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Learn how to use software test management tools

Learning about software testing tools can be difficult for the beginner. However, expert Mike Kelly has tips and advice on how to familiarize yourself with test management tools.

I am new learner in software testing. I am learning TestDirector 8.0. Can you tell me how to learn that? I am also applying for jobs. Is there any online free book with good examples so I can understand TestDirector?

Welcome to software testing! While your question is specific to TestDirector, my answer will apply to any test management tool. I'll provide some examples from TestDirector, but in general any similar tool will have similar resources.

Since you're new to software testing I would encourage you to put learning about tools on hold for a bit and instead focus on what the tools are suppose to help with -- testing. Over my career I've used several different enterprise test management tools and I even wrote one for a client a couple of years ago. I've always found them to be relatively easy to learn. What's difficult to learn is software testing. As a hiring manager, I'm much more interested that you know what goes into the tool. It's easier to train people in how to use tools once they already know how to test.

Since you're new, I recommend checking out Cem Kaner and James Bach's Black Box Software Testing course, which has tons of content (papers, video, links, etc…) all available for free at TestingEduction.org. If all those videos are too intimidating, pick up any of the How to Break Software books. They offer basic techniques you can use right away. Once you get the fundamentals of testing internalized, start to get a feel for what kind of problems test management tools are trying to solve. A good place to start with this is the book Lessons Learned in Software Testing by Cem Kaner, James Bach and Bret Pettichord. (View a sample chapter -- Chapter 3, Testing Techniques.)

Now, on to TestDirector...

Here's where I would recommend starting when learning a test management tool:

  1. Read the documentation
  2. Play with the software
  3. Talk to others who use it
  4. If all else fails, take a class

Read the documentation
A quick Google search of "TestDirector user documentation" turned up two or three free PDFs for various versions of TestDirector. That' a place to start, but not very consistent and it takes a while to dig through it all. Instead, I recommend downloading the user documentation from the company' Web site. Most vendors offer PDFs of their documents online.

At the time I wrote this, I found the documentation for Mercury TestDirector for Quality Center included in the online help for the Starter Edition download available in the Mercury Download Center. You can also find several white papers in the Quality Center Resource Library. Most vendor documentation is dry and can be poorly written, but if you want the most accurate information and the hard to find details, there's no way around it. You have to read the manual.

Play with the software
If you can't stomach reading for weeks on end, there's nothing like using the software to speed up the learning process. Again most vendors provide limited trails you can download. I recommend you download the tool, install it and get a test project set up.

Once you have a project set up, simulate a day-in-the-life of a test management tool. Figure out how to create tests using the tool. Figure out how to import a test written in Word or Excel. Execute some tests recording various test results. Check out the canned reports and figure out how to run a couple of custom test reports. If you have some other tools available (like automation tools or defect tracking tools) be sure you look into tool integration.

Talk to others who use it
Many enterprise test management tools have user groups active around the world. I find those to be great places to learn from others by asking questions, seeing what others have done, and exchanging real experiences using the tool in projects. At the time of this writing, TestDirector user groups could be found on the Vivit Web site. And don't worry, if your city doesn't have a group, there's a page that explains how you can start one.

Another place to learn from others is at workshops and at conferences. For the community-minded, a lot of learning can happen at these venues. A very large software testing community hosts and encourages participation in focused workshops on software testing. Take some time to attend one of these events. Instead of learning on your own, conferences and workshops give you an alternative where you can mix one-way communication (presentations) with two-way communication (questions, dialog, and debate).

Software testing tools resources:
Tools for testing Web sites

Tools, methods to test software more efficiently

How to evaluate testing software and tools

How to Break Web Software: Functional and Security Testing of Web Applications and Web Services -- State-Based Attacks

If all else fails, take a class
Finally, if all else fails, take a class. Mercury has a training machine dedicated to providing education services to their clients. And if they don't, there are third party companies who do. You can find a lot of resources on Mercury's Educational Services Web site. You'll find everything from onsite classes and training centers to online classes.

Mercury isn't alone in offering an overabundance of training options. Most tool vendors do the same. There's big money in it. Just don't get your hopes up. While classes can be helpful for the truly new, I've never heard someone come back from tool training and say that the training completely changed their productivity. Most of the time, they are lucky if they pick up one or two tips and tricks. But that's not to say you can't learn from a class. Like most things, I imagine you get out of it what you put in.

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