Tuesday, May 24, 2022

AgileTD Open Air 2022 - A Unicorn Conference Outdoors

If you know me, you probably know that I'm not an outdoor person at all. I do enjoy nature, yet if it's up to me, you'll find me indoors. Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in an outdoor conference, the first AgileTD Open Air. Amazing idea, be it for pandemic times or any time! Not exactly the perfect match for me, though - yet I really wanted to see these people again and learn together. So I decided to join the event and it surprised me in many beautiful ways and I can only recommend you to seize the opportunity next year if you can.


The conference itself was only scheduled for 2.5 days, yet I decided to take it slow and arrive early. The first nice surprise: meeting Vera Baum at the train station and making our way to the hotel together. As usual, a few people were already there, so more reunions to celebrate.

After a short break, we all went for the speakers dinner. The organizers had invited us to a fancy golf club restaurant where we enjoyed equally fancy (and tasty) food and lots of amazing conversations. What to talk about at speakers dinner? Everything! It ranged from current work experiences to computer game recommendations, from confidence struggles to personal challenges, from societal pressures to coping mechanism tips and tricks - and so on. Back at the hotel, we continue these conversations at the hotel bar, diving into team dynamics, testability, leadership and our personal journeys that brought us here.

Special kudos to Tom Young, Vincent Wijnen, Anne Colder, Clare Norman, Michael Kutz, Patrick van Enkhuijzen for making this first evening very special! My heart was already full even before the conference began.


This was a day to sleep in and properly rest before the conference started. Also, a chance to practice my talk once more, of course (no matter how many I have given already, this is part of my coping strategy). And then it was time to take the shuttle to the event location - outdoors. It was a beach next to a lovely lake relatively close to Cologne. On the bus, I really enjoyed my conversations with Guna Petrova, Constance Armitage, Bastian Knerr, Quyen Phan and Raluca - this being the first conference for the latter ones which I just love to see.

When arriving, the trail to the lake was already marked with unicorn hoof prints, leading us the way. In case you've never had the opportunity to visit an Agile Testing Days edition, unicorns became the mascot and signature feature, so you can expect to find lots of them throughout.

It was time to see even more community friends again! My dear colleagues João Proença and Vernon Richards, my workshop pair Simon Berner, as well as Alex Schladebeck, Anastasia Chicu, Lena Wiberg, Samuel Nitsche and many more. Also: time to enjoy the opening keynote!
Afterwards: amazing barbecue, such good food. The evening continued in a very relaxed way with even more wonderful deep conversations. From enjoying late night snacks, to sitting at the bonfire, speaking with Jens about how important recognition is for everyone of us, to going back to the hotel and letting the evening come to an end at the bar in great company. You'll see also in the following - the organizers really understand how essential it is to give lots of space for these conversations to emerge, to really confer with people, make connections, getting inspired from each and everyone - not only the speakers.


The first full day started with a (very early) shuttle bringing everyone to the location. Getting myself a cup of coffee, finally meeting Marie Drake in person, and then it was already time to start with the program!
With the official program being over, the bonus activities started. People could choose from going for a swim or run, playing beach volleyball, just relaxing, or - going on a scavenger hunt hosted by Søren Wassard! Well, I couldn't resist the latter. Lucky me, Veerle Verhagen and Sophie Küster took me in - and this team was fabulous! Twenty tasks within two hours, and we completed each and every one (we might have gotten a tiny little bit ambitious - hope it wasn't too bad for everyone else to endure us). Our ambitions also paid off, on the very last minute and thanks to a very nice neighbor team who shared their answer with us, we actually won the "childish" price Søren had for us!
Another lovely barbecue, another long evening full of conversations and stories. Just loved it.


The last day came far too soon (and the morning too early - I'm just really not a morning person). This time, no lean coffee for me, as Simon Berner and I made final arrangements for our upcoming workshop. Many thanks to Simon for realizing in time that the location's wifi connection was very poor, it would not even allow us to open our prepared Miro board. Even more thanks to Jan Eumann for kindly creating a powerful hotspot for us that made the whole thing work!
The official program being over, I was super happy to see how many of the first time conference joiners stayed until late to socialize, network, connect, build relationships, learn through informal conversations, enjoy themselves, have a great time with this lovely community. The evening became night and no one wanted to let go - until we had to say our goodbyes. Lucky us, there are more Agile Testing Days events coming up and I'm personally very grateful I can see a bunch of these people again in roughly two weeks at Agile Testing Days USA, or latest in November for the regular Agile Testing Days in Potsdam.


