A short time has passed since my adventures in Brighton. It's been a busy few months including an impressive weekend in Liverpool at the North West Exploratory Workshop on Testing (NWEWT - of which I will discuss in a further post). On top of this, some much needed family time has proved a welcome distraction from, what has been, a fairly hectic first quarter of 2018.
I ended last year with just two Testbash events to my name but those two events, both Manchester 12 months apart, had proved key to my direction over the period. Although my Testbash experience had thus far been exclusively Manchester, Testbash Brighton had gained my attention back in 2015 having attempted to get a number of tickets for the team. Alas the request was turned down and the opportunity passed until Manchester 18 months later. I'll be honest though, at this stage I had little awareness of just how quickly the testing community was growing.
After two years of Manchester and having fully thrown myself into growing my testing craft as a part of the testing community, the bright lights of Brighton were beckoning. The opportunity to walk in the shoes of the first lady of Ministry of Testing, the heart and soul of Testbash, HRH Rosie Sherry, was too good to turn down. As much as I'd have loved to have taken in a full week of learning, sharing and chatting, I'm trying to spread my wings over the next few years to the far flung reaches of the testing community and finances are a long way from infinite. I'll be honest, I was a little worried about attending Testbash in Brighton for two key reasons. Firstly Testbash Manchester had already given me so much and stolen my heart, I had questions regarding how much more Brighton had (or hadn't) to offer. Just to be clear, if you haven't read my 4 part blog post about Manchester last October, it had be a culmination of a year of goals, growth, change, risks and mental preparation leading up to the conference and I had thrown myself into the experience fully. Secondly there seemed to be an awe in my mind surrounding Testbash Brighton and I was nervous about what I had to offer to both myself and the community in my attendance (it's an interesting trait of mine feeling like I have to give more than I am willing to take).
Whilst I hadn't quite invested the same into the build up to Brighton, I did go into this year with some targets around public speaking and helping others that had lead to a personal investment into this conference (albeit off the coat tales of the amazing @testpappy). Rightly or wrongly I'm a big believer in a general shift in test management moving towards test coaching (although I'm aware that many of the best managers are already coaches first and managers second) and to this end I've set my targets on helping others in the community. I'm working with a few individuals who are trying to push their careers forward, trying to get a north staffs test meetup off the ground and generally looking for opportunities to help. In this particular instance I was inspired by an incredibly generous offer from @TestPappy to give away a free ticket to someone who would otherwise struggle to get to an event like Testbash. My fairly insignificant input into this was like a drug and left me wanting to help more people, but beyond that, it renewed my awareness in just how incredibly supportive the testing community is as a whole and particularly the community surrounding Ministry of Testing.
Mix and Meet
At Testbash Manchester last year, arguably the biggest revelation to me was the pre-workshop and pre-conference meetups. The opportunity to chat and socialise with other members of the testing community in attendance set the tone for the whole event and helped me to feel more engaged in the event. To this end I was determined to make it down to Brighton in time to attend the meetup the night before. Obviously Brighton is a few miles further than Manchester and an area I am a lot less familiar with. I took the lesson from my poorly planned drive to Manchester last October and gave myself the whole afternoon to drag my backside down to the south coast, keeping the chorus of 'oh I do like to be beside the seaside' to a minimum. Much to my surprise it seems giving yourself time to travel to places gets you there in plenty of time and in a pretty relaxed frame of mind.
The meetup was everything I expected with my only regret being that I didn't make greater use of the retro gaming on hand for the evening. The main part of the evening at the Clarendon centre presented opportunity to retro game, drink craft ales and chat with some familiar faces such as Geert van de Lisdonk (@_testheader), GemHill (@gem_hill), Claire Reckless(@clairereckless) and Beren Van Daele (@isleoftesting) to name but a few. There were also many I'd never met or only been in contact with online such as Patrick Prill (@testpappy), Danny Dainton (@DannyDainton), Ali Hill (@ali_hill91), Gavin Youngs (@TesterFlyer) and Dan Ashby (@DanAshby04). After the fun of the retro gaming night (my skills on Star Wars weren't up to much), the night continued with more ale and great testing conversation including the opportunity to chat to his lord and master Richard Bradshaw (@friendlytester), Sarah Deery (@SJ_Deery), Karo Stoltzenburg (@karostol) and Geir Gulbrandsen (@GeirGulbrandsen).
