Sunday, November 15, 2020

Agile Testing Days 2020 - Recharging My Batteries

Joining the Agile Testing Days at the end of the year was always a blast and a real energy booster for me. This year, the conference was forced to go online, and I wondered how it would be. I might have shared it before, I'm rather skeptical regarding online conferences. While I love the fact that remote makes attending conferences a lot more accessible, I personally feel online events drain my energy more while I'm not getting the same benefits from them as if they would be on-site. I really miss the hallway tracks, the informal casual conversations, having food together, the social hours after the official program ended, maybe even going sightseeing together. From all these informal situations I learned so much, drew a lot of inspiration, and gained wonderful friends and a lot of connections in the community. The only online conference so far that made me feel re-connected with the community was TestBash Home earlier this year; shout-out to the wonderful people at Ministry of Testing!

This was a very unusual and rough year. It had and still has a toll on everyone, on many people dis-proportionally higher than on me due to my high level of privilege. If I already feel it and go through a (rather smooth) roller-coaster ride, how must it be for those with less privileges? Here's where I learn so much from stories told by other people, especially those systemically underrepresented. Even in my lived experience, I felt in need of refueling my energy.

Back to the Agile Testing Days 2020 online edition. First of all: many thanks to the wonderful organizers to make it happen at all, many thanks for putting so much effort and mindfulness into making it happen, and many thanks for making it a great experience despite all the issues that only surface when you bring a product to production. You did a great job to solve or work around them quickly. Cheers to you! Super grateful.

The Highlights: Community Magic

The first day had me starting quite tired, yet eager to see if the magical Agile Testing Days community spirit would be alive and kicking also virtually. And it worked! Seeing so many people in the talk chats and all the tweets flowing on Twitter really drew me into the zone. All this crowned by the announcement of the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person (MIATPP) 2020, the wonderful and ever inspiring Angie Jones!!! So glad this community award finally went to Angie after her being on the top voted list for years. Well, I might be biased here as I repeatedly voted for her myself - yet I'm convinced I'm not the only one thinking this was overdue. Here's what I wrote to nominate her. Angie, in case you're reading this: thank you once again for everything.

Angie did so much for our testing community. She's sharing her wisdom every day with us, on Twitter, her blog, touring the world and more. She's an amazing presenter and wonderful workshop instructor. She continuously promotes the importance of automation and testing and how to do it well.

Angie has been super influential for a long time already. Last year, she took it to the next level, advocating for all of us when she brought Test Automation University to life. This was a stroke of genius! She got so many world class instructors on board and really engaged the community to learn and go beyond. 

There are so many more reasons why Angie should finally get the MIATPP award, yet one thing deserves emphasis on top of all this. Angie was key to me waking up to what's happening in the world. To not only see the systems of oppression, systemic racism in specifics, but also to act on what I see and start dismantling it. What she shared, her own lived experiences as well as those of many others, triggered me to move; to go ahead on my lifelong journey of learning more and doing better. It's clearly up to me now, yet still: Angie, I cannot thank you enough.

Right after the award "ceremony" (what a pity we couldn't really celebrate Angie all together on-site as she would have deserved it!) it was bar chat night. Alex Schladebeck hosted one of them which draw me right in. It was lovely hanging out with people even just virtually, seeing known and new faces and hearing about their lives and experiences. This strengthened the re-connection to the community and got me looking forward to the next days even more.

Yet my absolute community highlight was the evening of the second day. Party time for some, PowerPoint karaoke and pub quiz for others. I chose to again hang out informally with people, looking for new connections or strengthening old ones. For this purpose, the conference organizers did not offer a usual conference call setting, yet used a Gather town instead. I haven't come across this tool before and was delighted to discover it! Entering the town, you get a tiny avatar and are placed on an isometric world map looking a lot like a retro game. You can wander around the map and as you meet other people, our video feeds get active and we can talk with each other. If you wander off too far away, you cannot overhear conversations anymore. Mimicking the real world situation! Bonus point: it's free for groups up to 25 people.

At first I found myself in the need of exploring the tool, I was not ready for interaction yet. Yet then some familiar faces popped in and we started to explore the tool together which was a lot of fun.

More and more people joined and we figured this was coming as close to the real conference on-site feeling as it could! Groups formed and dissolved quite naturally, conversations evolved on one topic and moved on to others. We figured if we start our own map we could enable the builder mode and customize our map, even add interactive tools like whiteboards or games. We ended up with playing the game Set online with each other and had great fun! Really, I haven't had so much fun in the virtual for a long time. And the evening wasn't over yet. I had to leave the group for about an hour due to a dry run for my workshop the next morning, yet just like on an on-site conference, I came back and looked whether there would be still people around and up for a conversation. I actually found them! Thanks to my dear friend João Proença for sticking around and inviting me over to the late nighters talk. Also here, once more I felt the spirit of Agile Testing Days. I knew I had to call it a night to be reasonable, yet I simply didn't want to leave the conversation just yet. So I stayed up way longer than intended and had to pay for that the days afterwards. Still don't regret it a bit.
The only sad thing: not too many people from our power learning group could attend this year. They were deeply missed, especially my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee. With those who could join, we didn't find enough time to connect. Well, we will have a dedicated call in a few weeks and re-live Agile Testing Days just for us.

