Friday, December 27, 2019

Looking Back at 2019 - A Year Full of Challenges and Surprises

It became a habit for me to close the year with a final blog post, looking back at what happened over the last twelve months. It's one of the things I've learned to do that helps me internalize and acknowledge my own achievements. Once more the year is coming to an end - time to reflect!
  • Test Automation University was released! Many thanks to Angie Jones for bringing this amazing project to life and for asking me to do my first video course ever: "The Whole Team Approach to Continuous Testing". I've also watched several of the other courses myself and found them to be extremely valuable!
  • I have given 7 sessions at 7 conferences in 5 countries this year, 2 of them being keynotes, 2 others being talks that either opened or closed the conference. (Overall, that makes now 22 sessions at 16 conferences in 8 different countries since September 2017!) Besides that, I attended 3 more conferences this year. So much knowledge to take with me, and so many inspiring people to learn from! Being away from work for conferences, especially from my product team, was not always easy. The good thing here: we talked things over and found an agreement for us.
  • I've been accepted to give 7 sessions at 4 conferences in 3 countries for 2020 already. In addition, I've been asked by 3 companies to give talks and workshops for them in-house, with 2 of them arranged already.
  • I became part of the program team for Mob Programming Conference 2020. This is my first time on a program team for a public conference, and I'm sure I'll be learning a lot.
  • I've sketchnoted countless more talks. I can't believe I've only started this experiment last year, it already feels natural when listening to a conference talk! I didn't put in effort to level up my game here, yet it's amazing to hear positive feedback just because these notes exist and other people can benefit from them, too.
  • My first ever podcast episode got released! Huge thanks to Peter Kofler for inviting me as guest to Coderetreat Facilitation. I've had a few opportunities before that, yet nothing came out of them, so I was really glad this one worked out!
  • I've done my first Power Hour, my first introductory video as well as my first Testing Ask Me Anything session (and its follow-up) for Ministry of Testing - all on on the topic of collaboration, pairing and mobbing. Thank you Mark Winteringham for having me for the Dojo!
  • The "power learning group" initiated by my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee and me got really engaged this year! We all benefited a lot from our mutual support. Super looking forward to next year together with these wonderful people!
  • Toyer Mamoojee and I had the honor to share our learning partnership on Agile Testing Days' keynote stage. Even better: people got inspired to start their own learning partner journeys! In addition, partnerships that had formed last year had evolved this year, like the ones of Mor Korem and Thomas Rinke, as well as Viki Manevska and Eddy Bruin.
  • People got inspired by what I shared on my testing tour to start their own tours! Just to highlight two of them: Gem Hill formulated her tour around security and code, and Parveen Khan around becoming more confident as a tester and getting out of her comfort zone. I bet people did similar things before I've shared about my endeavor. The difference for me is that now I hear from people that they're up to something like that on their own - which is amazing! Please continue spreading the word, we all will benefit from learning with and from each other across company boundaries.
  • I've become code-confident, publishing my first ever GitHub repositories, and worked on code a lot more at work as well. A real biggie for me! Oh, and I already made another pact with my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee to challenge me even further in 2020! :)
  • I continued pairing sessions on the topic of security testing with Peter Kofler. To many more in the future! Especially as my next year's theme is all centered around security. :)
  • It's now officially 1.5 years that I'm on the "principal" seniority level at my company, with all the challenges that come with it. The position is quite a challenge in itself, and balancing my capacity between company initiatives and my own product team is tricky as well. Concerning that, I've found a method for me that mostly works and allows me to focus every day and week on what's right now the most valuable thing I can contribute with.
  • I ran a first experiment on our company's mission to improve the testing and quality culture of our product teams, learning a lot about the context of four other teams, helping them to help themselves.
  • I introduced the mob approach to a lot more people at my company. I ran three cross-team, cross-role, cross-location mobs as a proof of concept that remote mobs do work and we all can learn from each other, no matter our role or seniority level. I conveyed knowledge in hands-on mobs for other teams as well as our internal testing community.
  • I took on a formal mentorship for a colleague who asked me for it. Many people assumed I would have lots of experience with mentoring already - yet in reality I have not had many opportunities for more structured or formalized mentorships. I love having this chance to learn how to help another one grow on a certain topic, while I keep on learning myself!
  • I took my first personal coaching sessions at work, and they helped me tremendously. Sometimes the solution already resides in us, and a gentle nudge can help ourselves reveal it or re-state the obvious. I also got referred to join a series of leadership workshops next year. Really looking forward to learning how to improve my collaboration, communication and leadership skills!
  • I gained 1,349 followers on Twitter just this year, more than a third of the overall current number. I realize this number tended to increase faster the more followers I have, and still I really celebrated when crossing the mark of 3,000 followers. After all, Twitter is my main and most important social media platform.
  • I've started to re-share posts that mentioned me on LinkedIn. I'm not really active on that platform, yet it's my place to connect with former and current colleagues who now started to see more things that I do outside the company. The response is interesting to see, so I'll continue experimenting with it.
  • Counting this one, I've published 25 blog posts in 2019. Considering I wanted to cut down regarding blogging and experimented with more lightweight approaches to share on this medium, it's great to see I've still managed to post twice per month in average. The number of page views for my blog even climbed up to 207,275! Granted, I am probably heavily contributing to these numbers every time I look things up, yet still. ;-) And you know what's best? This very blog post is exactly my 100th post overall!
  • I realized that my energy level is not always at 80% and above (as I liked to think so). I had to learn that it can drop any time and I need to keep a constant eye on it. On the upside, becoming more conscious about it helped me to do a lot more self-care this year (like finally enjoying my passion again, playing computer games just for fun and the sake of it!). I've committed myself to increase self-care in 2020, ingraining it into my new challenge.
  • I got voted Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person (MIATPP) by the lovely Agile Testing Days community. I couldn't believe I ranked third place in 2018, so you can imagine my disbelief this year! And yet it's a fact, the community really gave this award to me this year. I'm tremendously grateful for this wonderful feedback on my work of sharing back what I learn on my journey. Extremely encouraging!
All this was made possible by the continuous amazing support and encouragement by my community and company peers. Thank you all so much, I can only hope to pay it forward. Lists are never complete, yet some shout-outs simply have to be done here.
To everyone: have a healthy and happy new year 2020 - may it be full of wonders and growth!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My Pact for 2020 - Let the Next Challenge Begin

