A Journey to 99 Seconds and Beyond......Final Chapter

Testbash Apr 29, 2021

My three part blog reflecting on Testbash Manchester 2017 appears to have extended into a fourth part. The last two parts have proved a challenge in terms of finding time to spend on this. Fortunately Christmas has brought with it some time away from the day job and allowed me to concentrate on getting this completed.

After leaving the afternoon workshop session with a determination to make the most of the evening meetup, I made a swift family comms pit stop at the hotel and got my ass up to the venue pronto so as not to waste any of the motivation from the workshops. There would be no talks, just relaxed socialising, networking and engagement between a group of peers with a passion for testing. MOT had hired out a bar for the evening and provided an evening of free drinks courtesy of the excellent sponsorship they received. On arriving at the bar I was amazed at the number of people in attendance. The numbers seemed to have swelled hugely from the days workshops, which shouldn’t have surprised me too much as attendees for the conference day were starting to arrive, but evidently I was easily surprised on this occasion.
The first person I saw (or maybe I heard before I saw) was our charismatic and energetic MC for the following days conference Mr Leigh Rathbone (@villabone). Leigh was clearly feeding off the energy and positivity around the room, effectively bouncing around the room speaking with anyone and everyone. Somehow amongst the millions of conversations and the dull raw of a room with a free bar, a group that I believe included @stephenjanaway, @supertestingbro, @marianneduijst, @neilstudd and more were managing to partake in a podcast. Personally it was good to chat briefly with Gem Hill (@gem_hill) prior to her amazing conference talk. I managed to continue my chat with Prav, trying my best to feed his enthusiasm for learning and giving the benefit of my own experiences of taking on greater responsibility. I still had the nagging decision relating to the 99 second talk in the back of my mind and I spied the opportunity during a chat with Prav, Geert (@_testheader) and Beren (@isleoftesting) to garner some feedback on my potential 99 second talk. Before I knew it I was doing a little timed demo of the topic that I had edged towards with Beren and Geert on the stop watches. The feedback was excellent but alcohol intake aside I wasn't overly happy with the topic. It felt like I was just making do with this subject matter and whilst it was something I could talk about it, the mini trial didn't give me the warm cosy feeling I was hoping for this close to conference day. With the alcohol flowing and time getting on I took my leave of the meetup at a much more reasonable time than I'd expected. With the less than satisfactory trial behind me I decided that writing my 99 second talk down would allow me to focus on the delivery and give me confidence to go through with it knowing I could fill the 99 seconds effectively. It's funny, I'd never realised just how hard, giving a presentation/talk to yourself is, even if it is just 99 seconds.

The Conference

Having gone to bed adamant I was going to go through with the talk and with actual notes and prompts to help me I woke the following morning with a decision. I wasn't going to do a 99 second talk after all............. WHAT THE???? Despite underlying disappointment, this felt at the time very much like a positive decision, allowing me to focus on a day of learning, networking, sharing and engaging, without the the distraction of something that I clearly wasn't confident in. The walk to the Lowry was shrouded in fog which provided an strangely relaxing start to the day. Arriving at the Lowry fully chilled and without any thoughts of 99 second talks I was in the perfect frame of mind for 'Lean Coffee' (Not that I drink coffee but that's not really the point). This was my first Lean Coffee experience and I have to say what a great way to start a day of personal development with communication and discussion. On a table with Ministry of Test's new Community Boss @heather_reiduff along with @Scott_Logic's dynamic duo @HannahPretswell and @TesterPhi. Apparently Heather was under strict instructions to enjoy her final Testbash as an attendee, another doff of the cap to Ministry of Test for that. A few interesting topics came up on our table but the one that stood out for me was a discussion on balancing family life with learning and self development, a challenge I've been juggling for many years.
We were so engaged in our Lean Coffee conversation around the table that we missed the call to head up to the conference room. It was the stream of attendees heading up the stairs that gave it away. For the conference talks I was joined by a colleague (@MartinGLowe)......by the way did anyone claim prize for a selfie with the attendee that used to be a model and a boxer?
There was a familiarity to the start of the conference in the form of @LplTesterGather's host with the most......@villabone. With Leigh on the mic I felt entirely engaged, at ease and ready for the morning line up of speakers:

  • Quality != Testing - @charrett
  • What I, A Tester, Have Learnt From Studying Psychology - @ghkero
  • AUT: Anxiety Under Test - @Gem_Hill
  • Who Will Guard the Guards Themselves? How to Trust Your Automation and Avoid Deceit - @_basdijkstra
  • Accessibility Testing Crash Course - @RightSaidJames

Having attended Anne-Marie's workshop I had an inkling of what to expect from her talk. The discussion on quality vs testing is a long running and often heated debate but Anne-Marie pulled out a few key points. The two that stood out for me were;

Understand whether testing is adding value to the overall product quality and delivery.... else why are we testing?


The importance of making quality improvement visible - even the small changes....