The Program: A Mix of Everything

This year I chose to stick with my own commitment of being kind to myself and not creating sketchnotes for online talks. Although I do like creating sketchnotes and sharing them, I feel they only help me in real life settings. When I'm in front of a computer anyways, I take digital notes. Also, this decision allowed me to keep up with Twitter more in time so I didn't need follow that urge at the end of the day when I'm already exhausted. Still, if you'd like to see sketchnotes, check out the ones created by Ekaterina Budnikov, Eveline Moolenaars, Katja Piroué and Konners Brai.

When at on-site conferences, I tend to attend workshops whenever I can and hope they will be really hands-on and full of interactive exercises. I learn a lot by engaging and experiencing things myself. I feel these are the situations I cannot just replay as I can do with talk recordings. That being said, of course hearing a talk live together with other people is a huge difference compared to watching a recording alone. Still, I wanted to make time for workshops as much as I could also for the online edition of Agile Testing Days. Here are the sessions I ended up attending live.

Day 1:

  • Keynote: It's Always About You by José Díaz. José ended up jumping in with a backup keynote as Daniël Maslyn who was scheduled for the opening keynote faced connection issues. In hindsight, I really loved this happening, it was amazing! This was a very personal and vulnerable story showing how José became the person he is today. It was the perfect keynote to open the conference; no matter if it was a backup or not. Really triggered lots of thoughts. Super inspiring, setting the tone for the conference.
  • Testing Tour: My journey of Pairing and Learning by Parveen Khan. I just love that Parveen is sharing the story of her testing tour, pairing up with people and learning a lot together. From what I observed she inspired a lot more people to step outside their comfort zones on their journeys. Just awesome!
  • Being a tester after trying almost everything else by João Proença. Loved it! So many lessons learned in different positions over the years, there's lots of wisdom to draw from. Great reminder that everything we learn can help us with testing. By the way, did you know João is an amazing musician? Check out Marty Was Right (also available on Spotify)!
  • Keynote: Automation Addiction by Huib Schoots and Paul Holland. What is automation, really? How did this fixation on test automation evolve and how to see the symptoms? Great keynote on why we cannot automate everything and we shouldn't. Automation can do a lot for us, yet automating too much, automating the wrong things, or maintaining ineffective automation hurts. We need a comprehensive strategy supported by the whole team.
  • Workshop: Security Games by Marianne Rady, Claudius Link and Matthias Altmann. I learned new ways of engaging participants using a Miro board. I got to know about a security game I wasn't aware of yet: OWASP Cornucopia. I could get my toes wet with the Elevation of Privilege (EoP) Threat Modeling Card Game. Besides that, I learned about the difficulties to make security accessible to a wide variety of people.
  • Keynote: Level Up: Playing the Automation Game by Angie Jones. A-ma-zing. As always. Thank you Angie for sharing your wisdom! Really dropped gems here, once again. This time, transferring what she learned from game design to automation. Also: loved the video of young Angie playing city bingo!
Day 2:
  • Keynote: Testing is not the goal! by Rob Meaney. So much wisdom condensed in one talk. And the messages cannot be emphasized enough: "life is too short to build software that does not matter and too short to inflict harm on people", "build organizations and teams obsessed with learning", "design systems together that can be safely adapted based on what we learned", "optimize for a great whole team experience to get happy productive teams working in successful, innovative businesses delivering valuable software to satisfied customers". Definitely check out all the great work Rob does! Especially when in need of mental models, Rob has a real knack for them.
  • Workshop: Put testing on the map by Wouter Lagerweij. Wouter prepared great visualizations to help us have meaningful conversations on different kinds of tests and how they fit to different parts of our system, process or pipeline. He pointed out to make sure to have a shared definition on the terminology used for tests, no matter which one.
  • Keynote: 8 Bit Pro - A gamer's guide to testing by Dan Billing. I had listened to this talk last year already, and loved the latest version even better. Besides showing how any product needs to provide value using the example of games, Dan even had the whole audience playing Lemmings with him! Really energizing and fun. Also, I really appreciate his plead for increased diversity and inclusion right after his talk.
  • Workshop: TDD with You, You, You, and Me by Zeb Ford-Reitz and Mira Kottmann. This was an amazing workshop, really grateful for the experience. I loved the theory part, they made it really easy to follow by providing very clear and helpful explanations. I especially loved the workshop part which was really hands-on! It's just great working in an ensemble, learning and practicing together. Big kudos for Mira and Zeb for being really kind and mindful. I felt very welcome.
  • Dear Mrs Aquafresh: Bottling this girl’s confidence by Clare Norman. Wonderful story, and especially wonderful storytelling! Incredible job for a first-time speaker. Clare shared a very personal story on how she re-built lost confidence as an adult while she had a lot of confidence as a child. She reminded us to be - us. Not cool or normal, the weird us that we are. To let our inner child out in while. To decide ourselves where to spend our courage on, to put our own stamp on everything we do, and to celebrate that. From my observations many people saw themselves in her story. I really hope more people get the chance to learn from her experiences, they'd be in for a treat.
  • Keynote: bAd-gile: The Online Gameshow by Huib SchootsAlex Schladebeck and Bart Knaack. What a great idea! Didn't know what to expect from this keynote but I loved it. They had two teams playing impossible games before the keynote, recorded the outcomes and shared their observations. Then it was time for the audience to do the same! They even asked them on stage to share their own moments when agile had gone completely wrong or misunderstood. This was entertaining, engaging, fun - and also inspirational. Have to try out those game ideas back at work!
Day 3:
  • Keynote: Beyond the bugs by Rick Tracy. Interesting look at how testers are perceived by different people and how they see themselves. The one thing in common: they find bugs. Yet there's a lot more what testers do and how they provide value. Rick went so far to even calculate their impact in concrete money value. Impressive.
  • Keynote: Let it go by Nicola Sedgwick. What a wonderful personal story to close Agile Testing Days. Nicole learned lots of lessons about testing and quality on her way. She encouraged testers to let go: of testing as a role, of defining themselves by the quality of their systems, of perfection, of the defensiveness that if they're not testing they're not contributing. Let's embrace the coaching aspect, learning new skills and experimentation. Very relatable story, inspiring us for the future.
I had planned to attend another workshop on the third day on accessibility testing yet found myself too exhausted after my own session so I decided to take a break instead.

