Monday, November 22, 2021

Agile Testing Days 2021 - My Heart Is Full

The last week I've been to Agile Testing Days 2021, my very first on-site, in person event since twenty months. Here's my attempt of writing down my perception and hence enabling my future self to take a trip down memory lane.

Why It's So Special

How to even start describing what this conference meant to me. In our daring times, it most probably wasn't the smartest idea to take on the accompanying risk when Covid-19 figures are climbing through the roof, and still I recognized it was my only valid emotional decision. What contradiction, after so many months of being extra cautious, especially coming from my tester heart. I am ever thankful for the organizers and other participants to do their best to reduce this risk as much as we can and uphold any possible safety measure, while I'm aware there are factors we just cannot mitigate. The next days are going to be exciting still, and I hope for the best for all of us.

Here I am, fully rested after this amazing and emotional week of Agile Testing Days 2021. Probably one of the most special ones ever for me, given the situation. As I've been one of the few lucky ones that weren't hit as hard by the ongoing pandemic including lockdowns and more, I didn't realize just how much I missed and needed this reunion. It filled my heart up to the rim and I know it'll be what my soul will be feeding from for months. Keeping those memories dear to heart.

The very best part of this special conference-festival are the people. I'd usually point this out for most conferences, and for this one it's especially true. I'm totally biased here as this was my first conference ever in 2015 and lots of good things happened there for me over the years. And still, for me it stands: it's the people. And as the conference is indeed focusing on the people and their needs, it's becoming a whole magical atmosphere that's continuously improving each year (huge kudos this time for introducing pronouns on badges as well as all gender toilets!). The people alone make me return each and every year.

It was extremely special to see people again I haven't seen in person for at least two years. It was very special to get to know new people. I was very surprised that I didn't run out of energy - even though I'm very introverted and in previous months any bigger groups than four or maximum ten persons, as well as being out in public really drained me. So yes, this event was magical for me.

Another part I've learned about myself once more this year, is that I've grown personally over the years. This year especially I felt I can just fully be myself among all these people, if we knew each other before or not - I am welcomed. In previous years, I've realized a part of this when I wasn't judged for not wearing a costume to the party and still just being welcomed. This year, I've realized I wasn't anxious in workshops anymore, not even when asked to take over an important part of a role play - something I would have either chickened out of or be totally scared about in earlier years. I personally thrive in safe environments, the safer they are the better. All that being said: I am well aware of the privilege I have and a lot of it enables me to feel safe here. Hence this is what I am working on myself over the years: contributing to the space being safe, for everyone. It really pays off.

I loved the fun time together and I am really grateful for all the deep conversations we had on difficult topics. On what underrepresented and marginalized people have to go through, on how we can use privilege to make it better, on how not to support the status quo but take action to change this to a better place. To all those people: you know who you are and I deeply appreciate you.

What I've Experienced


This year I arrived already on Saturday in order to meet a dear friend and colleague before the conference. Fun fact: my train to Berlin stopped in the middle of nowhere. When we heard about the reason why, I had to laugh even though it meant a huge delay and inconvenience. The train itself was perfectly fine, yet due to a software problem (who would have thought), we were not allowed to continue on the current track. They had to signal that the train was about to go on this fast-track part of the route, and just couldn't get the software to work with them. Rebooting the respective computer and so on, all troubleshooting did not help - we were not allowed to continue and had to go back to the previous station, get off the train and board a new one. Well - it didn't stop me from meeting said friend in the evening, even though we had less time than expected together. It was amazing seeing them again in person after two years!


I decided to sleep in and gather as much energy as I could before seeing people. A great idea in hindsight! In the afternoon, I was finally ready to meet people and spent some amazing time together with Simon Berner. We've been in the same learning group for years, paired a lot together, facilitated workshops together - and never saw each other in person. Finally, this was our chance! Loved it.

In the evening, more and more people arrived and we could celebrate a few happy reunions. For example with Alex Schladebeck, Dragan SpiridonovElizabeth Zagroba and Joep Schuurkes. Sunday evening also meant going for dinner! This year I had a lovely group of five, just small enough to get used to the upcoming bigger numbers of people. Many thanks to Thomas Rinke, Mario Specht, Gerald Mücke and Simon Berner!

Usually, evenings end up in the hotel bar or lobby, having a few more drinks. Non-alcoholic ones for me; I chose not to drink any alcohol from here on during the whole week as it both makes me really tired and it weakens my immune system. I rather wanted to have more energy to just be with people. More and more joined in the bar, more reunions! And finally meeting Samuel Nitsche as well whom I've only seen online so far! And also meeting some new people already, being at this conference for the first time. For example, Thomas Spengler - it was great experiencing this conference together with you!


Originally, I was meant to give a tutorial on this day together with Toyer Mamoojee. Unfortunately, we had to cancel it due to the given Covid-19 situation and related official regulations, which also meant that Toyer could not join us despite being vaccinated. I dearly missed him not being there and heard a lot of people feel the same. Next year, Toyer! Let's hope for the best.

For this day as well, I had decided to opt for the "be kind to yourself"-option and not join one of the other tutorials. It was hard to let go, and still a good decision. This way I could once more sleep in, fill up my energy reserves, practice for my workshop taking place the next day, and then start the day in the afternoon just being with people in the hotel lobby. More reunions! For example with Lena Wiberg, Kris Corbus, Gem Hill, João Proença and Michael Kutz. Also, the first time meeting Bruce Hughes in person! And Sophie Küster, and Veerle Verhagen, and so many more. Well, just loved being there and taking this all in.