It struck me in a moment of thought and contemplation, surrounded by some engaging, experienced and inspirational test people, that just getting together and talking is one of the most powerful aspects of events like this. The ability to open your mind in a safe and non judgemental environment, with others that have a similar passion for testing, is a recipe for new and adventurous ideas more than anything else.
I managed to achieve a late night hotel return rather than an early morning, leaving me almost bright eyed and bushy tailed for the following day.
The Heart of the Bash
One huge benefit of attending the meetups prior to Testbash, in my experience, is that it puts you into a much more confident and relaxed frame of mind for the following day. In turn I've found this allows more focus on the excitement and anticipation, rather than the fear and nerves, particularly relevant where meeting and striking up conversation doesn't come natural.
Following on from the successful lean coffee before Testbash Manchester, I arrived in time and fully planning on a similar plan of attack in Brighton. It was a welcoming start, greeted by the smiling and familiar face of Vera Gehlen-Baum, dressed up to promote Testbash Munich. For those unaware, I was lucky enough to join Vera on an episode of the Super Testing Bros podcast back in January where Vera kindly offered a free ticket to Testbash Munich to one of the individuals I'm coaching this year. A particularly generous and completely unexpected offer.
Swag collected I headed off to grab a swift brew before Lean Coffee (Not a coffee drinker unfortunately). Despite my plans and expectations I ended up chatting and catching up with Mr Sheasby Thomas (@RightSaidJames), including a swift apology as much to my surprise and amazement he'd spoken to me in passing on my way to the pub post meetup on the prior evening. I didn't think I'd drunk too much but maybe I had. After his fantastic accessibility talk at Testbash Manchester and then at Liverpool Tester gathering, James was an individual I'd fully intended to catch up with in Brighton.
After a brief chat with Danny ahead of his conference speaking debut (I get the impression his mind was already racing in anticipation) and also Mr Grump - Patrick Prill, I was particularly pleased to meet Samantha Flaherty (@flahertsy), definitely a name to watch out for over the next few years. Samantha was attending Testbash Brighton courtesy of Patrick's immense generosity, mentioned earlier in the post. Based on the blog post she wrote on her experience in Brighton (in a much more timely fashion than this I might add), I sense she's caught the testing community bug and has a lot to offer:
I don't think the lineup could have hoped for a better talk to kick things off. Arguably one of my favourite talks of the day by Emily Webber (@ewebber) and on a subject close to my heart, Communities of Practice. Emily's talk had everything, confidence, humour, relevance and practicality - does that make me an Emily Webber fanboy? The basis of what community practices should be doing - exploring together and then expanding to the wider team is captured perfectly in Emily's slide below:
Suffice to say I was also excited to hear Danny's conference debut. After conversations with Danny the previous night and briefly on the morning of the conference I had an incline of the nerves he was feeling. I found myself glancing across occasionally during Emily's talk to see how he was handling his nerves and I dare say he doesn't remember much about the first talk. I'm not sure exactly what happened or how it happened but he needn't have worried because once on stage it was as though all nerves just vanished. What can I say..... the boy's got skills on stage. I found Danny's talk, on his journey to testing and his approach to learning, exceptional and particularly relevant to my own path this year in trying to inspire and help others progress. His talk was ideal talk for attendees early in their testing careers, wanting inspiration and advice to move forward such as Samantha and Leila Gregory (@swanny). A quick note on Leila, who was attending her first Testbash. Looking for her first break into a career in testing, 'Swanny' to the bold step of attending and taking the opportunity to show ambition to get into testing, eagerness to learn, and willingness to push her limits. In my experience the traits Leila showed at Testbash are every bit as important and desirable as experience and knowledge of testing.