Goran's talk discussing the role of psychology in testing was particularly fascinating. Having headed up testing and test teams for a few different businesses my focus has always been on making change based on facts and information available however something Goran called out struck me when considering the use of information and metrics;

A correlation between two separate pieces of information or data doesn't necessarily mean a related causation, some things are just coincidences.......

The importance of understanding underlying factors can not be overstated. The talk from Goran just proved to enforce the value of understanding aspects of psychology to help improve testing.

Gem's talk on Anxiety had been highly recommended by @MartinGLowe and it definitely hit a chord. Having been around depression and anxiety in some form or another (not myself) for a large part of my life, I'd only ever really considered the impact it has on personal life and never really given much thought to the impact on working life. The value of understanding anxiety within working life, especially for anyone in a management role seems huge.

Having arrived in the morning certain I wouldn't go through with a 99 second talk, it was part way through Gem's talk that I was finally struck by an idea (consider yourself my muse Gem). After months of trying to come up with something and never finding a subject I was happy with, in a matter of seconds of the thought entering my head I was back....... I was definitely going through with a 99 second talk and I was in a state of confidence about the talk that I'd not achieved over the previous few months. What's more, I was going to be doing the talk without notes or prompts. Despite the new found subject matter and confidence I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous..... I was going to be doing a 99 second talk and that was terrifying.

Next up was Bas talking about having confidence in automation. Hmmmm what a nice thought that is. This was arguably the most testing based talk so far. Having seen and been involved in some pretty challenging automation setups I was taking in everything Bas was talking about intensely. So many companies fall into the same painful hole of maintaining thousands (if not more) of irrelevant tests, many of which are so flaky, no one believes them when they fail. These places need a Bas in their life.

Don't be afraid to remove swathes of tests and start again. Better to have a small amount of tests that are adding value than a large number of pointless tests. Quality over quantity.

Finally to complete the morning was a topic discussed all to little. It was a refreshing change to hear a talk discussing the value and importance of accessibility testing. There seemed to be quite a number of people who were admitting to not doing justice to accessibility testing. This in itself said a lot about the value of this talk and as was demonstrated, there are some simple ways to start introducing accessibility testing with relative ease. So why is this so important? As James put it;

"First of all it’s the law. Ultimately it’s the right thing to do.“

After a fantastic morning of talks I was keen to make the most of the lunch period, especially after my failure to do so at the workshops the previous day. There was an underlying theme that I'd identified a year earlier and had come to this years Testbash determined to make the most of. The importance that the Ministry of Testing place on providing opportunity/encouragement for attendees to meet, socialise, discuss and share. They seem to have created the perfect balance between provision of quality speakers and provision of time to speak to peers and colleagues. Lunch basically consisted of some amazing pies, a few conversations about my decision to do a 99 second talk (subconsciously looking for reassurance), some general mingling/discussion (finally getting chance to have a proper chat with @TeamLHC) about the morning session and the purchase of a shiny new pack of TestSphere cards.

For the afternoon session we had another exciting line up consisting of;

  • Turning Good Testers Into Great Ones - @VeraGeBa
  • Lessons Learnt Moving to Microservices - Simon Dobson
  • The Fraud Squad - Learning to manage Impostor Syndrome as a Tester - @clairereckless
  • The Lost Art of the Journeyman - @vds4
  • Exploring Exploratory Testing - @michaelbolton

I'd seen a few teasers from Vera mentioning super heroes on twitter but had no clue of the context or what the talk was about. Having spoken to Vera and Marcel at Testbash Manchester 2016 briefly and chatted to Vera at the break in Michael Bolton's workshop the previous day, I had an idea just how passionate she is about learning. On both occasions Vera came across as very confident and assured with lots of reference to research to back up her ideas. Vera's talk was essentially using the concept of knowledge, regulation and monitoring as super heroes representing metacognition (thinking about your own thinking). As something people generally do without thinking too much about it, actually recognising how you can understand and use this metacognition to improve yourself, is a hugely powerful concept.

Lady knowledge helping you to find ways to improve, Self-Regulation helping to provide the guidelines to keep you on track and Lady Monitoring to allow you to observe yourself and gather feedback.

The microservices talk by Simon was very well structured and tackled the topic with confidence. He made excellent use of story telling and his own examples to explain how small contained services allow for a more efficient test approach versus big monoliths of code.  Simon also managed to pretty much nail his representation of moving to microservices, arguably slide of the day;

I must confess at this stage my nerves were really starting to kick in with regards to my 99 second talk. That's not to suggest I wasn't still confident about the topic that I now considered 'locked in', however the idea that I would be shortly stood in front of the whole room was a scary thought.... Could I keep talking for 99 seconds, would I even get to the point in 99 seconds or could I actually put a coherent sentence together in front of everyone. Sounds dramatic doesn't it? It's like asking someone who's only ever swum in a swimming pool to go and jump into the middle of a lake. For some it comes natural, for others it can feel like a huge deal. That said, the bigger the challenge, the greater the sense of achievement..... or that's what I was told.

