Late last year I was looking for courses on software testing that I could fit around my work and family commitments that wouldn’t break the bank.
How I got onto the course
I did a bit of research and the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) Foundations course caught my attention. As I looked into the course on the Association for Software Testing (AST) website I discovered that they run a scholarship program where successful applicants would have their AST membership fees and BBST Foundations course fees waived.
I applied and was lucky enough to be awarded one of 5 available scholarships for the year!
In return for getting free membership, and all course fees waived I was asked to write an experience report on the course. However, there were no requirements or constraints put on me to write an “approved” article – my findings are from my own experience and my own point of view. Phew, that’s the disclaimer out of the way.
Black Box Testing
At this point you might be wondering “what is Black Box Testing?” – Wikipedia’s definition is “Black-box testing is a method of software testing that examines the functionality of an application without peering into its internal structures or workings.”
All good software testers should have a solid foundation in black box testing – it’s one of the key tools in validating tests, and is a useful way to get an idea of how an app should work in the eye of the user.
The BBST Foundations course was genuinely one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever been a part of.
I’ve found plenty of free/discounted online courses through various channels, but this was the only course I’ve come across that was created by well respected subject matter experts and delivered under a Creative Commons License – meaning you can access the material for free and are welcome to use it in training others.
The slides, lectures and readings are all available for download here, but in order to get a certificate in the course you need to complete it through an authorised provider such as the AST.
So, if the course materials are available online, why would anyone pay to do the course?
I tried both – while I was waiting for the course to start I watched the lectures and went through some of the readings.
At first glance I wasn’t sure what to make of the materials. The lectures for this version of the course were recorded back in 2010 on what looks like a home video camera, and some of the readings date back to the 70s. However, shortly after the videos started I could appreciate the underlying lessons were still very relevant and applicable to testing today and I was hooked.
I tried to take in as much as I could via self directed study, but found that the assignments, quizzes, activities and feedback provided by the instructors made a huge difference in my understanding of the course content. It was really quite cool how they wrapped context around the lessons, and in particular one of the group assignments felt like we were working in a distributed testing team.
The workload was reasonably full-on fitting around work and family over the 4 weeks of the course, and I’ll admit that I didn’t get through all of the readings but the course never felt unachievable.
The Good Bits
I loved the way that the course forced you to think about the questions, and how this would apply to real-life situations in testing.
Some of the wording for the questions was diabolical – half of the exercise was determining what the question was really asking for, but this is exactly what we come up against with user stories/test cases/user requirements.
The collaboration throughout the course. You are required to read and evaluate each others answers – this was a great way to get different perspectives and angles that I hadn’t otherwise considered.
Most of the lessons taught are instantly applicable in day-to-day testing.
The Good Bits part two – The Instructors
The lecturers are all graduates of the BBST course(s) that they teach. They’re scattered all across the globe and are generally very experienced testers first, and instructors second.
I found all 3 instructors involved in the course to be really helpful, available (within the constraints of time zones), and knowledgeable.
Their passion for their craft was obvious to see, and they were great in offering honest answers and feedback.
At one point one of the lecturers put aside an hour to talk one-on-one via Google Hangouts about my assignment, which provided some really insightful feedback which helped me change the way I look at questions/requirements in general.
Through the course I learned that I had a tendency to answer using “shotgun answers” in that I’d answer with the most correct idea first and then play it safe by adding a whole lot of other fluff that tried to cover any other options – this will result in dropped marks as they want strong specific answers to questions. This genuinely changed the way I think about answering questions and was a massive win for me.
The not-so-good bits
The only real sticking point I had was dealing with Moodle – the course management system.
This may be down to my inexperience with course management systems (I’ve played with Blackboard back in the mid-late 2000’s), but sometimes found it difficult to find what I was looking for. One of the groups almost missed an assignment altogether because they couldn’t find the link to submit their results in a wiki.
One of the major assessments is a group assignment, I found Moodle wasn’t very user friendly for collaborative work with my team mates so I made a private slack channel and invited them – this made communication about a thousand times easier. The only issue I discovered is that we are partially assessed on our activity on Moodle, so I had to copy and paste the lot across.
At the end of the course the instructors lock down the site to avoid students from reading material during the exam period, but Moodle sends email notifications about changes to other students sections – if you accidentally click into these emails, or the links to other student sections then it can be considered cheating and results in a fail – I was terrified when I scrolled using a touchscreen!
However this is no fault of the AST or the BBST course, I’ve heard other applications of Moodle have been pretty yuck too.
Also if you shift your perspective on it, dealing with Moodle is a testing lesson in itself – be careful to know which parts you should/shouldn’t be accessing aka read the requirements.
With Moodle being lacklustre, the instructors really came through with their announcements and messages – if it weren’t for them I’m sure I would have failed the course by missing content.
Some of the other students from New Zealand found the time difference clashes with instructors based in Europe and North America was difficult, I found my instructor on the AST Slack channel and didn’t have any issues.
In Summary, and moving forward
I can absolutely recommend people to enrol in the BBST Foundations Course, and feel that it would be an incredibly valuable tool for personal development or in a software testing company’s training setup.
If you’re unsure, you can access the materials for free and decide whether the content works for you, but I found it was much more valuable when I was learning with others and had a bit of guidance/focus. If cost is a barrier, try your luck with a scholarship – worked for me!
From here I’d like to pursue the Instructors course (which is free to enrol in through the AST) so I can get involved in future AST BBST Foundations courses and build on coaching skills, then eventually take the Bug Advocacy and Test Design courses.
If you have any questions about my experiences in the course please feel free to contact me.