Danny's talk was followed by the infectious Rosie Hamilton (@Rosicadia) with a fascinating talk about the logic behind how we test and how this logic has been developed for Rosie through her games testing experience. Rosie's talk also emphasised the value of understanding why you make the decisions you make and how to use that understanding to improve. Straight after Rosie was Aaron Hodder (@AWGHodder) making a really compelling experience based case for putting enough structure around exploratory testing (otherwise known as testing) to meet the demands and pressures of enterprise development. Giving testers (or in his case business users) the freedom to test whilst also delivering 'required' visibility and reporting around progress.... some definite takeaways that I intend to try from Aaron's talk.
I'll take a brief moment away from the talks to give mentions to two new ideas that MoT trialled at Testbash Brighton. Firstly they introduced a quiet room which included an area for people to sit and colour in. Sounds simplistic? It was in my opinion a master stroke. I don't have a huge amount of conference experience admittedly and one of the powerful things about conferences is the opportunity to chat with peers and discuss ideas......... HOWEVER (and it's an important however)......... conferences encourage a wide variety of people to attend and the number of people within a relatively small space can be quite overwhelming for many. At every conference attended by myself I've needed to find time to just stand/sit and think. Generally just 10 minutes or so but absolutely necessary. In my honest opinion somewhere designated for this provision gives a clear statement that it's ok to need time to yourself and fully encourages self help. Secondly a concept called the UnExpo, taking the basis of a typical expo where attendees visit stands of companies to learn about their products or services and turning it on it's head encouraging engagement between attendees during breaks. I've just read the overview on the MoT site so rather than explain any more details I'll just leave you with a link:
Without doubt I think there are some lessons that will have been learnt around the UnExpo. I found myself targeting specific types of presentations/stands that seemed easier to engage with in shorter time frame. I was heading for unmanned stands and stands where engagement was easier and avoiding busier stands.... I guess thats generally my behaviour for any expo based structure. On the whole though I was hugely impressed. It seemed to get a lot of attention and many of the ideas that were on offer were excellent and did the job of encouraging engagement. I think this is an idea that proved successful in it's first outing and something that, now people have a clear picture of what to expect, will grow over the next year or two into something outstanding.
Next up giving a talk was Matt Long (@burythehammer) talking about testing programmable infrastructure.
Arguably the first technical talk, Matt presented some excellent thoughts around why proving the infrastructure we rely on throughout a delivery pipeline is as important to test as the product itself (hell it's a part of the product deliverable). This included the first real definition of test at the conference and an excellent definition it was too:
"A method of discerning information about the quality of a system or product."
Before jumping back to the talks, a brief nod to the amazing food provided. I'm a good boy, I generally eat all vegetables but the food provided was not something I would typically choose from a menu. Luckily I'm an eat anything put in front of me kinda bloke and on this occasion that proved to my benefit as the food provided was genuinely delicious. I believe it was also locally sourced and provided by a company called Spade and Spoon (@spadeandspoon), so massive credit to them.
The unenviable task of getting the attendees re-engaged after lunch fell to probably the best person for the job. Alan Page (@alanpage) is what could only be described in the testing community as a big draw, with a huge amount of experience in testing at some of the biggest names, including Microsoft. His talk was 'Experiences in Modern Testing' focused on the changing landscape of the role of testers, possibly the most talked about topic in the testing community over recent years and still going strong. Alan essentially advocates embracing the changing testing role, becoming the test specialist, the test coach, engaging with developers, understanding data and expanding the skill set to support those aims. The mission:
"Accelerate the achievement of shippable quality"
Geoff Loken was an interesting talk on many levels. He took his talk, about how academia views testing, head on with no slides and with a subject that without doubt deserves much more exposure. It was an excellent dip into a subject that seems like it might be a missing piece of a jigsaw. Academically there is a lot of focus on programming, if only we could build a recognition of quality and testing into peoples appreciation at that early stage - feels like some research is needed.
