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

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!