Tuesday, February 27, 2018

European Testing Conference 2018 - Coming Home

Last week I had the honor to join European Testing Conference as a speaker. It was my first time attending this conference, but it made me feel like I'm coming home. Here's why.

Arriving at Amsterdam

My travels went smoothly, but got even smoother after I arrived at Amsterdam airport.
It was an awesome experience to get greeted this way by Llewellyn FalcoSimon SchrijverMaaret Pyhäjärvi and her sister. I instantly felt welcome.

After a short rest at the hotel I enjoyed the second highlight of the day: meeting my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee again in real life! Although we talk every two weeks, we had so many things to tell each other in person. And we also had a final task to do: a last rehearsal of the talk we were going to give the next day. Our chance to practice it for the first time face to face! Well, all our virtual sessions before paid out. Once again we learned how well we got to know each other since we first met at Agile Testing Days 2016.

Time for the speakers' dinner! I learned to love this part of being a speaker at a conference. The evening when we all meet each other before the conference starts is an awesome opportunity to get to know some old and new friendly faces, exchange experiences, and calm each other's nerves.

Conference Day 1: Telling Our Story on Stage

Although our talk was scheduled for the first conference morning, the first day started surprisingly calm. I slept well, nervousness regarding my upcoming talk was not kicking in already. When asking Toyer about it, he confirmed it was the same for him. This might be due to the fact that either of us had already gathered some speaking experience, or that we knew we will have the other one right beside us on stage; or maybe a combination of both. After arriving at the venue we made sure our room was prepared and our technical setup working. Now we were ready for the conference to start!

Franziska Sauerwein kicked it off. Being a developer herself, she made it clear that this is a conference about testing, explicitly inviting testers and developers side by side (as well as anyone else interested in testing). I'm really intrigued by this idea! Collaboration for the win. Another great point made: European Testing Conference was started to change the world of conferences, for attendees and for speakers; and that proved just about right.
After the opening, we all enjoyed Gojko Adzic's great keynote "Painless Visual Testing". An exciting story of an experiment that could have failed or succeeded - and turned out to become an even greater success than dreamed of. Make sure to check out his open sourced tool Appraise! Right after the opening keynote Toyer and I headed towards our room - it was about showtime for our talk "Finding a Learning Partner in the Testing Community". At first only a few people trickled in, but then more and more found their way to our room. Half of them were awesome people we already met and admired, and half of them awesome people we still would love to get to know. And what can I say? We finally shared our story how we found each other as learning partners - on stage! It was simply amazing. According to the feedback we received afterwards we managed to inspire a lot of people, just as we intended. In case you missed our talk but would like to learn more, here are our slides, here's our InfoQ Q&A about the talk, and if you happen to organize a conference yourself we offer to share our story again on stage! ;-) Finally, some impressions on our talk. Right after our talk we rushed to the next great session: a speed meet! As Llewellyn put it, getting 200 geeks to talk is an achievement in itself ;) This format is an awesome icebreaker and fit really well to Toyer's and my talk before. We all were asked to create a personal mind map with three branches: about our person, about our work, and about what happened last year. This was a great conversation starter for the limited time we had to get to know the other person in front of us. My personal highlight: This way I could finally speak to Gojko himself, who had joined our talk before so that we instantly had a great topic to talk about! He also loved the fact that I studied sinology, as "inspiration can be found anywhere". I absolutely agree. Afterwards: lunch break! Time to finally get to know João Proença better. He is part of the other pact group together with Christian Baumann and Sonja Nešić which emerged at Agile Testing Days 2017, inspired by Toyer's and my learning partnership. What a great new connection! Throughout the conference we had really interesting conversations and I learned we have a lot to learn from each other. In the afternoon I joined Amber Race's workshop "Exploring Your APIs with Postman". She did a great job at making people aware of what to look out for when testing APIs as well as in demonstrating Postman, a really valuable REST client with many useful features (if you now read about this tool for the first time, make sure to check it out). It seems many people really were not aware of how easily they could get started with testing APIs. Although I already knew a lot of what Amber shared, I still could note a few points to implement at work. The only sad thing for me was that the hands-on time during the workshop was very limited. I would have wished for more time actually practicing exploring an API within our group.

Well, it also had it's good sides. From the past conferences I've spoken at I learned that at the day that I have my talk, I will have a down phase where I will be unable to concentrate anymore and get distracted by the feedback on the talk coming in on Twitter. This time, this phase started in the workshop and unfortunately continued during Emily Bache's talk about "Testing Microservices". From what I saw and heard it was a great talk, and I would have loved to learn more about Emily's experience; but I just could not pay the attention it deserved.