As you might know, my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee and I are committing ourselves to pacts between us, roughly one per year. A personal challenge that's scary, that's long waiting, or that's - well, simply challenging. We help each other out of our comfort zones, inspire us to grow, and hold each other accountable to what we committed to.

In 2017 our common challenge was public speaking. In 2018 I went on a testing tour, and in 2019 my challenge was to become code-confident. Now 2020 is knocking on the door. As Toyer would say: "Yes, it's that time of the year!" So let me reveal now what's coming next on my side.

Thoughts and Ideas Gathered Throughout the Year

Just as last year I already knew there will be another challenge after the current one. Once again I took note of any thought or idea that came to me throughout the year; just listing them as they occurred. Now it was time to review my raw notes and find out what would be my next challenge. My feeling was that some topics popped up more frequently than others, that there was a pattern to be found.
- contribute to an open source project
- live testing and coding on stage
- organizing Mob Programming Conference 2020
- running for AST board -->
- German Testing Day conference board
- dive deeper into security
- Santhosh and Dan: pair on security testing
- become an Agile Testing Fellow trainer :)
- write a book
- self care
- speak easy mentor?
- real technical talk / demo
- blog again more about day to day topics and discussions for reflecting better
- give a technical workshop together with Toyer!
- finding the real tester in me; think testing not collaboration or learning, how do I test?
- make a change? Take security serious for real. Same with accessibility.
- become more tool-savvy
- Agile Fellowship Trainer?
- continue pairing offer, on anything
- continue coding and publishing a coding journal a blog format; maybe also testing session notes
- create new pairing offer on Calendly, keep it generic whether testing or coding
- pause criteria / health indicators: play games, read books, do sports
- after my session with Santhosh: maybe select security as next challenge? or browser extension creation? or maybe next challenge is filling theoretical gaps, taking courses?
- go deeper with what you started, build on it
- health indicators: games, books, more sleep, fruit, clean flat
- take more time for books and courses again? Combined with hands-on practice?
- sharing knowledge from my code confident challenge
- observability!
- create a small app on stage based on audience input, maybe together with volunteers, do it as a workshop
- submit again to Test.bash(); with a technical talk!
- in general: give a technical session, could also be a workshop; don't limit yourself on the topic, could be coding, security, anything; maybe even beginner's round to become "technical" covering multiple aspects I picked up over the years (all helping testing and building quality in in the end)
- TestBash Manchester open space once more intrigued me to go towards contributing to open source, security, accessibility!
- tool creation
- dedicate to courses to fill knowledge gaps
- solve Juice Shop! Or WebSec Academy
- less is more
- take care of myself: sleep more, drink more water, way more vegetarian dishes, regular sports, enjoy life
- dream more!
- Think big, start small, start now.
- start your own meetup! Let's mob together.
- security is inherently investigative! combines testing and automation and tool support and tool development and pairing up and mentoring and everything I've done the last years :D and it's hugely important. Maybe the most important thing is to change my own insecure behavior -.- becoming paranoid? Might even make a great title ^^ no no. Doing this for the right reasons. (And it'll be fun, too. And scary. In so many ways...)
- or: "accessible security" combining 
security with accessibility? For all people? Or: explaining security for everyone?
- stay (become) safe and sound
- join Manchester InfoSec Hoppers? Already know three of them, remote was okay for them, too. Looking for underrepresented people.
- join Gem's testing tour on security!
- contribute to open source by testing
- let's face it! Educate yourself
- security is long on the list, eager to learn more; yet the behavior change that needs to come with it is scary
- local security meetups
- security testing workshops at work
- shadow our security team to see their work and learn, help spread the word
- the ethically right thing to do
- accessibility? --> diversity and inclusion
- environmental behavior change
- it's really about ethics, see Lena's Leetspeak talk -->
- getting better at collaboration, a topic you got known for..
- do threat modeling with your own team
- security is a great challenge as you have to understand a lot in order to get deeper here, combine lots of knowledge, puzzling together; exploring / investigating, coding, operations/administration, social skills, etc.
- performance testing; hands-on; finally learn how to do it
- quality coaching
- observability
- focus on key area of testing: discovering useful information
- problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive biases
- "If anyone reading this works in security, watch Gwen's talk and then start attending QA and dev conferences. We should be sharing knowledge"
- tool-supported testing (security, accessibility, observability, automation, performance, all of it!)
- observability
- ethics
- what scares me is where I feel I don't have much knowledge on (whether true or not), and that's mostly the -ilities or other quality aspects, or concepts from other areas of expertise like DDD, need to dig deeper
- set clear boundaries, respect health indicators
- confidence really increased so things are less scary to tackle
- what does self care mean for me?
- how observant are you? In real life and more
- cognitive biases
- asking questions
- what does scare me? Playing computer games together with others
- "Powerlifting is a good anti-stress solution for me. What works for you?"
- consider time for speaking engagements, new talks to create, MPC program, family and friends, me time to stay healthy
- have the courage to do what's right; the ethical thing
- focus on spreading knowledge and mindset change in the company
- make quality measurable and culture change impact tangible; really scary. Same as fundamental principles, manifesto. We don't assure, we do it together.
Going through the list, I realized there are a few things that I did already and that I will continue anyway. Like joining the Mob Programming Conference 2020 program team. Like creating a general pairing offer. Like fostering a culture of testing and quality at my company.