From what I've seen on Twitter, there had been several talks that looked very insightful: personal mental health stories, talks on effectivity and productivity, and important aspects like biases and ethnics in testing. Good to know the recordings are there for me to catch up!

The Excitement: Our Own Sessions

This time I facilitated two sessions. Lucky me - I was not alone for either of them! I paired on creating a pairing workshop, I ensembled on creating ensemble workshops. Just in the spirit of what we wanted to have our participants experience. Also, these had been first-timers for me as I did pair on workshops before, I did remote workshops before, yet I never had both combined. Also, both session concepts were brand-new, world premiers so to say. Experiments in themselves and to be incrementally refined as we go, as we definitely aim to give those sessions at further conferences in the future.

The "Extreme Pairing" workshop that I had the honor to prepare and facilitate together with the wonderful Simon Berner was something I had on my ideas list for a longer time. Thanks so much Simon for making this happen together with me! We started scheming this since May when the conference was still planned as on-site conference yet we knew this could change any time. Just as it did; first to a hybrid for a small on-site crowd and a virtual audience, now as completely online conference. Looking back, it was a great decision that Simon and I decided very early on to make our workshop feasible to do remotely from the start. Our rationale was that for a pairing workshop, even the on-site setting would require people to sit far from each other with their own screens in front of them. In the end that decision served us well. It was clear we opted in for giving this workshop remotely and we don't regret it. It was a blast! So honored and happy that the twenty people joining us stayed with us the whole time for a 2.5 hours online workshop. Really happy about the feedback received and looking forward to improving the session further. For the limited time we had we couldn't go as "extreme" as we would have liked to, yet the way we designed the workshop we could easily scale it up to a longer session and adapt it to different audiences.

The other workshops where both Simon and I were involved in were the "Daily Ensemble Sessions" with our wonderful conspirators Elizabeth Zagroba and Joep Schuurkes who initiated the whole idea. Each day we offered a different session with different facilitators, introducing ensembling in a different way, offering a different topic to work on, and having different participants working together. This was a great experiment and a great experience with a lot to learn from! We would have loved to offer this on-site on a bit bigger scale, yet making the scope smaller for online worked really well to test out the concept. Once again it was clear that the ensemble approach combined with a safe learning space can enable a group of strangers working together successfully and learning a lot on the way. Also, it's teaching valuable lessons how to communicate and collaborate better with people in general. I hosted the third of these sessions together with Joep Schuurkes and I learned a lot about facilitating again, what helps setting the stage for an easier start and what helps making the space safer for everyone. 

On a personal note: it might not have been the smartest idea to facilitate two workshops on the last day of the conference, knowing I will have my energy depleted after the first one. Still, I'm really happy we made this happen. I learned a lot, it was great working together with my fellow facilitators, and it was a pleasure having our lovely participants.

Next Up

Well - that's it for my conference year 2020! Next year? Originally, I had planned a lot of things already including conferences I've already agreed to. However, no one can tell how the world situation might look like then, so let's wait and see.
Regarding Agile Testing Days 2021, I do hope that some of the planned conferences can take place in any kind of form. Agile Testing Days USA, the newly announced AgileTD Open Air, and of course the usual Agile Testing Days again end of the year. Let's see what comes, I'm eager to feel this wonderful community spirit again. Until then, I could recharge my batteries to full once again this year. Thank you everyone.

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