On the 2018 Romanian Testing Conference

So, last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2018 edition of the Romanian Testing Conference. It was my second visit to Cluj: after having delivered a workshop at the conference last year I was invited to do another workshop for this year’s edition. I told Andrei, one of the organizers, that I would gladly accept if he:

  1. could schedule my workshop for the Thursday (Wednesday and Thursday were pre-conference workshops days, the conference itself was on the Friday), and
  2. would make it at least as good an event -and if possible, better- than last year.

Challenge mutually accepted!

During the time when the CFP was open, I sneakily submitted a proposal for a talk as well, and was quite surprised to see it accepted too. Yay! More work!

I left for Romania on Wednesday and arrived around 7 PM at the hotel Grand Italia, which again was both the place where the speakers had their rooms as well as the venue for the conference itself. I cannot stress how awesome it is to be able to pop in and out of your room before, during and after workshops and talks without having to go to another place. Need a rest? Go to your room. Forgot something? You’ll have retrieved it in minutes. Want to check if there’s anyone up for a chat and/or a drink? Just ride the elevator down.

Again, the organization went to great lengths to make us speakers and workshops hosts as comfortable as they could. Always someone around if you have questions, picking you up from and bringing you back to the airport in dedicated RTC cars (even at stupid o’clock), it is a wonderfully organized event.

Thursday – workshop day
Like last year, I hosted a workshop around API testing and automation. Where I only used REST Assured last year, I decided to give the participants a broader overview of tools by including some exercises with SoapUI, as well as a demo of Parasoft SOAtest, a commercially licensed API testing tool. Also, compared to last year, I threw in more background on the ‘why?’ and the ‘what?’ of API testing.

Me delivering my workshop

I had 30 participants (like all other workshops and the conference itself, it was sold out) and after a bumpy start, including a couple of power outages, we were off. Like with all workshops, it took me a little time to gauge the level of experience in the room and to adjust my pace accordingly, but I think I got it right pretty quickly. With several rounds of instructions > exercise > feedback, time was flying by! Breaks were plenty and before I knew it, the working part of the day was over.

We were invited to a wonderful speakers dinner in the hotel restaurant, which provided plenty of time and opportunity to catch up with those other speakers I met before, as well as to meet those that I hadn’t had the privilege to meet yet. After a day of teaching and all the impressions from dinner, I decided to be sensible and make it an early night. Mission failed, because once in my room it still took me hours to fall asleep. My brain just couldn’t shut off..

Friday – conference day
Friday morning came quickly and that meant conference day time! The programme was strong with this one.. So many good talks on the schedule. Yet, like with many conferences, I spent most of the day in the hallway track, preparing for my talk (I wasn’t on until 4 PM) as well as having a chat with speakers and attendees. For me, that’s often at least as valuable as the talks themselves.

Still, I saw three talks: first Angie Jones’ keynote (I met her a month earlier in Utrecht but had never seen her speak before), then Viktor Slavchev’s talk and finally Maria Kedemo’s keynote. All three were very good talks and I learned a lot from them, both in terms of the message they conveyed as well as their presentation style.

This day flew by too and before I knew it, it was time for my own talk. Now, I’m a decent workshop host (or so I’d like to think…) but I am not an experienced speaker, so doing a talk takes a lot out of me, both in terms of the time it takes to prepare as well as the energy I spend during the talk itself. Still, I was pretty pleased with how I did, and the feedback afterwards reflected that. Maybe I just need to do this more often…

Me during my talk

After the closing talk, which I skipped in favor of going outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and winding down, the conference was already over. To round it all off, we went out for a bite with some of the speakers before we attended the conference closing party. The organization had one final surprise in tow for me there when they gave me an award for the best workshop of the conference. Seeing the list of amazing workshops that they had on offer this year, I certainly did not expect that!

Since my flight back home left at an ungodly hour the next morning, I decided not to make it too long an evening (not everybody followed my example judging from my Twitter timeline the next morning..). Travels home were uneventful (which I consider a good thing) and suddenly, it was all over again.

My thoughts on this wonderful conference, the organization and the volunteers can be summarized by this tweet, I think:

So, did the organization deliver? Well, I did get to do my workshop on the Thursday, and I had an amazing time again, so yes, I’d say mission accomplished.

Who knows, we’ll be seeing each other there next year?

On creating reasonable expectations in test automation – A TestBash Netherlands workshop

Last week, I had the incredible pleasure of co-facilitating (with Ard Kramer) a workshop on creating reasonable expectations in test automation at the second edition of TestBash Netherlands. In this post, I’d like to tell you a little more about how we got there, what the workshop was all about and, of course, how it all went down on the big day.