There are also a few things that repeatedly came up as topics; even more and more towards the end of the year when this list grew longer. I didn't want to rely on my gut feeling only, so I counted the mentions and references of the following aspects - and this way created my top 10.
  1. security (21)
  2. knowledge sharing (14)
  3. health (9)
  4. open source and coding (7)
  5. accessibility (5)
  6. observability (4)
  7. technical (4)
  8. ethics (4)
  9. cognitive biases (3)
  10. performance (2)
This made me see a clear winner where the focus of my challenge should be. Yes, my dear fellow colleagues and community peers who use to ask when my book is coming out - you still need to wait for it! ;)

Pact Number Four, Revealed

The Challenge
Security is my clear challenge for 2020. Even clearer: raising my awareness and skills around security and sharing my insights while always taking care of myself.

The fear - well, I have a whole list of fears around this topic.
  • The area of security is huge. I often feel you need to know everything about everything and also be able to make connections between all this knowledge. You cannot follow the book, hackers won't do that.
  • I'm feeling naive (or rather stupid). I have to admit, I know about certain risks and still ignore them with open eyes. I'm sure there are many more risks I am not aware of.
  • Even worse: I try to warn others while not doing it myself. What a hypocrite I can be... That needs to stop. I indeed fail at advocating for security. We had more obvious and less obvious cases at work. Someone from another team had to come both times and make the team fix it.
  • I fail at explaining security - which tells me I haven't understood it well enough myself! I feel dumb when I realize I cannot explain concepts. I really wished I'd memorize them!
  • On top comes another emotional dimension: Security testing can be extreme fun!!! Or... extremely frustrating. The latter part scares me. Maybe I need to find out how to make it more fun and less frustrating? Also for others who feel like me?
On a positive note: why security?
  • I believe security is one of the most important quality aspects ever, and it will become even more important in the future. Technology these days comes with so many more new and different kinds of risks than we saw ever before, risks that might have huge impact on people.
  • I really want to open my own eyes when it comes to security. Raise my own awareness, and hopefully trigger a behavior change in myself.
  • By sharing about security related topics and my own lessons learned, I hope to inspire more people to open their eyes as well, make them understand the risks and also what's in it for them when investing in security. I want to contribute and do something good. 
  • To be blunt: It wouldn't hurt my personal development and career either, as I can use all my current skills, advance them, and build up lots of new relevant ones. If you think about it, security testing does indeed combine a lot: exploration, coding, automation, tool creation, operations knowledge, you name it. I bet there is a lot to learn for anyone of us.
  • Oh well, and - not to forget the fun part of challenges, right? :-)

The Hypothesis
For this pact, I wanted to break down my challenge in smaller, easier chunks and reflect this in my hypothesis. I wanted to explore as I go, learn more, and only then decide on my next steps; not in advance. A more lean and flexible approach. After all, experiments should be small and frugal, right? I only wanted the overall outcome I hope for to be defined upfront; the hypothesis should not be too strict, yet stay measurable. Here's what I came up with.
I believe that running a series of 10 small experiments around learning more about information security, practicing security testing hands-on, and sharing my knowledge,
will result in increased capability to explain security related concepts and how to test for vulnerabilities.
I know I'll have succeeded when 10 people have confirmed that they learned something new from me in the area of information security.

The Probe
Let's add more details how to test above hypothesis.
  • One experiment lasts maximally one month.
  • At the end of an experiment I write a blog post sharing what I learned.
  • I will not predefine all experiments from the start, yet rather explore my way by performing one experiment and then design the next based on the insights from the former one.
  • Examples for experiment actions might be:
    • Practice hands-on security testing on practice applications.
    • Do the training on the Web Security Academy
    • Participate in a capture the flag (CTF).
    • Join a security related meetup and meet the community.
    • Read the Pushing Left, Like a Boss series from Tanya Janca
    • Create a tool to gather information about a product or site, e.g. a browser extension, a bookmarklet, a command line tool, a code snippet.
    • Get a mentor.
  • Any experiment might prove its underlying hypothesis false. This is not considered a failure as it still adds to learning.
  • Sharing knowledge could take many forms: blog posts, talks, workshops, conversations, anything counts.
  • The 10 people could be anyone. They can come from any background or work (or have worked) in any fields (not only software); they only have to be distinct.

Start Criteria
This time I plan to start working on my challenge earliest at the beginning of 2020, not before. I know I have a lot of other tasks I need to work on before, and also a few days of vacation that I want to use for self-care, not for more work. It might even turn out that I will only start way later in the year, and that's okay, too. I don't need to beat myself up for it.

