Free (and Almost Free) Training for QA Engineers

Do you have a manual QA team that needs training to become automation QA engineers, but you don’t have the budget? Many of us are facing this same obstacle in a time of scarce talent. If you are a QA manager looking to upgrade your team, or a QA analyst looking to make the career move into automation, here is a guide to free and cheap online classes that can help.

Make Use of (Almost) Free Knowledge!

I am constantly amazed by just how many people in our industry are not aware of all of the valuable resources at their fingertips (literally). Google and YouTube can provide you with instant answers and demonstrations, but if you’d like a deeper understanding of tools and languages, I recommend (sometimes) free, online classes. I first delved into this arena with Lynda.com when I wanted to take some basic refresher classes. I love this site and still have about 2-3 active classes in progress at any given time. I have found that I need multiple teaching methods to get lessons through my thick skull. Sometimes I find myself not quite grasping a concept. I sometimes watch a video over and over, but something might not quite click. In my search to enhance the subject, I stumbled on even more course offerings in many different formats. It turns out there is a whole online course world where you can spend your time chasing your technological fountain of youth. Let’s categorize them into four course types:

  • Subscription-Based - pay a monthly or yearly fee and have unlimited access to all courses
  • One-Time Charge - buy a course or a series of courses
  • Classroom-Based - free online courses based on actual college degrees
  • Free Online - anything from tutorials to videos and free curriculum

Subscription-Based

Lynda was my first love, so I’ll start with subscription-based programs. I’ve used Lynda for everything from GitHub, Java, and Ruby, to something as simple as navigating my new Macbook. Seriously, this site has about everything you’d want to learn. Want to take black and white photos? There is a course for that. Quite often the subscription based models have different tiered packages available. The more you pay, the more that’s available to you, such as the ability to download the materials. Lynda classes are video-based. When you find the class you want to take, you will see the chapters (video lectures) laid out in an outline, and the length of each video. You can see the recommended prerequisites and overall goal of the course. Depending on the course and chapter, you may be given exercises. The course may walk you through the process of downloading an actual application, and any recommended tools to be used. The sequential videos will build upon the previous ones, much like a book, leading to a master project. I’ve discovered that while a class might list the videos as totalling 4 hours to complete, beware: this is just the length of the videos and not the actual time you will spend. You should expect to double or even triple that time as you will be pausing videos to apply your learning. Lynda’s format is both a blessing and a weakness for me. It is self-paced. You can start a video today, and come back a month later and continue. I’m easily distracted and find myself chasing courses down the rabbit hole and enrolling in too many at a time. You must be disciplined! Other subscription-based programs I’ve used and recommend include Code School, Tree House, and Udacity.

One-Time Charge

You don’t have to buy a textbook or a how-to book to learn to do something. There are plenty of affordable online courses for learning. Perhaps you’ve received advertisements from sites like Udemy. While I haven’t actually taken a course from them yet, I was enticed to purchase a block of 29 videos promising to teach me to create 14 websites, covering tools such as PHP and JavaScript. I say ‘enticed’ as there is always another deal waiting. The package normally sells for a couple hundred, which I was able to get for just $10. The courses are laid out much like Lynda but with a big difference: Lynda is self-supporting, while the Udemy courses have an online discussion forum. Just browsing through the threads show it to be a valuable resource.

MOOCs

If you don’t know what a MOOC is, Google it. I work for an educational software company, so when I first heard of MOOCs, I was intrigued. Schools like UVA, Rice, and even MIT contribute FREE classes online. I had to see what this was about, and discovered Coursera. I enrolled in a 12-week, two-part Python class on how to write video games. (How cool is that?) I soon discovered that unlike Lynda, the course required a true commitment. The courses are paced just like a college course (in fact, they are college courses designed for the forum). There were six videos per week, two groups of online practice exercises, two quizzes graded from the automatic grading system, and a weekly program submission. Submissions have deadlines, and points are deducted for assignments turned in late. And In order to receive credit for the submission (on-time or not) the student must first grade five other students’ programs based on rubrics provided. (This explains how there can be tens of thousands enrolled during any session.) The best thing about this format is the online community using the discussion boards, where issues are crowdsourced. It really is a commitment — I spent at least 10 hours per week for this class.

Free! (Seriously Free!)

Last, but definitely not least, are the free websites. And most tools come with free, online tutorials. If you are like me, you need to enhance them and don’t really want to spend more money. So where is the first place you look? YouTube of course! I’ve watched many a session on YouTube, usually recordings of seminars and the like. I’ve discovered full video tracks of actual college classes, such as Berkeley’s CS162 Operating Systems. Another free, but completely different course package is called Code Academy. This offering contains a limited but expanding number of courses such as Ruby and Python. As you work your way through each chapter, you use their code generator to complete exercises, navigating to the next chapter upon successful completion.

The Matrix

This chart provides a representation of the courses I’ve taken. It should be noted that each course may have its own format and that these curriculums are constantly evolving.

Name Cost Format User Community Support Pace
Code Academy Free Mix of examples and languages Wiki Self
Coursera Free Online college courses Discussion board and teaching assistants Time-enforced
Udacity $150/200 month Online videos with quizzes and projects One-on-one coaching, facilitated peer support Time-inspired
Code School $29/month Focused curriculum of video based courses Community forum, wiki Self
Lynda $25/month Series of videos per course None Self
Tree House $25 - $49/month Focused curriculum of video- based courses Community forum, wiki Self
Udemy Per course package Series of videos per course Depends on class: community forum Self

Just Do It!

Listen to Nike! Get yourself and your teams up to speed. The more you explore, the more you will discover. I literally discovered yet another subscription-based program called Linux Academy as I wrapped up this article! Lack of available talent should never deter a team from becoming a tech-savvy unit.

Joe Nolan is the Mobile QA team lead at Blackboard. He has over 10 years experience leading multinationally located QA teams, and is the founder of the DC Software QA and Testing Meetup.

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