Improving your craftsmanship through conferences

In an upcoming TechBeacon article I recently wrapped up, I’m talking about how to create a team of test automation crafts(wo-)men. One of the tips I give is, as a manager looking to build such a team, to let your craftsmen attend conferences regularly. For me, attending conferences is one of the most important and influential ways to extend my craftsmanship.

As a delegate
As a conference delegate (visitor), there are several ways to benefit from the experience:

  • Get inspired by the talks and workshops. A good conference provides a mix of keynote talks from established craftsmen, as well as talks and experience reports from less experienced speakers. These are a good way to get some fresh views on your field of work or, in some cases, on life in general. What I also like in a conference is the offering of hands-on workshops. These are a good way of getting to know or of diving deeper into a tool that might just make your life a lot easier.
  • Interact with fellow craftsmen. Conferences are an excellent opportunity to get to know people in similar roles from other organizations, or even from another country. As with life in general: you never know who you’re going to meet, or what comes out of a seemingly random encounter at a conference. I’ve met people at conferences years ago that I’m still in touch with today. And since the conference attendee list often includes representatives from other organizations, you might even land your next job after an informal first encounter at a conference!
  • See what is available on the tools market. Larger conferences often include a sponsor exhibit, where tool vendors show the latest versions of their offerings. If you’re looking for a solution for a problem you have, most of these vendors are happy to talk to you and give you a demo of what they can do for you.

As a speaker
One step up from being a conference attendee is to start presenting at a conference (or two, or ten) yourself. Even if it might be a bit daunting at first, there’s much to gain from even a single public speaking performance.

  • Building your personal brand. Everybody has a personal brand. I didn’t realize this until fairly recently, but it is a fact. Delivering talks is a great way to show people what you know, what you stand for and what your ideas on your craft are, and in that way build your brand. And when people are looking for someone to work with or for them, a well-crafted personal branding will get you to the top of their wish list.
  • Make sure you understand what you’re doing. An often underrated aspect of presenting is that you have to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. As wise men have said before ‘you don’t truly understand a subject until you’re able to explain it to your mother’ (or something to that extent). Being able to give a clear, comprehensive and nicely flowing talk on a subject is probably the best proof that you truly know what it is you’re doing.

What I’ve been up to recently
After a fairly slow winter (at least in terms of conferences and presentations), the pace is slowly starting to pick up again. Last week, I delivered my new talk on trust in test automation for the first time, to a crowd of just over a hundred people at TestNet, the Dutch organization for professional testers. For a first time, I think it went pretty well, and I’m looking forward to delivering this talk more often in the months to come. I’ve submitted the same talk to a number of other conferences, and I’m very much looking forward to the response from the respective organizing committees.

It’s also less than two months until my workshop on REST Assured and WireMock at the Romanian Testing Conference. Another event that I’m very much looking forward to! It’ll be my second time speaking abroad (and the first time hosting a workshop abroad), and I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic experience after all the good things I heard from last year’s event. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that the workshop is already sold out, so it’ll be a full house for me.

Finally, next to my blogging efforts on this site, I’ve been steadily publishing articles for TechBeacon (see my contributor profile here) and I’ve also recently published my second article on StickyMinds (see my user profile here). If you happen to have a few spare minutes and feel like reading my articles, I’d love to hear what you think of them!

Review: Automation Guild 2017

About half a year ago, in July of 2016 to be exact, I was invited by Joe from the well-known TestTalks podcast to contribute to a new initiative he had come up with: the Automation Guild conference. Joe was looking to organize an online conference fully dedicated to test automation, and he asked me if I wanted to host a session on testing RESTful APIs with REST Assured. Even though I’d never done anything like this before -or maybe because I’d never done anything like this before- I immediately said yes. Only later realizing what it was, exactly, that I had agreed to do..

Since the conference was online and Joe was looking for the best possible experience for the Automation Guild delegates, he asked each of the speakers to record a video session in advance, including sharing of screens and writing and executing code (where relevant, of course). This being an international conference of course also meant speaking in English, which made it all the more challenging for me personally. I’m fine with speaking in English, but the experience of recording that, listening to it and editing all the ‘ermm..’s and ‘uuuhh’s out was something entirely new, and not exclusively pleasant either! It also took me a lot longer than expected, but in the end, I was fairly happy with the result. And I learned a lot in the process, from English pronunciation to video editing, so it was definitely not all bad!

Enough about that, back to the conference. It was held last week, January 9th to 13th, with around 5 sessions every day plus a couple of keynotes. The actual videos were released beforehand so all attendees could watch them when it best suited their schedule, while on the conference days there were live Q&A sessions with all of the speakers to create a live and interactive atmosphere. Having never participated in anything similar, and even though I caught only a couple of sessions due to other obligations (the time zone difference didn’t help either) I think this worked remarkably well.

My own Q&A session flew by too, with a lot of questions ranging from the fairly straightforward to the pretty complex. These questions did not just cover the contents of my session, but also API testing in general and there were some questions about service virtualization as well, which made it an even more interesting half hour.

