Four Stages of Testing Competence

I have Chris Ashton to thank for this little piece of inspiration. He refers to levels of competence in a recent post of his. I was intrigued by the reference and went off to check out what the levels of competence are all about.

The "conscious competence" is a model that describes how we progress through four psychological states in learning. They are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence

I adore these terms and I can easily relate all but the last state to moments in my testing career. In particular the first one!

Unconscious Testing Incompetence

My keenest recollection of unconscious incompetence was at my first job, compliance testing ETSI standards. I wrote an official report for the standards body, bound it and was ready to send it off. It didn't occur to me to read through the document to check it was in order. Fortunately, someone else did and found sections of the document were completely illegible.

Conscious Testing Incompetence

Things progressed, I learned how to critique my own work, and was put in charge of a new test team. I learned abourt IEE829, documented tests scripts, how to write a bug report and ISO9000. I felt I had arrived. I now had a wealth of information on top of which I could construct my testing. I have order and reproducibility and I got hung up about process. The process became more important than the testing.  It didn't occur to me that most of the bugs I found where when designing my test scripts, and executing them was really just a formality.  I started to get bored with testing though, and set my goals on greater and loftier achievements. I wanted to be a test manager!

Conscious Testing Competence

Well, I ended ditching my career as test manager to because guess what? Yes, I got bored.  So I went back to the drawing board and rethought a) what I wanted out of my career and b) what really where my goals in life? I had always wanted to setup a testing consultancy, so that was what I went about doing.

I feel that I'm in a state of conscious testing competence now, not always though. Sometimes I pop back into unconscious incompetence, and on rare occasions I jump into unconscious testing competence.

I can say that because I've learned a lot about how to test well and I try to implement that. I've made a conscious decision to keep my testing skills keen and relevant, and I find the only way for me to do that is to keep testing. I'm putting myself on courses and training myself up where I need to.  I've learned that I will always have much to learn about testing. There are always new tools and  new techniques to try out.

Unconscious Testing Competence

Ah, the holy grail! I see glimpses of this sometimes, but there is so much more to learn about testing and its such a broad field, that I doubt I will ever achieve this for all areas of testing. Sometimes I do feel that exploratory testing is "second nature" to me but to be able to teach it to others? Maybe not so well. I find it hard to believe that I ever felt that I knew everything there was to testing. What arrogance!

So, what  testing competence are you?