Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Pairing for skill vs. Pairing for confidence

I went to a WeTest leadership breakfast this morning. We run in a Lean Coffee format and today we had a conversation about how to build confidence in people who have learned basic automation skills but seem fearful of applying those skills in their work.

I was fortunate to be sitting in a group with Vicki Hann, a Test Automation Coach, who had a lot of practical suggestions. To build confidence she suggested asking people to:
  • Explain a coding concept to a non-technical team mate
  • Be involved in regular code reviews
  • Practice the same type of coding challenge repeatedly

Then she talked about how she buddies these people within her testing team.

Traditionally when you have someone who is learning you would buddy them with someone who is experienced. You create an environment where the experienced person can transfer their knowledge or skill to the other.

In a situation where the person who is learning has established some basic knowledge and skills, their requirements for a buddy diversify. The types of activities that build confidence can be different to those that teach the material.

Confidence comes from repetition and experimentation in a safe environment. The experienced buddy might not be able to create that space, or the person who is learning may have their own inhibitions about making mistakes in front of their teacher.

Vicki talked about two people in her organisation who are both learning to code. Rather than pairing each person with someone experienced, she paired them with each other. Not day-to-day in the same delivery team, but they regularly work together to build confidence in their newly acquired automation skills.

In their buddy session, each person explains a piece of code that they’ve written to the other. Without an experienced person in the pair, both operate on a level footing. Each person has strengths and weaknesses in their knowledge and skills. They feel safe to make mistakes, correct each other, and explore together when neither know the answer.

I hadn’t considered that there would be a difference in pairing for skill vs. pairing for confidence. In the past, I have attempted to address both learning opportunities in a single pairing by putting the cautious learner with an exuberant mentor. I thought that confidence might be contagious. Sometimes this approach has worked well and others not.

Vicki gave me a new approach to this problem, switching my thinking about confidence from something that is contagious to something that is constructed. I can imagine situations where I’ll want to pair two people who are learning, so that they can build their confidence together. Each person developing a belief in their ability alongside a peer who is going through the same process.

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