The build up
The adventure started when I was contacted by Huib Schoots, who has been responsible for organizing the conference, with the question if I’d be interested to host a pre-conference workshop. We discussed several subjects back and forth and, in the end, decided upon a workshop that would help people create better test automation strategies. Since I do have a lot of experience with hands-on test automation workshops where people work on exercises on their machines, but much less so with coming up with and organizing workshops where facilitating group discussions plays a big role, we thought it was a good idea to bring someone on board that has much more experience with this type of sessions. Ard was very high on both of our lists, and luckily, he was up for it as well.

Our combined experience in test automation, testing and facilitating workshops turned out to be a great match. During a number of preparation sessions (for those of you thinking of hosting similar workshops: it sure takes a lot of time to prepare!) we came up with a series of exercises, carried out either individually or in smaller groups, that ultimately would result in people coming up with three or four actionable items that they could take back to their jobs on Monday, answering tangible problems and addressing real issues that they faced in their test automation efforts.

The workshop
As said, the workshop consisted of a number of exercises that would help people identify and address gaps and opportunities in their test automation strategy. It would take way too long to describe the entire workshop, but here’s the gist of it..

We started out by having the attendees come up -individually- with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (indeed, a SWOT analysis) in their current test automation efforts. To help them on their way, we presented them with six aspects of a test automation strategy, with some example questions that you could ask to help identify strengths or pain points. These six categories (or aspects that we think make up a solid test automation strategy) are:

  • Technical
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Means and resources
  • Process and methodology
  • Organization
  • Business value

As you can see, in our opinion there’s a lot more to creating and implementing a successful test automation strategy than throwing tools at problems!

We then had the attendees discuss the challenges that resulted from the SWOT analysis in five different rounds, organized in groups based on the aforementioned categories. Each participant had the opportunity to address a subject in four different categories. For the fifth round, they had to play the role of facilitator on a subject they felt knowledgeable or comfortable about. These discussion rounds made up the larger part of the day.

Cards and forms for the discussion rounds

Finally, we had the attendees pick and pitch their most interesting improvement point and create a 99 second pitch for it, which they presented to their group of 5-6 people. Each group would then pick the best or otherwise most interesting pitch, which would be presented to the entire group, on stage. The intention behind this (and basically, behind the setup of the entire workshop) was to have people discuss with and learn as much from as many other attendees as possible.

The big day
For the day, we had a total of 27(ish, I’m not 100% sure tbh) attendees, which made for perfect group sizes. It’s always exciting to see how a new workshop or training course turns out in practice, you can think of a lot of things that might happen – and we sure did think of a lot of scenarios – but in the end, you never know what’s going to happen on game day!

As the day unfolded, Ard and I were very happy to see that the group went about our exercises with enthusiasm. Of course, there are always things that could have gone better, but all in all, discussions were going strong throughout the day and we didn’t have to correct course much.

Participants hard at work during the workshop

It does help that the general audience of TestBash conferences is made up of people that are willing to open up to, discuss with and learn from their peers. In this, these conferences are of a truly high quality, and we as facilitators learned just as much as the participants.

The part of the day I am probably most proud of is that at the end, we had some great 99 second pitches presented on stage, and at least two of the people presenting their pitches to the workshop participants repeated their talk on conference day, in front of an audience of 150-200. We sort of hoped that this would happen, but you never know how it turns out. It was truly rewarding to see this unfold in the way we intended it to do. The only downside is that I wasn’t there in person as I wasn’t able to make it to the conference day, but I can assure I lived it vicariously through my Twitter feed!

The aftermath
The workshop day flew by, and at the end, we asked the people to do a ‘dot vote’ and give us some honest feedback on what they liked, what they were indifferent about and what we could have done better. As you can see in the picture below, I think we did a decent job overall..

Feedback on our workshop

For me personally, preparing and delivering this workshop has been a great learning experience as well. As I said, the exercises in my training courses are mostly completed individually, on laptops. I’ve learned a lot about this type of workshop from Ard in the process, something that I’m sure will be of great value to me in the future (thanks again, Ard!).

I’m already looking forward to facilitating this workshop many more times in the future!

On TestBash Manchester

I’m writing this blog post sitting in the Manchester airport departure area, waiting for my flight home to Amsterdam. I’m tired, but in the best possible way. Yesterday, I’ve delivered a talk of one of the best conferences I’ve been part of so far: TestBash Manchester.

