Nordic Testing Days 2015: Meeting the Agents of Change
I've just returned from Nordic Testing Days 2015 in Tallinn, Estonia. Having finally seen the sun set for the first time in three days, and after catching up on some much-needed sleep, it's time to begin reflecting on what I've learned.
The conference theme was "Agents of Change". To quote from the Call For Papers: An agent is someone who acts, someone who "does something about it", someone who applies himself/herself, someone who makes things happen. We hope you feel kinship with this concept. We certainly do. So agents who make something happen are likely to change something, drive things, lead someone, actively influence others.
This theme naturally mean that many of the talks were deeply personal stories about overcoming difficult situations. There were some technical-focused tutorials and workshops, but it was these story-focused sessions which I found most memorable, and where I've already begun considering their experiences in-line with my own. Among the best sessions that I saw were:
- Ilari Henrik Aegerter - Breathing the Breath of the Monster: Combining Agile and Context-Driven
- Adam Howard - Agents of Testing: Earning your Empowerment
- Dan Billing - The Testing of Fear
- Erik Brickarp - Going Exploratory
- Katrina Clokie - Sharing Testing with Non-Testers in an Agile Team
I also know that Stephen Janaway's session was well-received; I didn't see the NTD version of it, as I'd already seen his TestBash version. Stephen also deserves a special mention for a heroic amount of live blogging, sketching and mind-mapping during the course of the conference - you can see Stephen's NTD blog posts on his website.
The keynote presentations had a broader, loftier (literally in the case of Mart Nooma's keynote on the ESTCube space project!) focus. It's always rewarding to hear from Rob Sabourin and Rob Lambert, who ran excellent sessions on remaining goals-focused and people-focused, in engaging presentations with self-deprecating tales. Truly a pleasure to be in their presence.
My session about Weekend Testing Europe
This was always going to be a particularly special conference for me, as it was my first time presenting a track session at a conference. Earlier this year I ran a Bug Advocacy workshop at TestBash, but with a workshop you can always defer to the attendees if you need a break; this was a 40-minute presentation, all eyes on me, with nowhere to run or hide. This was a seriously daunting prospect for me!
When the "Agents of Change" theme was announced, it seemed to be an absolutely perfect match for the Weekend Testing Europe story, and this had the added benefit of being a subject that I could talk about without too much pressure - I was, after all, simply telling the tale of my own thoughts and experiences. There wasn't the need to memorise much in the way of quotes, excerpts or scientific theory (though the presentation does dabble in Impostor Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect).
The slides went through two very distinct drafts. The first slide deck suffered from my classic problem of information overload - like this, for example:
Information overload in my first draft! All of the nested bullets were removed in the final version, and I successfully remembered to mention all of them during the presentation.
I'm indebted to my co-facilitator Amy Phillips for reviewing these slides, spotting problems like this, and pointing me to an excellent lecture from Damian Conway on the subject of "Instantly Better Presentations":
I had a great deal of anxiety in the lead-up to giving my talk, though this largely subsided once I reached Tallinn and was welcomed warmly by so many familiar faces. That said, several people commented that I seemed a bit quiet and distant on the morning of my talk - keeping my cool was certainly taking its toll!
My concerns largely subsided once I took the stage. It helped that I had many familiar faces there to support me, and although I still sometimes fell back into old habits - I have a habit of talking at a breakneck pace when I get too nervous, which I did once or twice - I'm really pleased with how it went. It was far from the feared disaster which had given me some sleepless nights!
I was also delighted with the flurry of feedback (both personal and Weekend Testing related) that I received after the session finished. I felt humbled to spend some time talking with Katrina Clokie, one of my heroes of testing, as we compared notes on planning and prepping workshop activities. She was also one of several people to offer valuable leads for future Weekend Testing activities, which included several attendees who were wondering if we could test their in-progress products in an upcoming session!