On my way home, my heart and soul was full to the rim. I love these kinds of communities who do that. It seems this was yet another event that was dearly needed by lots of people due to all kinds of reasons, and I noticed I was one of these people as well. This is one of the places where I can just be me (even outdoors).
All my thanks go out to the organizers of this wonderful event, all the heart and care they poured into it including making people feel safe, all the struggles they went through to make it happen, all the magic that came out of it.

If you'd also like to experience this magic, we already learned that there will be an AgileTD Open Air 2023! Look out for the call for papers coming up. Why not do it like some of the people who joined this time who consider becoming a speaker and submit a proposal?

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

German Testing Day 2022 - Let the Conference Season Begin

Compared to other years, this year is a bit special for me. I've started a new job and hence had to make a decision on how to balance this with conference speaking. In addition, I am still working hard on saying yes only to those things that I really want to do and that I also have the capacity and energy for. Therefore, I chose to keep the first half year mostly free of commitments outside work and then start slowly with "lighter" speaking engagements, meaning sessions I've already given before. I have to say thank you to my past self for this decision - it was very well worth it. This gave me the space needed to fully dive into the new company, new team and new product, and granted me the rest I needed to get this new job on the run.

Fast forward to today - where I just finished my first conference of 2022, German Testing Day! Many thanks to Thomas Rinke for bringing me to yet another edition, I really appreciate it. This year the conference was online which means I don't have any sketchnotes to share - I keep those for on-site events. That being said, let's still share what I experienced and learned.

Day 1

How else could it be for a testing conference? The first day was kicked off and we immediately faced audio issues. Kudos to the organizers for the quick decision to drop the integrated browser solution to join talks and refer everyone smoothly to the Zoom meetings instead. No more friction this way and a nice experience throughout the event from then on.
  • "Wie eine neue Kubernetes Version getestet und released wird" by Max Körbächer. Roughly translated: "How to test and release a new Kubernetes version". This was an insightful talk showing how such a huge (think: gigantic) open source project comes together. Coordinating all the people involved is no easy endeavor and a lot needs to be formalized quite strictly to make it work, like very explicit requirement / code / testing freezes. Automation is a foundational corner stone all the way and still humans are needed to review the changes and their impact. Also, change communication to consumers is key and worth a whole separate team!
  • "Remote Ensemble Testing - From Experiment to Common Practice" by Andrea Jensen. I loved how Andrea managed to 1) tell her story from problem to experiment to continuously evolving, while at the same time 2) explaining the approach of working in an ensemble, and always 3) keeping in mind how contexts can differ, hence 4) encouraging people to run their own experiments and last but not least 5) also providing helpful preparation steps and a cheat sheet to support them on their journey! A wholesome well-rounded skillfully executed talk that's simply inspiring. Great job!
  • Lean coffee hosted by Thomas Rinke. Whenever lean coffee sessions are offered, I'll do my best to catch at least one of them. On this day, I got lucky it was hosted during lunch time (if you know me, I'm anything but a morning person). I got the honor to facilitate one of the tables and we had a nice conversation on topics like test reporting tooling, helpful practices to give feedback and what to do when there's only budget for one conference yet limited space for the desired session. A nice side-effect: two new connections formed through these conversations where I had separate calls with each of them later that day and could exchange more experience.
  • "Tester trifft CI System - lessons learned" by Tobias Geyer. Roughly translated: "Tester meets CI system". What amazing storytelling of how a tester ended up improving the build pipeline in a very impactful way! Just loved the full focus on the story, supported by wonderful big images. Really related to the messages as well. Testing and CI system, how does it go together? Well, through critical questioning, measuring and observing, and rejecting to accept the status quo, Tobias could reduce the build time by a lot, hence feedback became a lot faster on all sides, and therefore also product quality improved. Now, you need to be "technical" to do this, right? No, you don't, we can use the skills we honed as testers already and then build on them and learn as we go - plus get support from others.
  • "'Mobi, bringe mich zu Ausgang Beatrixgasse' Indoornavigation in U-Bahnstationen für blinde Personen." by Helmut Pichler. Roughly translated: "Mobi, get me to exit Beatrixgasse - Indoor navigation at metro stations for blind people". An interesting experience report how a research and development project looks like for an innovative new product - and how we sometimes have to recognize that technology is not yet capable of safely covering all scenarios in real life. I especially liked the insights in the everyday life of a tester on such a project and the workarounds they found to solve their issues.
  • "KEYNOTE: Testing in modern times: a story about quality and value" by Huib Schoots. What can I say, it might be my own confirmation bias speaking, yet I couldn't stop nodding in this great keynote. So much related to the focus on learning with short feedback loops, building learning organizations and changing behavior through doing and new experiences - experimentation for the win! Also, countering the (very unhelpful) learned helplessness I also faced so many times in my career (with others, and also myself). And if you wonder what all this has to do with testing and quality? Well, everything!
That concluded day one for me. There was a nice social activity planned on the evening, yet unfortunately I had to miss out this time. Still, a great first day that made me eager to see what the next day was about to bring.

