The TestBash 3 Story
This week's TestBash 3 in Brighton was my first conference of 2014, and its eclectic collection of speakers and delegates (not to mention its flawless organisation) is going to be hard to beat before the year is out.
I went to TestBash 2.0 last year as a freebie, having completed the Rapid Software Testing course in the days leading up to it. I was unprepared, expecting just to passively absorb a succession of presentations, and as such I missed out on some great networking opportunities. This year, I planned to be much more proactive.
The festivities began on the night before TestBash, when the Pre-TestBash Meetup was held in 10 Below @ Smugglers. I was expecting a relatively sedate affair with some polite conversation, but got a lot more than I bargained for! The place was absolutely packed, with lots of inter-mingling and a succession of free bar tabs (thanks to QASymphony, NewVoiceMedia, and whoever topped-up the third time; I'd over-indulged by that point...). It was more than just an excuse to drink though, with plenty of colourful discussion at an increasingly loud volume! I chickened-out at about 10.30pm, as I had an early start next morning (more about that below), but I could've talked all night.
There was an early start on Friday morning for the hardy handful of us who embarked on the Pre-TestBash Run. I'd be lying if I said that the free t-shirt wasn't the main draw for me, and I was hideously out-of-practice (particularly having spent much of late February off work with a bronchial infection) but it was a better experience than I expected - it was dry, a reasonable temperature, and I managed to keep pace with the main group for 1.2km. At that point I stopped for breath, decided I'd drop back to the next group behind... only to find there wasn't one! Still, a burst of fresh air did me good, although my calves would disagree with me before the day was out.
The run (and subsequent shower/breakfast) meant that I wasn't ready in time for TestBash Lean Coffee, my one regret from the entire event. As with all of the other activities, it had tremendously grown in comparison to previous years, with about eight separate groups running their own sessions. One of my colleagues participated and found it incredibly valuable, as it's hard to get such open discussion within an ordinary conference format; there's a local monthly Lean Coffee near where I work in Cambridge, and I'm going to make a real effort to attend them from now on.
As for TestBash itself? Well, you know the format - 30-minute speaker slots with time for questions at the end of each presentation. The slides/videos will no doubt be online soon, so I'll direct you to a few of my personal highlights:
- Several talks were focused around particular issues that we're trying to address in our office right now! Chris George from RedGate (dealing with legacy tests running within a SQL framework), Scott Barber (rapid performance testing throughout the application lifecyle) and Joep Schurkes (finding better ways to induct new testers into the team) have all provided me with a wealth of useful information that I can begin using straight away.
- Not all of the speakers were embedded deep within a testing team, and these presenters provided vaulable external views of the role of testing. Jez Nicholson spoke about how testers can win friends by understanding and addressing the needs of other business areas; Keith Klain provided an insightful and frank view of how C-level executives view the role of testing in their organisation.
- Vernon Richards (@TesterFromLeic) managed an incredible 99-second talk, listing a variety of well-observed and often humorous "testing myths and legends", somehow getting through 30 of them before the klaxon.
- The food/format of the lunch break was brilliant, much better than last year. (I managed to miss last year's buffet altogether, as I'd nipped-out to check-in to my hotel, and it was gone when I returned!) This time around there was an all-vegetarian meal consisting of curries, rices, breads and poppadoms; the chickpea curry was particularly splendid.
- In fact, the organisation as a whole was worthy of applause. The increased size of the congress could've made for a logistical nightmare, but Rosie, the rest of the STC team and the staff at Brighton Dome ran an amazingly tight ship. Break areas were the right size and well-stocked with refreshments; sessions ran on-time; the wi-fi didn't get overloaded; I can't think of anything that didn't run exactly how I'd hoped.
- ...OK, because I'm a tester, I'm allowed to employ critical thinking to help improve the experience as a whole :) I would've picked an earlier start for the run / later start for Lean Coffee, so that eager beavers were able to do both; and Nathan's tweet below sums-up the only real criticism that my colleagues and I could draw:
When #TestBash was started, one aim was to "bring the testing community closer together". These auditorium seats have accomplished that! :-)— Nathan Weller (@TesterNathan) March 28, 2014
Along with the above highlights, I noticed some interesting themes/trends occurring throughout TestBash. Draw from these what you will:
- As mentioned several times above, attendances were on the up, in every event that I participated. There's clearly growing demand for quality, relevant test discussion in the UK, and this gives me great optimism for the future of the industry.
