Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Share Your Story, Too!

Ever thought about speaking at a conference? Well, let me tell you the story how I ended up with 10 submissions of 6 unique paper proposals for 3 conferences in 2017. If you would have told me this story one year, or even half a year ago, I would have thought "hey, nice story"; but I wouldn't have believed that it was about me.

So what triggered me to answer a call for papers at all? So far, I've only been to one conference in my life, which happens to be Agile Testing Days. I attended in 2015 for two days. I was eager to join the full-day tutorial of Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory, not only because of the interesting topic, but because I was really excited to meet them in person. Especially Lisa, as we had contact via Twitter before. After the tutorial ended, I took my chance to have a few words with her face to face. And she told me: "Hey, why don't you submit a talk yourself, you certainly have a story to share!" Back then I probably blushed and laughed it off; I felt appreciated just by the idea, but was definitely not ready to take it any further.

In 2016, my company enabled me to attend the Agile Testing Days for the full week. I had learned to appreciate the huge community part of this conference, so last year I was ready to broaden my network and get to know more people along with their stories. One day during lunch, I happened to find myself at a table with three guys from all over the world, among them Toyer Mamoojee. We all had attended the conference's opening keynote by Abby Fichtner, Pushing the Edge on What's Possible. This talk set the stage for the whole conference, encouraging us to face our fears and be brave. So we happened to start talking about what scares us the most; and speaking at a conference was definitely something Toyer and I shared as a major fear. Suddenly he said: "Let's make a deal. If I submit a paper for next year's Agile Testing Days, you have to submit one, too; and if you do, I have to do it as well. Deal?" He took me entirely by surprise. For a short time I felt snap-frozen - but then remembered what we heard the last days. That we have to step out of our comfort zone to see the magic happening, and that we should do one thing every day that scares us - so I accepted the deal. I couldn't believe I had agreed so quickly, but Toyer did not let me get away with this anymore! ;) He even told everyone waiting for the next keynote that we both now have a deal and will return with a paper next year. No excuses.
The following day, I attended a lean coffee session together with Viktorija Manevska. I met her already in 2015, but last year she came to the conference as first time speaker. She was so kind to share this experience and tips with the rest of the group. Everything from writing a paper proposal, receiving feedback on it, going through the approval process, creating the actual presentation, and giving her very first conference talks. The topic was so fascinating for the whole table that we voted to continue with it for quite a long time! :) Viki also kindly offered her support in case anyone of us wanted to submit a paper themselves.

Now you know about my triggers to actually work on a paper proposal for Agile Testing Days 2017. But how come I submitted even more?

Back at the office, I started telling my colleagues about my personal challenge this year; to support the fact I really had to submit at least one paper. Furthermore, Toyer and I held each other accountable on our deal, so we started brainstorming potential topics to speak about. Topics we could do on our own, but also considering a topic we could do together. Kicking it off triggered another idea. I knew that TestBash will be coming to Munich this year, and that the related call for papers was still running until mid of February. So I thought: why not also trying to submit there as well, so I could get to know the whole process and gather first experience? As a side effect, this triggered me to work on my paper proposals even earlier. Three of my awesome colleagues volunteered to provide feedback: John Webber, Alex Kiefer and Viola Korte. I discussed my ideas with them and included their valuable feedback in my first proposal drafts. After several iterations, I had two topics I felt comfortable sharing my experience on, hoping that a potential audience would get value from it. Still, to start small, my first challenge was just about submitting a paper and getting feedback on it; not about getting it accepted (though I tried to aim for that of course). You can't imagine how happy I was when I met the submission deadline for TestBash Munich just in time! First personal achievement unlocked. The submission confirmation page told me that I wouldn't get any feedback in case I would not be accepted, as they keep the proposal for potential future conferences then. Well, I didn't get feedback yet; but hey, it was a great learning experience.
On the very same day, Viv Richards saw my tweet, contacted me and asked whether I would also consider to submit my papers for the conference he is organizing, SwanseaCon. I was stunned. I had never expected such a reaction! So I thought: "Why not?" And submitted. And after a few weeks, just one day before going on a longer vacation, I received the confirmation that one of the proposed talks had actually been accepted!!! Still can't believe it. Totally honored and thankful for that opportunity. I'll be talking about learning agile testing, and this speaking experience will definitely become part of my journey.
Meanwhile, work on the paper proposals for Agile Testing Days continued. Toyer and I identified a fascinating common topic we were eager to submit as a workshop. Remembering Viki's offer to support with paper submission, I contacted her and asked for feedback; and she returned the question whether we could also do a topic together. Sure, gladly! Within several calls we shaped an intriguing common topic to do a workshop on. So I found myself working on four topics at the same time. Then the official call for papers started, and I finally gathered my courage and contacted Lisa Crispin, asking her whether she would kindly review our paper drafts and provide feedback on them. Her most surprising answer came quickly. Sure, she'd love to provide feedback; but hey, the conference organizers offered her to do a workshop together with a new voice this year - whether I would like to do it with her? Wait, of course!!! We also found an exciting topic and I loved our close collaboration so far. I still can't believe I am actually getting the chance to do a session at this year's Agile Testing Days - and that together with Lisa! I consider myself really lucky.

Did you notice that was paper number 5? Last week, Jan Jaap Cannegieter contacted me and offered his help to review my current proposals and maybe do one together. I couldn't resist and agreed to join in on one of his workshops as co-speaker, so this is the bonus paper number 6! ;)
Having submitted all six papers is feeling just great. Having been accepted by two conferences as a total newbie speaker is such an awesome feeling I cannot described it properly. Well, I now have to do my best to live up to expectations. I try not to think about it too much, but instead keep moving forward to not fall into the hesitating self-doubting trap again. Full focus on learning.

With all those great feelings involved, the best part of this story, however, is the collaboration with those most awesome people. I can't emphasize that enough. We shared our stories and experiences. We worked closely together going through many feedback loops. We are proud and excited about the results and really hoping our proposals get accepted because we think they really would be worth it. Fingers crossed! This experience of writing paper proposals, not only on my own but especially together with my testing peers, was worth it a thousand times already. My great hope is that many more people get inspired to be brave, step up and share their stories, too. I bet all of you have awesome things to share with the rest of us!

So this is the story how I ended up with 10 submissions of 6 unique paper proposals for 3 conferences in 2017 so far, getting accepted by 2 already. I'm still speechless. Totally excited. And truly grateful for the inspiration, motivation, and support of all those great, great people mentioned above who are sharing this part of the journey with me. I hope that one day I can help a new voice to her first conference talk myself.


  1. awesome experience, thanks for sharing! :-)does the paper have to be very "academic"?

    1. Thank you for your feedback! :-) The paper does not have to be academic for testing conferences. Sometimes it's also only called a proposal; it's mostly a title, an abstract, and key takeaways. If you're interested I can share more information via Twitter :-)