Pause Criteria
The past years showed I cannot continue non-stop. Self-care is way too important, and I need to take better care of myself. The following are the health indicators I identified for myself over the year:
  • play games
  • read books
  • do sports regularly
  • sleep and dream
  • eat fruits
  • drink water
  • eat more vegetarian dishes than not
  • clean flat
  • enjoy life
  • balance engagements
Now, I would set myself up for failure if I'd chose to fix everything at once. So I chose my biggest indicators I wanted to look out for to make sure I keep my energy up. As J. B. Rainsberger shared with me: "your energy is your bottleneck; if you take care of yourself first, you will have the energy to share your knowledge with everyone else like an 8 year old wants to." He continued: "If saying yes means saying no to yourself there's a problem; we need to get rid of the guilt or shame we feel when saying no." He agreed that saying no to this thing means saying yes to another thing. So here are the things I'm now intentionally saying yes to.
  • Play computer games for at least two hours per week. I definitively want to keep up my streak from last year here and even increase my playing time. Last year it often came down to only half an hour per week - not much time spent on my passion.
  • Read at least 40 pages of my current novel per week. I love reading books! Yet mostly I only make good progress with my audiobooks; I tend to get stuck for very long time on the novels I prefer to read. I usually read in bed right before sleeping - and most of the times I fall asleep over the first page of my book. So this is an implicit indicator of my fatigue and how much I sleep every day. I need to be rested to be able to fulfill this goal.
  • Do sports at least three times a week. This metric implicitly influences my eating and drinking habits. Sports are my physical and psychological compensation. Afterwards I'm always feeling better and often also more energized, more creative. Yet with my conference speaking adventure of the last years I traveled a lot more and therefore did a lot less sports, especially a lot less regular than I used to. The last year my eagerness to go on with my challenge really made me do it - so this is the motivator I'm hoping for to change my habits back to healthy ones.
Each calendar week I need to have at least two of above three fulfilled. If not, then I stop my challenge until I fulfilled all three again within one calendar week. There's only one exception to the rule: I'm at a conference most of the week. These indicators should help me with my self-care, they are not meant to create additional stress, so conference weeks are excluded from the rule.

I hope this way I will do better work with less stress. Oh, and one more thing: I hereby appeal to my own common sense. If I feel I'm drowning (independent from whether this is true or not), I will pause my challenge and first resolve this feeling.

Exit Criteria
When is it time to stop my challenge and evaluate my experiment overall?
  • All 10 experiments are done and the lessons learned shared.
  • It's October 31st.
  • My health indicators clearly tell me to stop.
  • I decided the challenge is not worth my time anymore, e.g. I might have it replaced by a better one.

As always, lots of people influenced me on my way. All of the following have their part in why I chose this challenge for myself now.
  • Troy Hunt. I've first learned about security testing, penetration testing, ethical hacking back in 2016. I had the chance to watch part of Pluralsight's ethical hacking series which introduced me to the whole topic and made me realize that I could do the one or the other thing myself; that it wasn't all a big mystery.
  • Johannes Seitz. My first encounter with hands-on security testing that I remember was at TestBash Munich 2017. During the open space I joined a session by Johannes who introduced me to OWASP's JuiceShop, an intentionally vulnerable practice application. We solved several challenges together - and I was intrigued to do more! Gamification really works well for me. Ever since I've used that app in several workshops myself.
  • Santhosh Tuppad. I had joined Santhosh's workshop at Agile Testing Days 2017 about security testing. This year I even had a chance to pair with him! It was amazing. So much knowledge, shared in such few time. Now he even invited me into a group of people interested in security testing.
  • Peter Kofler. In 2018 I went on my testing tour and found Peter as my pairing partner for security testing. Back then we had three sessions together that showed us we knew more about security than we thought we did. We were eager to learn more and practice more, so we decided to continue our sessions roughly once per month in 2019 (and we did!).
  • Gwen Diagram. Right after Agile Greece Summit 2018 Gwen and I went sightseeing together and she shared how she gave company internal security workshops to teach people about security. I was intrigued to do the same! Yet so far I've done only two very basic ones.
  • Dan Billing. At Agile Testing Days 2018 I joined Dan's tutorial "Web Application Security". (I loved to see Juice Shop again in a newer version! :)) I had a lot of fun and realized I was further than other people in the room. Can't wait to pair with Dan! So happy this session is already scheduled.
  • Gem Hill. Gem is on her own testing tour for a few months now, and her topic is security testing. I loved that she chose that topic and she definitely has influenced me in picking the topic up as well.
  • Jay Harris and Saskia Coplans.  At TestBash Brighton 2019 I got to know Jay, and at TestBash Manchester 2019 also Saskia. Great knowledge sharing and great conversations all around security! I love their mission to make the infoSec community a lot more diverse and inclusive than they feel it currently is. (Side note: I just found out their group has a slack channel!)
There are a lot more people doing security testing these days that I know of, like Maaret Pyhäjärvi, Claire Reckless, Nicola Sedgwick, Lena Pejgan Wiberg; and probably a lot more I still need to learn about.

All this triggered me to do some security testing related mob sessions inside and outside my company in 2019 (obviously using Juice Shop as well). More are planned, and I'm curious how far we get together.