My slides will be available shortly on the Nordic Testing Days website; they'll also be published as part of the upcoming Weekend Testing Europe eBook which I've previously mentioned.
At the very end of the first day (9pm in fact), there was a Lightning Talks session. I'd been thinking about getting up to say something, but was slightly scared when I realised that the slots were 5 minutes plus Q&A, rather than the "99 seconds and no questions" version that TestBash has become famous for. Could I really give a coherent, impromptu talk for a full five minutes, whilst also standing up to questioning at the end of it?
As it turned out, I actually received inspiration for this during the questions at the end of my Weekend Testing presentation, when I heard the recurrence of a phrase which has been circulating a lot lately - that of the "9-to-5 tester" (somebody who does their job in the workplace, but doesn't appear interested in furthering their career outside the office).
I've written a separate post on the content of my Lightning Talk; you can view it here.
I scribbled a few notes in advance, in order to give some semblance of structure to my thoughts, but for the most part I ad-libbed the entire talk. To my huge surprise, I felt much more at-ease giving this talk than with my earlier Weekend Testing presentation. Maybe it's because I'd been mulling-over the topic in my head for months, without trying to commit to some word-perfect expression of it. Freed from the shackles of trying to synchronise with a bunch of slides, I found it much easier to stay calm and speak at an appropriate pace.
My talk was warmly received in the room, with some impassioned questioning from the local audience. Thanks to Richard Bradshaw's live streaming on Periscope, there were also about 30 live viewers on the internet, and it appeared to strike some chords with them too:
@FriendlyTester Who is this guy? (9-5 testers talk)— Benjamin Yaroch (@dynamoben) June 4, 2015
@neilstudd I was able to catch it live through Periscope. You looked really comfortable up there.— Hannes Lindblom (@HannesLindblom) June 4, 2015
OK, so I was still itching for the questions to finish at the end so that I could step out of the spotlight, but I'm really pleased that I braved this second talk within 6 hours of the first - it allowed me to immediately try to address some of the minor concerns that I'd felt after my first talk, rather than worrying about them before my next talk (which is at #NottsTest on July 1st).
And everything else!
I've barely scratched the surface of what happened within these three days. I can't go any further without giving a massive thank-you to everybody involved in the organisation of the conference. I received a great deal of assistance from Harles Paesüld, Kaspar Loog, Arvi Lepp, Guna Petrova and Grete Napits, and hope that we can cross paths again soon. I also owe a massive debt of gratitude (both personally and professionally) to Helena Jeret-Mäe for her support in getting me to Estonia in the first place - Helena, you should be rightly proud of what you've achieved with this year's event.
As with most conferences, the real value can often be found in the hallways and lounges out-of-hours. Guna did a marvellous job of organising a Games Room in the evenings, where some late-night games of Cards Against Humanity brought us all together in the best (or worst) possible way. This was an interesting way to introduce myself to a few new faces, including Sami Söderblom, Kristjan Uba, Ben Kelly and Pekka Marjamäki.
I was especially pleased to finally meet Santhosh Tuppad, one of the early pioneers of Weekend Testing, and currently achieving great things as CEO of Test Insane. His story, his passion and his character are truly inspiring.
It was also great to catch up with some familiar faces, including Morten Hougaard, Kristoffer Nordström, Bill Matthews, Richard Bradshaw, Bolette Teglbjaerg, Carsten Feilberg and Derk-Jan de Grood. Although our encounters were often brief, they were also in-depth and valuable - there were lots of discussions about motivation, emotion and psychology, moreso than at any event that I've intended before. There were laughs to be had too, but I was struck by just how open, honest and supportive our community can be.
Before I knew it, my Nordic adventure was over - a combination of lack of foresight and some poor flight scheduling meant that I had to leave before the final keynote, having had precious little time to explore the sights of Tallinn. I'll be sure to allow myself more time to take in the atmosphere next time; this is a conference, and a city, which is definitely worth your time, money and energy.