Mr Hynie's talk was the perfect distraction from my nerves. I had never seen Martin talk and wasn't sure what to expect but after a hearty recommendation from my colleague young Mr Lowe and the introduction to end all introductions by Leigh I had high hopes. The talk had everything I expected, humour, confidence and content. I was laughing and thinking in equal measures. What also appealed is that this felt a little like another coaching session where @vds4 was challenging us to ask ourselves what direction we are heading in, why we are heading in that direction and how we are getting there. What role are we fulfilling and are we limiting ourselves. Most importantly who are we engaging to share the journey with or gather support from and what role are they providing. The big takeaway from this talk with me, something I've wrestled with up until recently was;

Your identity is important not the title your given.

I was a little late back from the break prior to Claire's talk so rather than squeeze past a row of people to my seat I took the opportunity to continue stretching my legs and stayed stood at the back. Having seen Claire talk at the Liverpool Tester Gathering previously this was one of the stand out talks I'd been looking forward to. I think maybe seeing someone nail a talk at an event like Testbash who has recently been through a similar journey to the one I'm currently on gave me inspiration and confidence to keep going. Nail it she most certainly did. It wasn't just that Claire is a relatively new speaker but the topic of this particular talk is very close to the bone. I am a fully paid up member of the 'Fraud Squad' and have had impostor syndrome at various points fairly regularly through my career, as I'm certain many other testers have, only I never knew it as impostor syndrome. I've been lucky enough to use my impostor syndrome to motivate me to improve myself but it has also created some challenges and barriers along the way. I was most surprised to see myself pop up in Claire's slides....... we are yet to agree royalties.

So for the grand finale, Ministry of Testing had enlisted the help of one Mr Michael Bolton. I don't think many people really attend a Michael Bolton session of any description expecting to be disappointed. You expect some big words, you expect confident delivery, you expect some strong messages and you expect the odd rant but you never expect disappointment. I'm not going to lie, the 99 second talks were firmly imprinted in my mind throughout Michael's talk and the clock was ticking down now. Fortunately the talk was so engaging that getting distracted from it was impossible. The talk was as expected, packed with key takeaways, too many to go into detail on but my personal favourites have to be;

There is always something you can test from someones idea right through to the actual product, you don't need documented requirements to test.

Also this particular nugget is something I have been harping on about for a while;

There are no manual testers or automated testers, just testers who make use of tools as they require them.

So then something pretty crazy and amazing happened that I suspect not a single person in the room was expecting except for Michael himself........ Mr Bolton ended the talk with an epic (and I don't use the word epic lightly) rap. Yes you heard that right, Michael rapped is conclusion to his talk. That was exactly the sort of distraction I needed with only minutes left until the 99 second talk. It was literally the perfect mic drop moment for the whole day.

99 Second Talks

With the buzz of Michael's rap still fresh in everyones mind and all talkers throughout the day having set the bar exceptionally high we came to the 99 second talks. With the announcement for all first time 99 second talkers to go to the side of the stage I was up. I didn't want to give myself time to have second thoughts or question myself. I was confident about my topic and I wanted to stay that way. I'd seen a few people on twitter hinting that they might put themselves forward but I was amazed at just how many people did. It reinforced all the conclusions around the power of the 99 second talks that I had come away with the previous year. It feels wrong to say but there was some relief to look along the line and see others looking just as nervous as me. Clearly Claire Reckless knows her apples when it comes to imposter syndrome. My mind was definitely racing and to reference Gem Hill, it wasn't being overly helpful. Stupid thoughts like 'What if I walk the wrong way off the stage with the mic and look stupid' and 'what if I have a coughing fit and can't talk'.
Seeing some exceptional first time 99 second talks ahead of me, including @RickDTracy's hilarious and confident Trump impression and , was both helpful and at the same time a little unhelpful.

Great if others can get up there for the first time and do a 99 second talk then why can't I....... but how can I deliver something as impressive as all these people?

I was at the stage much quicker than expected mic in hand. I should probably take a moment to explain what had struck me during Gem's talk and why I was much more confident in the subject matter. I suddenly realised that I didn't need to scrape around for an amazing and original 99 second talk. I needed to simplify my thinking  rather than over complicating it. Gem and then Claire later in the day had given amazing talks on subjects that they were fully invested in and had lived through. So if I wanted something original and relevant, simplifying that, what about talking about how I came to do a 99 second talk and the ups and downs involved in me getting to that stage. That is my original journey. That is how I applied the simplified thinking that I often make use of in testing to solve a different problem. Most importantly this was my own personal achievement. It ticked all the boxes I'd been looking for.

So a year of change, re-invention, clarification, soul searching and forward momentum, all kicked off at Testbash Manchester 2016, culminated in these 99 seconds. My delivery probably needs a lot of work but I've learnt a lot about myself on the journey and made lots of changes. I've challenged myself and met those challenges head on. I now know I CAN get up on stage and talk, I have got something worth saying and I can take that forward. I can safely say Testbash, ALL of it's amazing speakers (including Vernon Richards and Leigh Rathbone) and Ministry of Testing have inspired me to do more and be more.

So what next.......... well how about trying one of those talk things that people keep going on about? How about I see if I can't inspire a few others along the way?


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