March 28, 2015 · Events

The TestBash 2015 Story

Exactly one year ago, my report on TestBash 3 was my first post on this blog. I can't believe it's only been a year since then, as so much has changed for me! For the first time at a conference, I was not only an attendee, but also a speaker. But more on that shortly...

For the first time, TestBash events were spread over two days, with a day of workshops on Thursday before the main conference on Friday. With a series of other Ministry Of Testing training courses taking place in the surrounding days, it certainly extended the buzz and reinforced MoT's position as one of the hardest-working and altruistic learning organisations in the UK.

Workshop Day

With multi-track worskhops being a new addition to TestBash, I volunteered my time to help with setup and orientation for speakers and attendees alike. By chance, this meant that I found myself in Karen Johnson's workshop, "Building an Itinerary for Exploratory Testing".

At the core of Karen's workshop was a group activity which was structured to offer a wide range of potential learning opportunities, and to give each tester the chance of achieving their own "lightbulb moment" of realisation. Some were encountering user personas for the first time, or (as was the case in our group) discovering that personas are a valuable framing device when considering other potential test ideas. Others were encountering concepts such as heuristics for the first time, and it was a delight to discover just how mind-blowing Elizabeth Hendrickson's ever-invaluable Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet (.pdf) was for those who hadn't seen it before.

My lightbulb moment was regarding team leadership, a role that I've previously been reluctant to serve, although in the past 12 months I've always seemed to be the person who ends up with the pen during a group exercise. In previous writeups, I'd brushed it off as "I don't know why it was me who ended up taking the lead again". However, I think that I now need to accept that it's something that I enjoy doing, and I seem to be relatively adept at the role. I facilitated discussion and debate within the team, whilst keeping the group focused on our goals, objectives and deadlines. I also enacted a plan to split into four pairs near the end of the activity, when it became clear that we wouldn't complete all of our tasks if we progressed as a single group.

After lunch, it was time for me to present Supercharging Your Bug Reports (you can access the slides and resources on that link). Given that my longest previous public speaking engagement was 20 minutes at MEWT, I think it went surprisingly well; if anything, I could've utilised another 45 minutes to avoid rushing through some of the material (I particularly regret skipping a couple of the workshop exercises to focus on my slides). Most people seemed to be really engaged by the session; I encouraged back-and-forth debate and interjections, which people were happy to offer and I think that I handled them well. I'm indebted to Richard Bradshaw for sitting-in and participating, and providing me with some excellent feedback on how I can better tailor my content to the audience.

You'll certainly be hearing more about my bug advocacy beliefs in the months to come. I had such an enjoyable time compiling the slides, and (as quickly became clear) I had far too much material for a two-hour session! I'm going to break it into a series of blog posts in the coming months, and I'd like to pilot running a longer (maybe half-day) version of the workshop, incorporating some of Richard's suggestions. Speaking at TestBash was far more rewarding than I ever expected, and I firmly believe that I'll look back on it at the end of 2015 as another important milestone in my career.

With my workshop completed, I missed the last set of sessions so that I could recuperate and digest what had gone before. Still, there was enough time left in the day to enjoy a delicious speakers' dinner (it still feels a bit weird, being bundled-in with some of the world's best conference presenters) and partake in a couple of sponsored beverages at OhSo Social, on the beach in Brighton. It was a surprisingly mild evening for March, and the sea air was invigorating on what had been a massive day for me.

Lean Coffee

Last year, I took part in the Pre-TestBash Run, which meant that I missed out on Lean Coffee. This year, I decided to put Lean Coffee first, and my running legs were very happy to oblige. With the added bonus of fresh bacon rolls, the session absolutely flew by.

I was privileged to be in a group with a lot of well-known community figures; I reckon our level of TestBash clout must have been pretty high! Stephen Janaway chaired our proceedings (as he does at London Lean Coffee). We were joined by Matt Archer, Emma Keaveny, Ru Cindrea, Chris Hinchcliffe and my friend and ex-colleague (and TestBash sponsor!) Jim Hodgson.

I won't dwell too much on the specific topics that I put forward, as they were rather personal to real-world situations that I'm currently facing. Our group's topics included: trying to encourage introverted "9-to-5" testers to further their testing knowledge, the positives/negatives associated with company-wide bug bashes, how testers can avoid accusations of nit-picking, and how you handle situations in which you're certain that your stakeholders are making the wrong decision!


So, on to the main event. Michael Bolton kicked things off in his own inimitable style, in what was (despite his humble "this was supposed to be funny... sorry" introduction) a first-class decomposition of the possible meaning behind key phrases that we say and hear in our daily testing activities.

TestBash got its first ever double-act, with a slick and entertaining presentation from The Guardian's Sally Goble & Jon Hare-Winton on how the dev/test process differs between the iOS and Android versions of their mobile app. To begin with, I found it incredible that they had separate teams working on the two platforms, but the more that they revealed the fundamental differences between them (presented in a parody of the Mitchell & Webb "Mac vs PC" battle), the more this began to make sense.

There was a recurring theme running through many of the talks: the entertaining and informative experience report, with tips and lessons for how we could handle similar situations. Martin Hynie and Stephen Janaway both presented excellent sessions on how job titles/roles (or an organisation's obsession with them) can mask the value that test teams bring to an organisation. Maaret Pyhäjärvi described how she had learned to overcome similar stigma which traditionally blights the role of testing. Richard Bradshaw presented an excellent breakdown of his progression and realisations regarding the role of automation within testing.

Along with Richard, Vernon Richards also made the leap from being a 99-second talker to being a main stage presenter, and he made swift work of all the tutu kerfuffle that's been floating around on Twitter since the programme was announced! (Wearing a Desmond Tutu hoodie - genius.) His presentation was another which resonated with me, converting his "Testing Myths & Legends" lightning talk into a more fully-fledged guide to how to handle those myths when you encounter them. It paired nicely with Karen Johnson's closing discussion about the art of asking questions (and how to listen effectively for the answers), with both Vernon and Karen giving excellent advice on clear, effective communication.

For those who weren't able to attend, even if you were following along on Twitter, you missed some brilliant presentations! They'll be made available for playback on the Dojo in the future, so it's definitely worth signing-up.

99 Second Talks

As usual, TestBash concluded with their world-renowned "99 Second Talks". These lightning sessions are free for anybody to speak about anything that they want, and for the first time, I stepped onto the TestBash stage!

OK, so I cheated a little. Along with Dan Billing and Amy Phillips, we did three quick-fire 33 Second Talks about Weekend Testing and how it can help testers to continue experiencing some TestBash-style peer learning opportunities in their free time. It wasn't as scary as I expected - perhaps because I'd spoken for 100x longer on the previous day!

And with that, there was just time for a quick wind-down drink and chat before I had to be on my way back home. I'm sure I'll be having many more adventures before we reconvene for TestBash 2016, I can't wait to put some of my new knowledge into practice, and see what I can achieve before we meet again!

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