The Tag
For my past challenges, I always used a short identifier to be able to easily refer to it. When looking for a new tag to use, I realized most of my previous ones were alliterations! Well, maybe I need a another one then. :) Alliterations aside, I brainstormed lots and lots of potential short identifiers for my 2020 challenge. Short, expressive, not overly used already on Twitter as that's my main sharing platform.

So many candidates derived from brainstorming! Yet the winner is.... #SecurityStories! Why? Because I want to convey knowledge to people that is new to them. People relate to stories. Stories have a chance to stick!

I Don't Want to Be Forced To a Halt, I Want to Thrive

I've learned what works for me during my past challenges, and I usually kept what was working. This means that I've never stopped some endeavors from which I gained the most from. Still, this requires time and effort, which means capacity and energy in my free time. I still speak at conferences, I still pair with people on various topics, I still want to grow my GitHub repositories. Therefore: my own health and self-care grew more and more important as well. The balance part here is tricky and I need to take great care not to overdo it.

I'm super eager to start my challenge! Still, let's take care first. Together.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Agile Testing Days 2019 - About Community, Becoming MIATPP and Keynoting as Learning Partners

Or: A week full of surprises, wonder and joy.
Or: A big, huge thank you.

Returning from Agile Testing Days 2019 and a week of vacation, my heart is still full of joy and gratefulness. It was a long conference festival week. I learned a lot, I shared a lot, and we had many insightful and inspiring conversations. Brace yourself: this is going to be a long post with lots of tweets to illustrate my memory of things. Dear all, and especially dear future me: be invited to immerse yourself (again) into these wonderful Agile Testing Days 2019 as I experienced them.

Saturday: Back Home in Unicorn Land

The last years I used to arrive on Sunday, just before the tutorial day. The tutorials always provided lots of value to me, so I simply wouldn't miss them. This year, however, a handful of two-day tutorials had been announced, among them two that I simply couldn't resist. The "Quality Coaching Masterclass" by Anne-Marie Charrett, and "Exploring systems quality in a distributed world" by Abby Bangser and Benjamin Hofmann. Both of them were super tempting as well as fitting to my current challenges and knowledge gaps. In the end, I decided to join the latter tutorial as I was very curious to explore the world of observability, a quality aspect that has gained more and more awareness and importance over the last years. I wanted to experience hands-on how increased observability helps our efforts to learn more about our actual product in production, in my case from a testing perspective.

Having booked a two-day tutorial, I needed to arrive already on Saturday. Knowing that my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee and I were having the closing keynote at the end of the conference week, I realized this would be a challenge. Six days of conference craziness in a row...? Well, challenge accepted! Still, I knew I had to be careful not to overdo things. I was close to catching a cold already the weeks before, so I prepared everything for that case and promised myself to take good care of myself this year throughout the week, especially when it comes to catching more sleep compared to other years. I knew there was a crazy week ahead of me, and I was looking forward to it.

After arriving at the airport, I welcomed the opportunity to share a ride with Janet Gregory, Gitte Klitgaard and David Corrales and enjoying first conversations, getting into the conference mood. What an amazing feeling to enter the hotel lobby for the fifth time after my very first Agile Testing Days in 2015. Every year it's more and more like coming home!

The best thing of arriving on Saturday was to have an additional dinner opportunity with the community. Lots of people were already there and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with great conversations.

Sunday: Tutorial Time!

The first tutorial day arrived and it was time for Exploring systems quality in a distributed world by Abby Bangser and Benjamin Hofmann. Already on this very first day I was really happy about my decision in favor of a two-day tutorial. It was simply amazing. Abby and Benni, together with a third supporter, had created a distributed system as our practice playground. They provided the product as our system to explore, the infrastructure its services were running on, and also a whole set of open source tools allowing us to learn more about the system as it was running. They introduced us to major aspects and concepts regarding observability and showed us how we could find out more about the system. I loved that we were a small group with two instructors, and that they chose not to spend the tutorial time on lecturing yet rather on many hands-on exercises for us. Lots of time to explore! I love this part most in workshops and tutorials. If I can make my own steps and gain my own experiences, I will understand a lot more, learn a lot more and take a lot more with me than by listening only. As a bonus: I sat next to Areti Panou who I had met at Romanian Testing Conference and TestBash Manchester this year. (Follow her! She's awesome.) We had a great time learning together.
The first tutorial day was closed by the keynote The challenges ahead by Jan Jaap Cannegieter and Derk-Jan de Grood. They prepared people for the topics they saw coming and gave pointers how to make the best out of the offered conference program. Let's learn and adapt to what's coming!
Originally I had planned to join the meetup organized for this evening and observe the teams taking part in the Xtestathon. In the end, however, I was too tired for that and chose to have dinner with a smaller group of community friends in beautiful Potsdam instead. The night out with Viktorija Manevska, Marianne Duijst, Johan Sandell and Areti was refreshing and energizing. The week could come!