The story begins about three quarters of a year ago with me deciding (on a whim, to be honest) to submit a talk on trusting your automation and how automation can deceive you to the Continuous Call for Papers that the Ministry of Testing has for their TestBash events. I chose Manchester and Philadelphia as the target events for my talk, because those were the places I’d most wanted to go to. Some time later an email arrived bearing the message that my talk was accepted for Manchester. Needless to say, I was very happy with that! I’m by no means an expert speaker (yet?) but I do think I’ve got something to say, plus I like to travel (within reason), so this was an excellent opportunity to combine practicing my public speaking skills and revisit a country that I somehow had managed to avoid for the last 12 years, even though it’s only an hour’s flight away.

Fast forward to October 26th (skipping a lot of tinkering with my slides in between) and I find myself in Manchester. Spent most of the Thursday morning travelling from home to the airport, flying and on the tram to my hotel. There I introduced myself to the brilliant concept of Ziferblat where I spent a couple of hours working on some other stuff (living the glamorous life right there!) before heading into town for some R&R catching a film.

Since the conference was already well on its way with a Rapid Software Testing course and a day of workshops (in which I did not take part this time), MoT organized a pre-conference meetup on Thursday evening. That was a great opportunity to finally put faces to a lot of the names I’ve been seeing flying around on Slack and social media in the weeks leading up to the event. It was also great meeting a couple of people again that I’ve met at other conferences before (Rick, Beren, Ash, Marianne, Richard and I might have forgotten one or two). Funny, by the way, how you only meet some fellow Dutchies at conferences abroad, yet never get to meet and talk to them in your own country..

After dinner, some good chats and a couple of drinks it was time to head back to my hotel and get some sleep before the big day. This turned out to be a harder challenge than I thought, the travel efforts, nerves and just enough drinks ensured I had quite a restless night and found myself wide awake at 5 AM. Made the most (yeah right) of it by tinkering with my slides some more before having breakfast and finding my way to The Lowry, which served as the conference venue. There I met some more great people, including the Master Of Disaster Ceremony, Leigh Rathbone. He’s a character, alright! In all seriousness, though, he did an awesome job introducing all of the speakers and keeping energy high throughout the day, something that is not an easy task. Well done, Leigh!

After what can only be described as a series of amazing talks by Anne-Marie Charrett, Göran Kero (thank you for introducing me to ‘automation bias’ and providing a label for a good part of the content of my talk) and Gem Hill it was time for my own talk. Despite being quite nervous -which I tend to see as a good thing, if I’m not nervous it’s a sign I don’t care- it went over really well, and to my relief there were plenty of questions during the Q&A section. I’ve delivered talks before where there were no questions at all afterwards, and believe me, that’s not a nice position to be in as a speaker.

Me during my talk

Me during my talk. Photo courtesy of Cassandra Leung

The rest of the day was filled with excellent talks as well. Coming down from the rush of a talk, I generally tend to hide in a corner for a while and process all of the impressions and the feedback, but that just wasn’t an option here, since I really wanted to see all of the talks. Zoning out had to wait until afterwards! After all of the talks were done and the 99 second talks (a part of every TestBash event) were over too, it was suddenly over. But then it was not, because drinks!

Got some great feedback on my talk during the after-conference drinks and spent some more time talking to other speakers and attendees. Then we headed out for dinner with a smaller group, during which fatigue really kicked in and I decided to call it a day.

If I had to choose, my personal favourite talk was the one from Martin Hynie. It perfectly reflected the point I find myself on in my career: an apprentice of the craft on his way to hopefully one day become a master. I loved Martin’s personal story and the way he reflected on his own journey towards being the best possible version of himself, something that I am aspiring to do as well. I’ll have what he talked about running through my head for a while, I’m sure. More on that probably next week.

Reflecting on it all, this has been a fantastic event for me, some more experience as a conference speaker under my belt, and more importantly I learned so much from the other talks I’m still busy processing it all. Thank you so much, Ministry of Testing, Richard, Rosie, Claire, Gem, Beren, Neil, Hugh, James, Heather, Rick, Marianne, Marcel, Vera, Andrew, Matthew, Patrick, Michael, Robyn, Stephen, Anne-Marie, Vernon, Göran, Cassandra and all the other wonderful people I met and talked to during the event. I’m looking forward to my next TestBash already, which will be in the Netherlands!

I’ll be hosting a workshop on creating an automation strategy that works there, together with Ard Kramer. I am looking forward to seeing you all there!

Here are the slides from my talk, in case you’re interested:

The talk itself has been recorded and will be made available through the Ministry of Testing Dojo. Also, here’s an awesome sketchnote of my talk made by Constance:

Sketchnote of my talk by Constance