I’ve just spent 3 weeks teaching a class of 11 students about automated testing, as part of a one year course in software testing. The course is organized by the local “Kvalificerade Yrkes Högskolan”, KYH. (loosely translated: Skilled Trade University). The students come from all kinds of job backgrounds, from sitting in a supermarket checkout to driving trams to gardening, and most of them had never written a computer program before the course started.

The KYH tries to design their courses so that students will be competent enough to get a job by the end of them, so they work closely with local employers to set the curriculum and find teachers for the courses.

I was pleased to be asked to do this teaching job, since automated testing is one of my main areas of expertise, but at the same time I was quite daunted by the prospect. I’ve never taught non-programmers before, and I’ve certainly never had to set an exam or hand out grades. Before I agreed to do it, I spent some time talking to a friend of mine who has previously taught a different KYH course, and his story actually wasn’t all that encouraging. It’s hard work preparing the teaching materials, and some of the students will find it very difficult and need a lot of help and coaching. I decided it could be worth doing, anyway. I had some teaching materials prepared already, and I wanted the chance to invent more, try out some new ideas, and broaden my horizons.

Now that I’ve done the course I can attest that it really is hard work preparing lessons and exercises, and some of the students do need a lot of help. It is very rewarding though when they start to understand. I got a real kick out of going round the classroom seeing them all starting to write tests with Selenium and Cucumber, and answering their questions about Ruby and Page Objects and how to name tests and what to assert, and where to put the code and which parts to write tests for…

I think by teaching this course I’ve learnt a lot myself about things like how to communicate ideas, give feedback and encouragement, and to set boundaries and manage expectations. I found marking their work much more interesting than I expected, too. What kinds of mistakes do inexperienced programmers make when doing TDD? Do they find it easier to write good tests with Selenium or Cucumber? Is there any correlation between testing skill and programming skill? (short answers – they don’t refactor enough, Cucumber is way easier, and no, the correlation seems pretty weak)

So do I recommend getting involved? Absolutely! I think the IT industry in general needs more people in it from diverse backgrounds, and this is the kind of course that brings them in. If my experience is anything to go by, you’ll work hard but you’ll learn a lot from the students too. Networking with the other employers in the course Industry Reference Group is useful, and if I was looking to hire a junior tester I’d now know exactly who to ask first. Actually, who knows, in a few years some of my students might even be in a position to give me a job.

Don’t just complain that it’s hard to hire qualified people and/or people from diverse backgrounds. Get down to your local KYH equivalent and help them set up a course! I think that being a good software developer or tester is not restricted to only those with a degree in Computer Science. A course at a trade school where local employers get involved is good value for everyone.