Monday: Tutorial Luck and Speakers Reunion

The second tutorial day came and it was just as amazing as the first one. This time Abby and Benni decided to have us live through a bunch of evolutionary steps, starting out with a system with low observability and then adding more and more in as we went. What a great chance for us to use our newly gained skills from the first day and deepen our understanding by practicing. I guess all of us are now craving the final level of observability for our own systems at home!
In the evening we listened to a very special keynote: Being Lucky by Stephan Kämper. He shared his story how he set himself up for luck, even to the extent of surviving cancer. Stephan showed us how we all can contribute to our own luck. A truly emotional and inspiring keynote that truly deserved the standing ovations Stephan received.
Another highlight of this day: the reunion of six members of our "power learning group"! I finally met my dear friends and learning peers in real life again: Toyer Mamoojee, João ProençaViktorija Manevska, Dragan Spiridonov, Mirjana Kolarov - too sad that Simon Berner, Dianë Xhymshiti, Lilit Sharkhatunyan and Pooja Shah couldn't make it this year. At one point we will get the whole group together for sure!
What better way to close the day than going for speakers dinner? I had the pleasure to be a speaker at Agile Testing Days for three years in a row now, and this dinner was always special. It's amazing me to see how many people I already know these days, people that I didn't dare to approach just a few years ago. These days I can even connect my own connections! Like having Michael Kutz getting to know our power learning group. (By the way, Micha took my Test Automation University course while traveling to the conference, how awesome is that?) Time was flying and soon it was time to go home and rest before the main conference started.

Tuesday: Lean Coffee, Conference Rush, and a Community Award

Tuesday started - traditionally as every year for me - with a lean coffee session with Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory. As we had more people than would fit on two tables, I decided to help out facilitating and open a third one. I've done this so many times now I'm not even anxious about it anymore, a big achievement for me! :D We had great conversations at our table including different perspectives and everyone took new insights and ideas away with them.
Then it was time to open the main conference. For those who haven't been at Agile Testing Days yet: the program is huge, there are lots of options for everybody and fear of missing out is high. This can easily become overwhelming, so I've decided to use my strategy from last year again, which means: keynotes and workshops only. I was well aware that this way I'd miss out on a lot of fabulous talks (and I did...). I don't regret this decision for my own mental health (less context switching and less sketchnotes to create) as well as my personal learning style (I prefer learning by applying new knowledge hands-on). While I still don't regret this decision in general, I really regret I was not listening to my fellow power learning group members João and Mirjana and their talks, and didn't create a sketchnote for them. The same goes for a few other dear community friends, as well as the new voices I'd have loved to support. I'm truly sorry for that. I hope I find a better mixture next year.
  • Keynote: More Than That by Damian Synadinos. What an energized opening keynote. I really agree to the message - we're all more than whatever label is put on us. Let's "un-just" and rediscover ourselves! The presentation was impressive, yet extremely fast and therefore hard to follow.
  • Workshop: A Lawful Thing To Test by Han Toan Lim. GDPR applied - or so I thought. Unfortunately I misinterpreted the workshop abstract as it was rather an introduction to exploratory testing on the example of testing for GDPR compliance instead of focusing on the latter and providing more detailed guidance.
  • Keynote: Influencing without Power by Marianne Duijst. Powerful advice for everyone how to influence even if you're not in the position of power. I especially related to "take the loss" - sometimes there's no sense in continuing a lost battle. Instead it's better to calm down first and then come back to the discussion on another day.
  • Workshop: Confident fast-pace delivery of microservices by Alex Schwartz. Alex made our working groups research important concepts and terms and explain them well to each other - a great technique, that alone was teaching us a lot. It was only such a pity the conference wifi broke down every other minute. This way we could do a lot less hands-on ourselves as expected and had to fall back to demonstrations instead.
  • Keynote: Where Next for Tech Ethics? by Cennydd Bowles. Thought-provoking! Great advice what to do to change our current situation to the better when it comes to ethics in tech. An immensely important topic.
Knowing that Toyer's and my session was coming up end of the week, we wanted to rehearse our paired keynote also in real life and not only remotely as before (obviously). So we decided to skip lunch and do it during the lunch break. It went well, and I was relieved on that regard. However... during the afternoon workshop my brain stopped working and I really grew hungry. And this at a conference where we get loads of delicious food at all times! Yet the workshop breaks weren't synchronized with the food breaks, so in the end I had to beg a few nice sponsors for candies - and they gladly helped me out (thank you so much). Time to prepare for the party!

After retreating to my hotel room, I realized that the recording of my TestBash Manchester talk "A Code Challenge of Confidence" was published and made accessible for anyone having a free Dojo account. I was super happy about it as I wasn't sure if I would get another chance to give the talk again.

Even more great news: I received the confirmation that I made the program for Agile Testing Days USA! Even with a talk and a workshop. I'm so much looking forward to see the American edition of this great conference and to visiting Chicago for the first time.

Now it was finally party time. This year the theme was "80s Glam & Rock". I'm not a fan of wearing costumes myself, so I decided to just go with a simple shirt themed with what I love that roughly fits the 80s. The good thing: no one reprimands you for not being in costume! I love this. It's super fun admiring the costumes of others AND feeling comfortable and safe at the same time. By the way, my former colleague Barbara Stecher won the best costume award, the second year in a row! Absolutely amazing and so well deserved!
Now, this party also includes the award ceremony for the MIATPP - probably the most unpronounceable award title ever - the "Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person". The last year I was stunned that I got into the top 10 list, even the top 3! Couldn't believe that I got voted for at all. I mean, this community award went to such amazing people in the past, my absolute heroes! You know, the big names. Many people told me throughout the year they would vote for me again and I felt flattered and extremely honored. Still, what came - came completely unexpected to me. Because I won this year. (Me? Yes, me.)