I liked this interactive Q&A part of my talk and of the conference as a whole a lot, since getting good questions meant that the stuff I talked about hit home with the listeners. I’ve had conference talks before where the audience was suspiciously quiet afterwards, and that’s neither a good thing nor an agreeable experience, I can tell you. But in this case, there were a lot of questions, and we didn’t even get to all of them during the Q&A. If all goes well, I should receive them later on and get to interact with a couple more listeners in that way. But even so far, I had an amazing time talking to Joe and (indirectly) to the attendees and answering their questions in the best way I could.

As for the other speakers, Joe managed to create a world-class lineup of speakers, and I’m quite proud to have been a part of the speaker list. I never thought I’d be in a conference lineup together with John Sonmez, Alan Richardson, Seb Rose, Matt Wynne and so many other recognized names in the testing and test automation field. So far, I only managed to watch a couple of the other speakers’ sessions, but luckily, all of them are available for a year after the end of the conference, so I’ll definitely watch more of them when time permits in a couple of weeks.

I can only speak for myself, but I think that the inaugural edition of Automation Guild was a big success, given such an incredible lineup and over 750 registered attendees. This is mostly due to the massive amount of effort Joe has put into setting this up. I can’t even begin to imagine how much time it must have cost him. Having said that, I am already looking forward to the second edition next year. If not as a second-time contributor, then surely as an attendee! If you missed or couldn’t make the conference, then mark your agenda for next year, because surely you don’t want to miss it again!

Looking forward to the 2017 conference season

Only a relatively short blog post this week, but it’s something that’s kept me busy for a while..

As we’re slowly moving towards 2017, and as I’m starting to reflect on the shift I’ve been making in how I fill my days and make a living for the last year, I think this is a good time to take a look at the conferences I would like to attend and contribute to in 2017. Delivering talks, or even better, workshops (I’ll get to that at the end of this post), has earned its place as one of the activities that nowadays are part of my work(day/week) on a fairly regular basis. So, what conferences to attend next year?

The ‘definitely’ category
There are a couple of conferences I’ll definitely attend or contribute to, either because they’ve proven their value or simply because I’m already listed to deliver a talk or workshop there:

  • AutomationGuild (January) – I’ll deliver a talk on testing RESTful APIs using REST Assured at the first edition of this online conference completely dedicated to test automation.
  • Romania Testing Conference (May) – I was supposed to deliver a full-day workshop on REST Assured at the first edition of a spin-off conference of RTC, but unfortunately the organization had to postpone the event. They were extremely kind, however, to extend their invitation to the 2017 edition of the original event, which is held in Cluj in May, so I’m Romania bound by then! Very much looking forward to that, as you can imagine, especially after the wonderful experience of my first talk abroad.
  • TestWorksConf (October) – The first two editions have been awesome and I’m already eager to see what the Xebia guys can come up with for the third edition. Maybe I’ll be a contributor again, but if not, I’ll definitely be there as a delegate.
  • Test Automation Day (June) – The other big conference in the Netherlands dedicated to test automation, this has been a ‘must’ for me for the last four or five years, and I’ll highly likely be there again next year. Hopefully as a speaker this time, something that’s still on my to-do list.

The ‘hopefully’ category
There is one European conference outside of The Netherlands that I’d like to attend or contribute to one day. And why shouldn’t that day be in 2017?

  • Software Testing Forum (June) – I must admit that the location of this conference is what first put it on my radar. I love Italy, its culture, its language and not to forget its food and wine, but the event itself has started to get my attention as well over the last couple of years. I’ve recently been in touch with the organizing committee to see if I can apply to deliver a workshop there, so here’s to hoping that turns out positively!

The ‘I wish’ category
Some day, some day, I’d like to attend (or even better, speak at) one of these conferences:

  • StarCanada (October) – I love Canada, plus I’ve always wanted to attend one of the big Star* conferences, even if only once. Travel and lodging aren’t exactly cheap, though, plus it would cost me at least a whole week of not being home, which isn’t exactly ideal with small children, so this will probably not happen for the next couple of years.
  • WeTest (twice a year) – Pretty much the same reason as the previous one: I love New Zealand. Plus from what I’ve read on the web and social media, the organization and quality of this conference is of a pretty high level. Unfortunately, so is the amount of hours I’d have to spend on the plane, so this will probably not happen in 2017 either..

What else?
So, my dear readers, is there a conference I might have forgotten? Some hidden gem you definitely think I should attend or even apply to contribute to? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Oh, and coming back to my preference on hosting workshops over delivering talks: I love to give talks on topics I care about, but from my experience, I love hosting workshops even more. The smaller crowd and longer time frame allows me to make better contact with and pay more attention to the attendees, and to get some interesting discussions going. This to me provides more value than the larger (yet somewhat more fleeting) exposure I get when delivering a talk.. Plus I think participants get more out of a workshop too because of the hands-on learning experience, as opposed to attending a talk and picking up a couple of interesting and thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom. So if you know of an interesting conference that does workshops too, please let me know!