Day 2

This day was the "workshop day" in my head, a day I wanted to focus on workshops - which included my own session.
  • "Being an Opera Singer Prepared me for a Career in Tech" by Anna McDougall. The day started out with lightening and pecha kucha talks, and among them this one really stood our for me. What an amazing short talk! Great storytelling, loved the similarities and differences between opera and tech. Anna managed to convey important messages in very short time (like: we need to leave our ego behind), and that in a super well structured way with amazing slides. Just awesome.
  • "Ensemble Exploratory Testing" by myself. I gave the same (okay, very similar) session at last year's German Testing Day as well. Last year, people needed to register for the workshop, and although fully booked, it was a real pity that only very few people actually showed up. I still got really nice feedback and made it into the top three sessions which also brought me back this year. Now this time, the conference decided to limit the participants by the first come first serve principle - and the session filled up! We could run five ensembles and practice together from wherever people were. I know that this workshop confronts most people with having to learn A LOT in very short time, it's like being thrown into lots of uncertainty for most - hence safety and consideration is so crucial for this session. Also this time, all five groups had very different starting and ending points - yet all stayed and also seemed to have taken away useful insights. You can imagine how happy I was when I heard that the session once again made it among the top voted sessions! One more important thing to say: huge kudos to Thomas Rinke for hosting this session with me this year, taking care of organizational things upfront, participating in the workshop, and also providing feedback. You made everything easy and smooth for me and things just worked - much appreciated!
  • "D.A.R.E. more, F.E.A.R. less - Journaling for Tech People" by Cosima Laube. This workshop really made me think! We learned not only about journaling techniques or how these can help us reflect and direct our next steps, yet also which direction we want to go into. What are our values, what is it that really matters to us? Why do we postpone or procrastinate certain tedious or scary tasks? How can we learn to respond intentionally to these kinds of stimuli? I am grateful that such important and foundational topics are getting addressed and the respective knowledge is being shared at conferences. Cosima managed to break down the complex theory in a very accessible and also actionable way - we can instantly use the approaches and tools she provided us with. 
  • "KEYNOTE: Deep Democracy – Widerstände im Team verstehen – Alle mitnehmen" by Christiane Leiste. Roughly translated: "Deep democracy - Understand resistance in the team - Take everyone along". What if decisions are being made without us getting heard and included? How does resistance build up over time and express itself, from begin hidden to very openly demonstrated? What's behind this resistance? How can we uncover different and alternative perspectives from the start and actively include them in our decision making so everyone agrees that they can come along? This keynote was both very relatable and also provided a tangible way how to include more people and perspectives so we all can craft and go our journey together.

A conclusion?

Or rather the beginning! I'm really happy this conference provided a great starting point into my conference season this year. I learned new things, I met new people, I practiced my skills, I got inspired. Thank you to everyone making this a great event. Now I'm looking forward to more! The good news: the next conference with AgileTD Open Air is coming soon, only two more weeks to go.