I cannot even explain the moment when I realized it was really me. I sat there with my lovely power learning group friends, having Abby and Melissa Eaden on my other side. We enjoyed our dinner and then it was time for announcing the award winner. This year it was up to Lisa and Janet to go up on stage and announce the lucky one. They started sharing rather general statements and comments about the winner. They added more and more details, yet still I was unaware. And then they shared that this person has listed "sociotechnical symmathecist" in their Twitter bio. At that point my jaw dropped and I couldn't believe it. I was certain no one else in this room (besides Lisa) had listened to Jessica Kerr's keynote at Mob Programming Conference 2018 that inspired me to add this title to my Twitter bio. Lisa and Janet continued, yet I couldn't listen anymore and my whole table already celebrated. Abby ensured me that it was really me. João even recorded a video of the moment. And suddenly Toyer was behind me, asking me to stand up, accompanying me to the stage and handing me over the award. What an incredible moment. What a feeling. I was speechless. I only could think of all these people who had voted for me. Me! Me, who had received so much support and encouragement from the community myself. The only thing I could do the last years is to pay it forward! And this is exactly what I will continue doing. Learning myself, sharing what I experienced, supporting others. My biggest thanks go out to all those who supported me, who followed me on my journey, who believed in me. It was such an honor to receive this community award through the hands of two of my biggest idols, Lisa and Janet, and my most amazing learning partner Toyer - and then getting celebrated by our lovely power learning group. Not to forget all those other wonderful people who ensured me I really won and I could really just accept this as a fact. Because I deserved it. I'm still not too sure about the latter point, yet I'm doing my best to embrace it.

You can imagine how many late night conversations I had with so many amazing people. They also shared why they wanted me as MIATPP and why they thought I deserved it. Some said that it's about bravery; that I'm great at publicly sharing what I do and inviting people to follow along on my journey; that I'm the every day hero people long for - if I can do it, you can do it, too. You can't imagine how happy I was to hear this feedback! This is exactly what I'm trying to show. I'm not a super human, I'm just a normal person who received support, took their opportunities, put lots of effort in - and shared what I learned over the last years. I'm far from perfect, there's so much more to learn! And that's fine.

The whole evening was incredible. Returning to my hotel room, I allowed myself to have a look at Twitter - and saw it had completely exploded. Slowly the truth started to sink in. I really had won this award! To never forget this incredible moment and all the wonderful feedback I received, I gave myself permission to retweet all of the congratulations and kind words people shared on Twitter. I tweeted that I won, I pinned it to my profile. I learned a lot how to acknowledge my own achievements better over the last years, yet that's as far as I wanted to go. Plus adding here some of my personal highlights. ;-)

Wednesday: Wonderful Workshops & Power Dinner

You can imagine the last night was very short (yet it was so much worth it). Waking up this morning, seeing the award on my hotel table, the fact I truly had won became clearer and clearer. Still, it was another conference day, which means a lot more to learn! And it was an awesome day, too.
During lunch time, I enjoyed a great conversation with Søren Wassard, one of those people I met already five years ago at my first Agile Testing Days back in 2015 (which also happened to be my first conference ever). I will have a chance visiting him and his company next year and share my knowledge around mob programming, testing and everything. So much looking forward to it!

After a quite sleepless night, I grew tired in the evening. Being at the conference all around the clock can be exhausting, so Toyer and I decided to give ourselves a break and also spend some quality time together with our amazing power learning group members. They didn't need much convincing! ;-) So we dismissed the scheduled evening program, and off we went to Potsdam to have a fantastic dinner together. We really missed our beloved other members and already discussed plans for a get together with all of us.
Returning back to the hotel, we - naturally - ended up in the lobby. This let me finally and properly say hello to Thomas Rinke who joined the conference mid day. Thomas is a lovely human I heavily appreciate - and he never stops surprising me! This time he gave me a gift: the book "Leading Quality" by Ronald Cummings-John. A book that Areti had just recommended me on Monday. That got recommended by Lisa on Twitter shortly after. And here it was in my hands! Thomas, your skills are amazing. Thank you so, so much!

Thursday: On Safety, Mental Health and Allyship

Phew, Agile Testing Days is indeed a testing festival rather than a conference. It's a conference, too, with all that comes with it; yet also a festival. It's so much about the people and all these amazing inspiring conversations that we really have to take care to get enough self-care. And Thursday is usually already hard if you've been there the whole week. So, I had a slow start, yet managed to arrive just in time for the keynote.
  • Keynote: Humans by Zoë Rose. Well yes, us humans. Ruining things since forever. Zoë showed what and how we are lacking and what we need to increase: diversity, inclusion, motivation, communication.
  • Workshop: Improv(e) Your Testing! by Damian Synadinos. My dear friend Patrick Prill said I needed to meet Damian. One more reason to join his workshop! He shared lots of principles and advice from improvisational theater and how we can apply them as well in testing. I would have loved to get hands-on experience with them, yet unfortunately time did only allow a demonstration. Still, I took along a lot of advice for life in general, for work and collaboration, and testing itself.
  • Keynote: Testers, are you really engaged? by Smita Mishra. A wonderful keynote. Smita shared her observations of everyday life in two great stories, connecting them with testing. I loved listening to her!
  • Workshop: Becoming aware of psychological safety by Gitte Klitgaard and Morgan Ahlström. This was another tough workshop - mentally tough. Gitte and Morgan managed to create a safe space for everyone to talk about safety, to experience discomfort while still being and feeling safe, and to share difficult stories with each other. I had a wonderful group. Thank you Clare Davies and João for listening, sharing, and being there.
  • Keynote: Let's Talk About Men's Mental Health by Kevin Harris. What an important topic. What a story. What courage to share it. Kevin went through hell, and managed to share his story on stage. Emotional, touching, and triggering. Especially to talk about mental health, finally. No matter their gender. I can only say it again: thank you.
One day to go until Toyer's and my closing keynote - which meant it was time for another rehearsal! This time we had my former colleague Barbara as our audience, asking great questions in the end (thank you!). Things went well again, so finally we both had the feeling of being prepared for the great moment the next day.

