A STeP Toward The Future with Per Scholas
  June 27, 2013

If you've read any of my previous posts, you probably already know that I am a strong advocate for software testing training. Not only has software testing become more complex in the last decade with the addition of multi-device, multi-browser, cloud-enabled applications, it has also received renewed attention as we move our financial, healthcare and federal services into Web applications. Quality is not longer simply desired; it's required. And, as a result, skilled testing has also become a necessity.

So, of course, I was happy to go to the Per Scholas campus in Bronx, NY to announce the new STeP curriculum that has been developed for their students. An add-on module for a select group of students, STeP provides classroom and hands-on training from some of the most renowned names in today’s software testing. Having my name linked with theirs is an honor I still shake my head about, with a stupid grin on my face.

In short, STeP provides:

  • Pre-training program: where students learn communication skills and basic concepts of software testing
  • Training period: includes a visit to key sponsor, Barclays, (whose training this program is modeled on) and hands-on training from industry experts
  • Post training period: provides the invaluable addition of two or three weeks of internship/training projects, career development and job placement, as well as ongoing mentorship

As I entered the room, my first observation was that this was not the crowd I had imagined. I was greeted by a sea of faces from every racial and ethnic group, covering the whole range of generations. I immediately wondered how much more would I have gotten from college if I had had that kind of diversity in our classes. The range of perspectives and life experiences in that room practically vibrated.

SteP-software-testingIn my 30 years in this industry, I’ve done my share of presentations. I’ve even gotten used to presenting other people’s slides with very little notice. Like most people who present on a regular basis, I’m accustomed to delivering my insights to the tops of people’s heads while they text and email, or to the back of their laptops as they half-listen while getting work done. I think I hadn’t really realized how used to that inattention I’ve become… until I stood in front of 70 Per Scholas students who sat through the whole hour of me blabbing with no laptops or smartphones, no tapping on any keys, just sitting in their chairs and *gasp* looking at me.

Not just looking at me, listening to me… popping their hands in the air to ask questions – smart, insightful questions – and then taking notes as I answered.

They wanted to know everything, from what kinds of activities were involved in software testing to whether you needed to be able to code to how they could study the concepts ahead of time.

The STeP curriculum is one that is near and dear to my heart, ranging from basic coverage of testing methodologies and philosophies to hands-on experience at Barclays. The idea is to give students exposure to an additional career choice, and to prepare them for that first interview as a junior tester. Without the availability of software testing classes in most college programs, testing is often the hidden career that most people end up stumbling into without any prior visibility. With the complexity of today’s software requirements, we need testers who have some background in the discipline before they walk in the door. Per Scholas’s mission is to prepare their students for real employment so it’s more than just teaching the basic skills – it’s making sure they can compete in that initial interview.

And these students want those interviews. And those jobs.

By the time we finished the discussion, I could see in some of their eyes the same appreciation for software testing and its criticality in today’s software-focused world that I feel. Their enthusiasm was more than I expected or could ask for. Before they left the room and went back to class, many of them came up to shake my hand and ask if they could email me – again, I was struck by their poise and confidence - oh, and the eagerness. I was still in the taxi on the way to the airport when I got the first batch of LinkedIn requests and emails – pretty impressive. I’ve traveled across the world for business meetings that were less engaged and engaging than this afternoon with a group of students in the Bronx.

STeP-testingAnd not only were the students fully invested in the conversation, so were the staff. I met with them before and after the student session, and tried my best to answer their questions about what employers look for and how they can best prepare their students for success. Of course, we talked about women in tech and how to best inspire women to join the IT industry. As I watched them thinking and talking through various approaches, I couldn’t help thinking that these people were weaving a little bit of magic here in their corner of the Bronx... changing people’s lives every day in ways that will ripple through multiple generations and families. I was honored and humbled to be allowed in for a day, where maybe a word or a sentence that came from me will be woven into that magic as well.

As I watched NYC fade behind me on the ramp toward the airport terminal, I read the earnest and courageous emails I’d already received from staff and students and I thought…. I would hire all those people.

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