- A number of speakers (Huib, Bill, Stephen) all took time during their presentations to "confess" their ISEB/ISTQB credentials. As I tweeted at the time, I felt that (despite the growing stigmatism of worthless paper certifications) this was unnecessary; the traditional certification route is common for new testers, and if you're making apologies then you've already realised that there are better options out there. Much worse are those who boast about these credentials, such as in this ad which I saw on my way to TestBash:
Quote clipped from recent BCS ad. Can we please stop equating "passed a theory exam" with "is a skilled tester"? pic.twitter.com/2R8JbO9d0q— Neil Studd (@neilstudd) March 27, 2014
- Speaking of which, it's interesting to see that the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) course was frequently being mentioned in the same breath as Rapid Software Testing. The practical, essay-based BBST courses are a much better indication of tester quality than multiple-choice exams, and the familiar names on the list of alumni speaks volumes for its quality. I'll be taking BBST Foundations later in the year, and I'll be encouraging colleagues to join me.
- I have a confession to make - like a lot of attendees, I was also on the lookout for testers to recruit. Although we were fairly coy about it (unlike "Red Gate - They're hiring!", as they were continually referenced throughout the event), there definitely seemed to be more recruiters than recruitees. ("You're looking for fresh blood? So are we!" was a recurring conversation that I had.)
I'm also recruiting for testers! It seems a lot of others are too :) #testbash— Rob Lambert (@Rob_Lambert) March 28, 2014
- On a continuing but more positive note, although I met many testers who'd be a good fit for our team, they were also almost exclusively happy in their current roles. Maybe we have a tremendously happy industry (which is what this recent Forbes article claims); maybe there's some correlation that good testers (that we want to recruit) are happy testers. It seems to be a good sign that we weren't encountering barrowfuls of unhappy drones, but such people are less likely to be drawn to conferences in the first place.
- By the end of TestBash, I'd become quite polished at giving our company's "elevator pitch"; that is, how to sum up an incredibly complex product portfolio in 15-20 seconds without scaring-off whoever you're talking to. Similarly, I find that I'm now better at summing-up exactly what it is that I do on a day-to-day basis.
- It's clear that the "Testers as coders" debate is ongoing, no matter what we might hope/think (Paul Gerrard's recent MoT article sums up the current state-of-play nicely). Many of the Lean Coffee groups talked about this in some form, and when talking to delegates throughout TestBash, the next question after "who are you?" / "what do you do?" was almost always "what does your automation look like?".
- There were a surprising number of attendees who'd come from over the Atlantic, many of them on their own dollar, which says a lot for their own ambition as well as the quality of TestBash. I don't think it's any coincidence that these were some of the most rational thinkers that we encountered; many of these fell into the "we'd hire them if there wasn't an ocean separating us" category.
- It was also brilliant to see new talent emerging, particularly in the pressure situation of the 99-second talks. Nothing summed this up more than intern Emma Keaveny (@EmJayKay80), whose final speech of the conference saw her enthusiastically declaring that she was in the presence of "fecking testing royalty". Sometimes we can take our community for granted, and lose sight of what we've built. The raptuorus applause after Emma's speech was a timely reminder of the strength that we have when we work together.
And, if you'll indulge me for a moment, a few personal wins:
- I'm relatively new to Twitter, having signed up when (during the Rapid Testing Intensive Online course) James Bach asked why nobody had heard of me. TestBash gave me a great opportunity to expand my Twitter connections, both by talking and tweeting during the event.
- The Twitter #testbash stream was quite active throughout the day, and proved very useful for supplying/accessing resources which were being name-dropped by speakers (links to books, presentations, papers etc). Twitter can be a bit noisy at times, particularly on popular hashtags, but the #testbash crowd were responsible and constructive.
- I was also introduced to TweetDeck (yes, I'm that new to Twitter), which solves many of my gripes with the default Twitter client (being able to follow multiple streams of conversation, in real-time, is absolutely splendid).
- It was great to talk face-to-face with community members, people with whom I'd previously only conversed online. I'm hoping that I've created the foundations for some truly long-lasting professional connections and friendships.
- I had my first mention on stage! Richard Bradshaw (@FriendlyTester)'s 99-second talk about "rock & roll testing" being inspired by my introduction on the BBC quiz show Pointless. Sure, it doesn't exactly elevate me into the upper echelons of academia, but it's nice that people know that I exist.
I hope this has been useful for those who weren't able to attend. 2015 is not that far away, and my hope is that in thinking "I wish I'd been there", you'll resolve to come along next year. If this hasn't swayed you, then maybe the spinning cat (which hypnotised us during Mark Tomlinson's presentation) will do the trick.