Then there came another highlight for me: the Women and Allies Evening Gathering. It was a highlight already the last years. I have to admit, in the first year the name nearly put me off, yet I gave it a try. I didn't regret it. I learned so much, it really opened my eyes, having me face a reality I didn't want to acknowledge before. Since this first time I went to this gathering every year, hoping to learn more and more how to become a better ally for underrepresented people. I am a woman myself - but besides my gender, I'm as privileged as one can be. I only realized that a few years ago, so now it's my turn to learn how to speak up - not to speak on behalf of others, but as an ally. Bad behavior also has a huge impact on myself.

This year Thomas proposed a similar topic like we had two years ago, and I jumped on it: harassment. #metoo. How to speak up and address bad behavior. How to be an ally. We instantly had a small group, and it grew steadily throughout the evening. We even continued talking after we had to move out of the reserved room. I so much appreciate these people for sharing their perspectives, stories, worries and concerns. I learned a lot about myself again. Once more I needed to tell myself: do it. Create a commitment for yourself, decide who you want to be - then follow it and hope people will join in.

Friday: Our Story, Our Community

The day of our keynote arrived! Finally, and I was still feeling quite healthy. So far so good. Still, I felt tired, so I decided to grant myself a bit more sleep by skipping the first keynote.
  • Workshop: Being the Blockchain by Filip Joele. Great workshop! By having us play a game, mimicking a blockchain, Filip managed to get us the experience what a decentralized system really means, how important it is to agree on rules, and which impact they can have. Awesome.
  • Keynote: Uncomfortable Questions about Testing Addressed by Maaike Brinkhof and Göran Kero. I was really looking forward to this keynote. Maaike and Göran did an amazing job (and I know a paired talk is not easy, especially as a keynote). I loved how they really addressed these very uncomfortable questions we testers have to face these days. I could so much relate to their personal stories. Great way to get all of us thinking about our own cognitive biases. In the end, we're all human.
  • Open Space - Help and get help. As always before a talk, I could not focus anymore on any other session. Therefore I decided to join the open space for some time and then take a break. We had a great discussion around the question and answers parts of conference talks and how we could design this better for a healthy conversation we all can learn from.
Then finally it was time for I can’t do this… alone! A Tale of Two Learning Partners - the closing keynote of the conference by Toyer Mamoojee and myself. Although Friday evenings tend to show rather low participation rates as most people left already to travel home (and I can't blame them), we were happily surprised and super grateful that quite a lot of people stayed for our keynote. It was an incredible moment for us two to share our story on stage. We got inspired three years ago, on this very keynote stage, to become learning partners. It has brought us so far! Our journey included our first year's public speaking challenge that brought us back and back again to Agile Testing Days where it all began. We shared our second pact including Toyer's technical workshops and my Testing Tour. This year I've become code-confident and Toyer focused on growing his leadership skills. Overall, we had so many benefits out of our learning partnership. Personal growth, visibility, promotions, and more. We both had each other's backs so we could dare even more! We really hoped we could inspire people through our story and get them thinking - "who could be my learning partner?" Maybe they met them already! Maybe they are still to meet them. We hoped they will be on the lookout, keep their eyes open and grasp their chance when they get them.
The most amazing thing: our hopes were answered! Besides the three learning partnerships we could strike with our workshop last year, we now learned that even more learning partners found each other. There are seven more learning partnerships we know of already. We're super curious to hear more about their endeavors and what they will learn on their journeys!
After our keynote, we received our speaker gifts. I know that the conference organizers are always very good at personalizing their gifts, yet when I read the card and then unpacked my gift I was blown away. They got me my own volleyball with my name on it! How awesome is that?!
The conference was over. Time to go for a final dinner. A great bunch of awesome people was still there, and I really enjoyed hanging out with them that night. Being able to reflect on the week together with them, having further intriguing discussions, and enjoying our time together. After a great dinner we ended up for a last time in the lobby. Special thanks to Anne Colder and Vincent Wijnen for our wonderful conversations on one of my passions: computer games! I could feel they loved them just as much as I do, and also consider them a wonderful medium to tell stories and express art. Amazing.
The only downsides? Well, it was the last evening, the post-conference blues was about to come. And: my flight home got canceled due to strikes. Well, I tried to make the best out of it and booked a late check-out instead to sleep in as long as possible. Self-care, you know.

Saturday, Again - Time to Go Home

So, sleeping in it was. As I had the last evening flight, I took things very slowly. When it was finally time to say goodbye, it was quite sad to sit alone in the lobby. To not see unicorn toilet paper everywhere anymore. Unicorn land needs to wait one more year again. (Wait, only half a year, Agile Testing Days USA are coming first! :D).

Leaving for the airport I nearly couldn't follow-up with all the messages I received meanwhile. It was a long week. I got back home late. There was a lot to follow-up on. And yet I was tremendously happy. So long, and thanks for all the fish. See you all again next year!