The beginning of a new year always brings a wave of excitement and hope for a better year ahead. It's a time filled with the promise of new possibilities. We all get caught up in thinking about the potential that lies ahead and how we can improve in the next twelve months. This period is an ideal time for testers to reflect on their achievements and challenges in the previous year and think about building upon these experiences to further their careers in Quality Assurance.

For many, the start of a new year is the perfect moment to set new goals and ambitions by setting targets for learning, finding time to study, and seeking fresh perspectives from others in testing. It also provides an opportunity to explore emerging trends around testing, look at new tools and frameworks, and connect with the broader testing community that can transform how we approach quality. To grow and succeed in technology and testing, you must embrace the mindset of always being open to learning. Developing this attitude will help sharpen your professional skills and keep you on the cutting edge with QA.

The Importance of Continuous Learning

Testing, like many other areas in tech, is an always-evolving field. Technology moves fast these days, and the skills you gained yesterday can become outdated in the blink of an eye. To level up and excel as a tester, you need to keep up with the latest tools, methodologies, and trends in the field. You also need to develop practical ways to apply these new learnings to your work in testing to make the most out of it and further reinforce the teachings you gather along your journey.

However, sometimes it might feel like continuous learning is like trying to drink from a firehose. The constant changes in the tech world can feel overwhelming. Some changes, like the widespread adoption of AI tools in 2023, marked a disruptive shift in the industry and for testers across the globe. How you work in testing today can change instantly, requiring you to stay current with new developments in the field. Other changes in QA happen gradually like testing tools slowly falling behind new contenders or the increasing demand for automation to complement manual testing.

Despite the rapid evolution of technology, you can still hone your skills effectively by prioritizing what's currently hot in software testing with your personal interests. Focusing on specifics can help you grow, but it's a better use of time to look at the bigger picture. While it's nearly impossible to keep up with everything in software testing, nor is it a good use of time, you can focus on some broad topics that will help you become a better tester in 2024, regardless of the tools, frameworks, or methodologies you decide to learn.

1) Get Plenty of Hands-On Practice

Some of the most common ways to gather material for studying new topics for our careers are by reading blog posts, watching video tutorials, or taking online courses. We have many options to discover and learn about the latest trends we can use in our testing careers. However, consuming this information is only a fraction of the learning process. Having all that we need to learn right at our fingertips at any time is fantastic, but hands-on practice is where you'll truly understand what you study and have it stick for the long run.

One of my previous jobs required a 40-minute commute by train. I filled that time by reading books on new tech, marketing strategies, and similar topics. After weeks of buying dozens of books and going through them quickly, I noticed that a large chunk of what I read would evaporate from my brain in days. Eventually, I discovered that the best way to grasp and remember the new material I consumed was to put it into use as soon as possible. The phrase "use it or lose it" applies when it comes to your education, and nothing beats getting your hands figuratively dirty to make the most of the new material you learn.

An excellent way to apply your newly found knowledge is by using it on a work-related project. For instance, you can begin improving your bug-tracking workflow based on what you learned from an expert in the field or demonstrate how a test automation tool like Telerik Test Studio can help save your organization lots of time and money by handling multiple forms of testing in a single place. If you don't have opportunities to put what you learn into practice at work, you can create personal projects and ask for feedback online or with a trusted colleague. If you put that information in your head to good use in a real-world situation, you'll be on the fast track to increasing your proficiency and expertise.

2) Make Time to Collaborate With Others

If you're like me, you typically study heads-down by yourself. Learning anything new requires deep focus and concentration, and having some alone time is necessary to absorb new information productively. However, going alone for the entire journey makes you miss valuable benefits that can boost your comprehension even more. When you get together with others to think and discuss what you've learned, you can obtain invaluable feedback, discover novel ways to put your new knowledge into practice and gain a deeper understanding of what you're learning. As a bonus, sharing your goals around becoming a better tester will energize and motivate you for the long haul.

Collaboration with others can take shape in many forms. You can meet up with other testers on the same level as you to reinforce your learnings and encourage each other to move forward. You can reach out to those who are one or two steps ahead of you and can guide you further than you would on your own. It also helps to look outside your immediate circle by sharing information with those outside your team. Some of the most profound moments of professional growth can occur after chatting with non-technical team members or even family and friends who aren't in tech. A mix of these methods will yield the most benefit for improving your skills since each will help you in diverse ways.

Just like getting hands-on practice at work is an outstanding way to improve, your workplace is also the ideal spot for collaboration. You're likely already collaborating with your fellow testers daily and have access to developers, product managers, and other team members who can provide different viewpoints to make you a better tester. But don't rely on the office as the only place for collaboration, as that can keep you in a bubble. From local meetups to conferences to online communities, you can find plenty of locations that will help further your skills alongside others with the same purpose.

3) Embrace AI and Leverage It in Your Testing

Not a day seems to go by in the tech world without hearing the term "Artificial Intelligence". AI tools are generating a revolution in the way we work, including how we do our work as software testers. Some testers fear that AI will replace them since they can effortlessly tackle various tasks that we do. Although we're nowhere close to having those tools that can do all of our work, we need to accept that AI is here to stay. But instead of shunning this technology, the better approach is to figure out how to use these tools to complement your existing skills.

In its current state, AI services like ChatGPT and Google Bard work best as complementary tools for your toolbelt. For example, I often use these chatbots to create boilerplate code when building a test automation suite from scratch. It gives me a quick head-start when starting a new project, especially since I often forget how to set up the initial configuration for a testing tool after months since I last did something similar. Outside of automated testing, AI can help you improve documentation, explain new concepts, and generate sample test cases for your projects. These scenarios help me tackle those chores quicker, giving me more time to work on the areas where I excel over AI.

Even if you don't use chatbots for this kind of work, more and more tools now have built-in AI processes, so you don't have to go outside your existing workflows. Some examples include code editors that autocomplete your test code and aid with debugging and visual testing tools that automatically learn to detect differences better when your application changes. Whether you're all in with AI tools or are still cautious about their potential, it's clear that these systems can help us become more efficient with our work and free us to do the high-value work that the robots can't do. Leveraging AI to handle mundane and repetitive work will help you become a better tester by giving you the time to focus on what you do best.

Plan Your Successful Testing Journey for 2024

Becoming a better tester in 2024 isn't only about studying and learning new skills and techniques for your day-to-day work. It's about applying what you learn into practice, making the time to share your journey with others, and making the most out of new technologies to make your work more efficient. Taking this approach towards improvement will help your career growth as a tester with accumulated knowledge and practical expertise. Each piece of the puzzle will propel your skills further than you ever imagined.

While you can't cover everything you'd like to achieve during the year, the key is to focus on consistent effort and dedicating time to important areas where you want to grow as a tester. Also, remember that your commitment to becoming a better tester won't only benefit you—it also benefits your team and your organization. Every small step you take in learning and applying new skills that interest you can significantly change the quality and success of your team's projects. Working on yourself while putting your new expertise to good use is worth aiming for.

May this year bring your most successful testing achievements yet!

This article was originally published on the Telerik blog.