Next up: lean coffee! I love this agenda-less format where participants can bring their own topics and challenges into the discussion. We speakers were asked to facilitate, and I happily focused on just that. After yet another break with snacks and great conversations (I love how this conference provides multiple opportunities for people to get to know each other and exchange experience!), it was time for the last keynote for the day. Lanette Creamer did a fabulous job, telling us how to "Test Like a Cat"; a very enlightening presentation with many invaluable reminders for us testers. Just afterwards I learned it was her very first keynote! She really should get invited by more conferences. Was that the end of conference day one? Not yet, as it ended by something I've never seen at a conference so far. And as I've seen it now, I wonder how any modern conference can do without. They scheduled a retrospective so that organizers can get instant feedback from everyone and see where they can immediately adapt. And they did solve what they could! Unbelievably awesome! After shortly returning to the hotel, many people still made it to the restaurant where everybody could follow-up on the day together, enjoy nice food and a free drink.

Conference Day 2: Too Good To Call It a Night

The second day started with yet another powerful keynote, this time by Zeger Van Hese: "The Power of Doubt - Becoming a Software Skeptic". I've enjoyed this talk already online, streamed by another conference, but it was just as good seeing it again. If you have the chance, check it out yourself!
After the keynote, it was workshop time again! This morning I decided to join Seb Rose and Gáspár Nagy on "Writing Better BDD Scenarios", as this is a topic I read a lot about but really lack practice. I was delighted that this workshop was really hands-on, triggering lots of discussions around how to best formulate scenarios to benefit from easily understandable documentation as well as maintainable automation.

After yet another lunch with plenty of healthy but really tasty food, I enjoyed one of my personal highlights of the conference: Alex Schladebeck with "Exploratory Testing in Action". And when Alex says in action, she means in action. She lived up to what she promised and tested live on stage, simultaneously talking about her own testing and then debriefing it together with the audience. For all live testing she only prepared the system under test and two charters, without practicing anything upfront. And she absolutely rocked it! Awesome concept, message, and delivery. I'm in awe of the courage she showed, demonstrating the whole room what testing is and how to talk about it while being authentic, highly entertaining, and knowledgeable. I guess the only thing to top this would be to have the audience select the system under test and charters live. Alex, in case you read this: challenge accepted? ;-) Next up I joined Mirjana Kolarov sharing her experiences about "Monitoring in Production". As my team is on our way improving our monitoring I could really relate to the talk and also gain some great tips. The rest of the afternoon was preserved for a longer open space. Participants brought forward lots of awesome topics, so it was hard to choose which ones to attend. I first joined an experience exchange on mind maps where I learned how other testers use them in many different ways to help testing. Afterwards I could contribute to the question on how to identify a good tester in an interview; a discussion which draw so much interest that it inofficially continued for yet another slot. Astronomer Pamela Gay got the honor of the closing keynote for the conference: "Testing v. Crowdsourced Data, or How I learned to stop worrying and Love the F-Bomb". What a wonderful, inspiring keynote about difficulties at a level that probably not many others are facing. You know, rocks are hard - literally and figuratively. Identifying craters on the moon so that spacecrafts could land safely is a very tricky problem for both computers and human professionals; but (lots of) humans prove to be good in solving it after all. You never heard of Pamela? Now you have, and you should remember her. Wanna help her map the moon? At the very end of the conference, you might have guessed it, there was yet another retrospective! This time using the input of the audience to craft a mind map to help planning for next year. One of the positive things people mentioned: Throughout the conference we enjoyed the notes of brilliant new sketchnote artist Marianne Duijst! Check out her collection of sketchnotes done by her and others during the conference, they are absolutely worth it. So, was the conference now really over? Officially yes, but inofficially it was still continuing! Many of us could not let go yet and rejoined at a nearby restaurant. And even after a great dinner we could not yet let it go and gathered in the hotel lobby for a few more drinks with absolutely awesome people. Although completely tired, having those invaluable deep conversations even after the conference officially ended, made me feel at home even more.

Saying Goodbye for 2018

The next day I finally and really had to return home. Tired, happy, full of inspiration, new friendships made, existing ones strengthened, keeping the conference spirit in my heart.

Last but not least I'd like to thank the wonderful organizing team Maaret Pyhäjärvi, Franziska SauerweinLlewellyn Falco, Peter, Alina IonescuJulia DuránSimon Schrijver, as well as all volunteers helping European Testing Conference. You indeed do change the world of conferences - for both speakers and attendees. Many thanks for all your support and service, inspection and adaption, and most of all for providing the opportunity for everyone at the conference to learn from each other, together, with joy. THANK YOU.

I've never attended this conference before, but yet it felt like coming home. It had a kind of magic. The schedule was well balanced, the content awesome, the mixture of session types perfect, the speakers well taken care of. The people were amazingly inspiring and given the chance to have deep conversations with each other. I learned that European Testing Conference is all about the people. And these people are home.

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