applications which have been released but don't have a wide user base yet. The application can have issues, however, development departments, if they are using this kind of beta release, are generally monitoring the software for issues and move fairly quickly to fix them once they show up for customers. Also check out Betapage or Betabound if you are looking for beta programs to test out and try.
Another kind of beta test is the "Canary" version of an application. The application has a stable release currently in production. The canary version is usually the next version of the product or the most stable development version of the product visible to the public. An excellent example of this is Chrome's Canary browser. If you haven't downloaded this and played with it or even tested with it, you are missing out. Firefox does a similar release called Firefox Nightly. Sometimes, testing with the canary version of an app can give you a heads up as to what the next release to the public might do to the web app you are testing.
When you have third party applications involved with your application, testing can become very complex, very quickly. Keeping a list of third party apps like browsers and plugins. Watch for release information to help you plan ahead for newer versions. Planning for newer releases could give you foresight into possible issues between the third party app and the application you are testing.
Bug bounties or what's often called "White Hat Programs" can be a lot of fun to look into and read up on. Many organizations have these kinds of white hat programs which pay testers for finding significant bugs that the company hadn't already found. An example of this is Facebook's White Hat Program.
Companies will set up parameters for this kind of testing and how to report it. They also set up guidelines for how the tester is paid and they stipulate terms under which they will accept valid defect reports.
This kind of testing does usually require a good bit of of security testing knowledge and knowledge of the platform the application is using. Often, defects are found when the tester can exploit micro service layers of the application or disrupt traffic in a way which would be harmful to the application.
Do you have a favorite tool, game or device you use a lot? Have you found a bug while using that device that you could reproduce? Report it!
Slack is a great communication tool. Once you get past the initial setup, it's pretty easy to use and it places a lot of knowledge at your fingertips.
It, like every other piece of software out there, has defects. I found one when one of my groups was discontinued without me leaving the group first. All the icons for my groups would bunch to the top. To get it to stop doing this, I had to reset my whole Slack application.
I wrote up the defect, took a screenshot and emailed the report to the customer service folks at Slack. They were prompt in letting me know that they were aware of the defect and it was something they were hoping to fix soon.
HR Software Example
I was working in some HR software and couldn't get the goal report to show the right thing. There was a small chat box off to the side of the application and I started a chat with customer service. I detailed the problem, relayed the steps to reproduce and sent a screenshot as well.
They were delighted to have someone on the other side of the screen capable of writing such a well thought out defect and then taking time to report it to them.
It wasn't the application I was testing, but I have to use it anyway so I might as well help improve it too. Being a good customer goes both ways. I can appreciate whoever is taking the bug report, because they don't get easy, well thought out calls or chats sometimes. You could make someone's day better by taking that extra step to show you care about the application as a customer.
Testing To Learn More About Testing
Many of these options can help expand your knowledge base outside of the normal day-to-day testing activities. Learning more about a domain, another application, users, developers or anything else which could be applicable in the software testing space is a good thing. Volunteering your time and knowledge can help others learn too. Gaining experience and knowledge through volunteering could open opportunities that might not have happened otherwise.
About Melissa Eaden
One fateful day in November of 2015, Melissa Eaden attended her first Ministry of Testing, Test Bash in New York. She won a conference ticket by submitting an essay to Richard Bradshaw. She didn't know then that she would later become Rosie's assistant minion, in the cause, which forever grows, taking software quality to whole new levels! By day, a mild mannered dog owner living in Austin, Texas. By night, she happily waits for the next mission of quality excellence for her to accomplish.