I had planned to go to the first keynote of the event by Huib Schoots and Paul Holland. In the end, I didn't and instead opted for supporting my friends João Proença and Michael Kutz, sitting in the dry run of their paired talk. Loved it and was already looking forward to hearing the actual version the next day.

Then it was time for speakers dinner. Each and every year the conference organizers have planned a nice get-together for all speakers with a tasty meal and great atmosphere. This year once more, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had even further great talks.


First official conference day! Here are the sessions I've attended.
At the end of the day, the Agile, Testing & Rock'n'Roll MIATPP Award Night took place! This time with an additional new format, the Keynote eXtreme that everyone could volunteer for and get the stage - on an unknown topic. The ceremony for the MIATPP was traditionally included as well, this year the award went to Raj Subrameyer, congrats! Oh, and we had a lovely meal where I especially enjoyed the variety of desserts. Yet the best part, as always: late night conversations on everything with people I am grateful to call my friends.

      Another conference day, further sessions! Looking back, this was the day with the best sessions for me, with both the most valuable insights and the best delivery.
      • Keynote: Agile Comes with a Responsibility for Sustainability by Jutta Eckstein. Very thought-provoking keynote! Lots of new insights on sustainability and how it's everyone's responsibility to advocate for it in everyday life. And how to do it with very concrete question examples! Awesome that Jutta is leading by example as well! Can't wait to read her upcoming book.
      • Workshop: And now for something completely different! by Huib SchootsBart Knaack and Paul Holland. Absolutely loved it! Didn't regret one bit that I joined this workshop. I expected having to go completely out of my comfort zone and was surprised that it still was within my comfort zone - recognizing my own growth. We had lots of valuable conversations and insights in the various groups. It felt like a structured open space! Great job stepping back as facilitators and creating the safe space for it to happen, thank you! Also, wonderful idea to build on for own workshops.
      • Keynote: Limitless within our boundaries by João Proença. Amazing delivery on a really important and thought-provoking topic! I now keep thinking about options and the paradox of choice that comes along with it, as well as how we can use constraints in a beneficial way. Can't believe it was the first keynote for João, hope it was the start for many more! Wonderful performance, very well deserved. Also: best slides I've seen for a long time!
      • Workshop: Resistance is futile by Anne Colder and Jantien van der Meer. What an amazing workshop! The presented models on the four basic fears and the elephant and the rider are extremely valuable and relevant. They are instantly applicable in any context where we want to overcome resistance and initiate change and provide us with the language and structure needed. Loved the pace and hands-on exercises, and felt very safe doing them, even during role play - this safety allowed vulnerable conversations. Also: so much appreciated the Star Trek theme!
      • Keynote: How to be an Ally to Non-binary Folk in Tech by Bruce Hughes. Legendary. Just legendary! The extremely important messages stuck and triggered lots of valuable follow-up conversations on these important topics with people. We really needed this, especially as not too many people were aware of how we contribute to a bad status quo and what we can do to actively work against the current system, for change. And all this, while it being the first conference talk ever for Bruce, and a keynote on a big stage right away. My mind is blown. What stage presence and storytelling! What amazing usage of entertainment to deliver a such important serious message and make it stick. A real stage talent and I bet there's lots of effort in there as well. Kudos!
      • The Friends & Allies - Human Space by Gitte Klitgaard. Thank you so much for creating and holding this space and making it safe for vulnerable conversations to happen. It's not taken for granted and very much appreciated. I'm learning a lot about myself each year joining these sessions, just as this time as well. The exchange with others on these topics really make me think and provide inspiration on how I can do better. In any case it helps to know that I'm not alone and we can make this better together.
      One more thing that totally made this day for me: the pact that resulted from the learning partnership between Mor Korem and Thomas Rinke created in Toyer's and my workshop from 2018, got fulfilled with Mor's talk this year! Congrats to both of you!


      The last conference day! Here's what I experienced.
      And then... it was over. Well, not quite yet! Still so many great conversations took place this evening. It even took time just to get out of the conference room! I've decided to take a break and have dinner with my friends Michael Kutz and João Proença, digest things in a smaller setting. Just what I needed after everything. Then returning to the hotel, where again we found lots of people still enjoying the Agile Games Night or just being together in the hotel lobby and bar. Lots of great conversations again, with a special thanks to Anne ColderVincent Wijnen, Emna Ayadi, Markus Müller and Christian Baumann.


      Well... not exactly a conference day anymore. Rather the time to say final goodbyes and travel home. The day that the post-conference blues starts to kick in and I could start digest what I've experienced. To feel that this last week actually happened. It's still incredible in hindsight and I'm ever so grateful.

      What Comes Next

      After Agile Testing Days, I usually take at least a week of free days to rest and relax. It's usually closing the conference year for me and I still don't regret I've kept it this way also this year, despite having further opportunities. I'll keep the memories from this one close to my heart, try to do nothing much the next week, and then gather energy for my new challenge, joining a new company. This also means I will focus fully on this opportunity during the next months, before speaking at the next events again. Some things are already in the making, though! I've already arranged a few new and old sessions, pairing with others - well, more to share when the time is ripe. And who knows what else I'm going to learn on my further journey and what inspiration I can take from that.

      For now, I've done all the things I've wanted to do to follow-up on this conference. Providing session ratings, feedback for the conference, consolidating my notes and more - including this post. So now it's properly Agile Resting Days as Vernon indicated. Until next year!

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