Elizabeth Zagroba (@ezagroba) & Diana Wendruff (@ducksnsquirrels) gave us our first joint talk of the day and I have to say, they nailed it. They appear entirely on the same wave length with great chemistry and delivered an excellent and engaging talk. I must confess I had my reservations as the whole 'less is more' phrase gets banded around in all manner of contexts. In this instance though the context couldn't be more appropriate. Communication for testers is quite often either misunderstood, undervalued or just ignored. The talk gave an excellent explanation of why strong communication doesn't necessarily mean more communication and the use of persona's to explain this really helped the message resinate with me. The inclusion and explanation of the spoon theory to sell the value of not over exerting yourself with unnecessary use of energy slotted into the message nicely.
The final talk was a real treat to end with. Ash Winter (@northern_tester) is one of those individuals in the testing community that I've followed on twitter, read blog posts from and generally wanted to hear talk for a year or two. What I've read from Ash previously and what came across in this talk was a strong sense of practicality. Everything Ash touched on was discussed with a sense of practical value. I think the quote from Ash that resonated with me more than anything else throughout the day was
Each step on the pipeline = lens on quality
Getting a grasp and understanding of continuous delivery is undoubtedly the key to allowing us to improve. The emphasis from Ash that it's not enough to just have a continuous delivery pipeline, testers need to really understand and engage in it, understand how it affects them, how it can help them make better decisions in testing and breakdown illusions about the product/delivery. Ultimately when you understand it and engage it, it will form the foundations of your strategy. Apologies for going all fanboy again but this final talk really re-enforced my own thoughts..... hell I've had a continuous delivery pipeline overview re-purposed as a test strategy before now.
So that was that..... another amazing Testbash conference day came to an end......
You've got 99 seconds
No fortunately not really. No Testbash is complete without the incredibly powerful 99 second talks. Somewhere between the start and end of Elizabeth and Diana's excellent talk I decided I was going to do a 99 second talk without the foggiest idea what I was going to talk about. If you read my blogs from Testbash Manchester last year my entire focus for the year leading up to it had been on what I would talk about. This time I'm not going to focus on my own talk/experience except to say that I chose to do a 99 second talk to maintain momentum of getting up and talking in front of large groups of people. What I'd really like to focus on is two out of a plethora of amazing 99 second talks that.... to coin an Americanism....... 'hit the ball outta the park'. Firstly Constance Hermit (@constancehermit) otherwise known as the resident Artful Tester because of her amazing drawings (her cartoon of Testbash Brighton can be checked out at https://ministryoftesting.com/dojo/lessons/the-artful-tester-episode-two-trip-to-testbash-brighton). Constance gave the most elegant 99 second talk about being kind in the face of the more falable aspects of human nature. People may have problems with the how many questions we ask as testers but it's in our power to accept that and return kindness.
Following Constance was Ali Hill (@ali_hill91) and I honestly believe that this was the most effective use of 99 seconds I've ever heard. Ali essentially turned the train spotting 'Choose life' monologue into a talk about not being a testing hero but instead finding the right work life balance and avoiding burning out. I honestly cannot do it justice in words, it truly blew my mind. My recommendation is to get over and watch it for yourself at MoT - https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/dojo/lessons/99-second-talks-testbash-brighton-2018
So here I find myself at the end..... no really this time it is the end. I fear I may have failed Rosie with this blog post after promising something to overshadow my Testbash Manchester blog post but alas I find myself with too much to write about.
So Testbash Brighton:
Did it meet my expectations? Nope.... it far exceeded them. It brought all the values I hold dear within testing together into one package..... community, conversation, experimenting, meeting, learning, doing, empathising, engaging, laughing and sharing.
As I sign off, I will end by thanking MoT including Rosie, Richard and the growing list of MoT staff helping to make Testbash so amazing around the world. Also and importantly those in the testing community who volunteered to help out and wore their blue jackets with pride. The conference went off so smoothly because of the support you guys provided to the MoT staff, I really can not praise you all enough.