Thursday, June 16, 2022

Agile Testing Days USA 2022 - A Wealth of Inspiration

A week ago, Agile Testing Days USA 2022 came to an end. A conference that we waited two years for to take place. Now a whole week has passed, and still there's so much on my mind from this event, so many things to think about and lots of inspiration to take action on. I've been fortunate to attend many conferences thanks to speaking, and yet this was the first one since a long time that hit the nail with everything. A wonderful mix of community spirit, awesome session content, amazing people - I took a lot with me. Here's my report on this journey. Brace yourself, it's been a long week and there's a lot to share.


Why waiting for the conference to start in order to start with conferring! Also, why not make use of a new location we're visiting and go for sightseeing? I just loved the opportunity to discover a bit of Chicago together with Alex Schladebeck, Lisa Crispin and Melissa Eadon. Mel even came all the way to see us without attending the conference, and I'm so grateful for our many conversations.

After seeing dinosaurs in the Field Museum, having a nice stroll through Chicago, enjoying deep dish pizza, walking a bit more and getting ourselves coffee and scones, we headed back to the hotel. More people had arrived like my dear colleague Vernon Richards or Huib Schoots, and we met the wonderful organizers. It was a relaxed evening all together in the quiet staff room, enjoying this private kickoff before the event starts.


I had decided to join Rahul Verma's two-day tutorial "The Joy of Python for Testers" and did not regret it. We learned a lot about programming and design, as well as the foundations to get started in Python. I am impressed how Rahul crafted the tutorial on the fly to make sure it's adapted to the participants! Two days is not a lot of time to dive into a new programming language, and I'm grateful for all the content covered. The tutorial inspired new ideas and was definitely worth it. Also, I appreciated the conversations with Rahul during and afterwards. It's fascinating to learn from sessions on a meta level as well - not only from the presented content, yet also from the way people teach, which approaches they take to convey knowledge. There's a lot to take with us for facilitating our own sessions, not only at conferences yet also back at work for our teams. Last but not least, this tutorial also granted the chance to meet new people like Maria Vilatuña Galarraga and Naomi Schumacher, for the latter this being their first conference experience ever.

The evening arrived, more people gathered and we enjoyed a lovely dinner together - very fortunate to meet people like Jenny Bramble and Janet Gregory again, and also see Erin Hess and Karen Todd for the first time in real life. Precious moments together with lots of informal knowledge and experience sharing. For anyone who's never done it before - go for dinner with other conference people, make use of social spaces. This is where we can learn so much not only for our professions but for life.


Rahul's tutorial continued, another day full of knowledge and learning. And then it was time to open the conference officially, to join the speakers' dinner and then afterwards the meet & greet together with everyone. More opportunity to see old friends again, like Ashley Hunsberger and Shivani Gaba, and meet people in real life for the first time, like Angela Riggs or Jenna Charlton. Ever grateful for our time together. 

Connecting with people is worth it in every aspect, you never know what comes around. For example, I learned that Paul Holland enjoys black tea! If you didn't know, I love black tea. This newly discovered commonality continuously brought us into conversation again and again - and the next days he even shared some of his personal tea with me, much appreciated Paul!

I really enjoyed all these conversations, and yet I knew this was only the beginning. The conference would start early in the morning, my own sessions were scheduled for the next days and hence I made the reasonable move of going to bed early.


Let the conference begin! A long insightful day lay ahead.

  • Early Morning Lean Coffee with Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin. On all Agile Testing Days events, I will join at least the first lean coffee session - I made a habit out of this that I never regretted so far. You never know which people will come, which topics will be brought and what insights you can take with you - and there's a lot of opportunity in that. This time once again, we had great topics to discuss. My personal takeaways: 1) Trying to meet new people at a conference? Be intentional about it, set a target of getting to know x new people and learn their names. 2) Something is scary or hard? Create habits and practice. 3) People not taking action? Be clear and explicit with expectations, support with questions and stay patient.
  • Keynote "Career Choices For The Modern Day Tester" by Vernon Richards. I've seen the previous version of this keynote at AgileTD Open Air 2022, and can only say this time around it was even better! Lots of relevant messages that people need to hear. Vernon encourages us to take our career into our own hands - in the end, we're the ones most invested in it. And if we don't control our own destiny someone else will! So figure out why you want to change, what you expect, who you want to become and stop waiting - instead, seize opportunities. Consistency beats perfection.
  • "Growing an Experiment-driven Quality Culture" by me. Despite some initial technical setup surprises, it seems I managed to convey my main messages according to the feedback received. I'm happy with how it went; it even seems to have been one of the better versions of this talk.
  • "The Do’s and Dont’s of Building a Successful Agile Team" by Deena McKay. This talk provided great input on how to form and foster good agile teams - which requires a shared base and also patience, this takes time. I really liked how Deena included the audience on the topic, actively made space for them and responded to their experiences and questions. She made a point that while she was speaking about Scrum teams here, she has experience with other agile methodologies as well and the main points are just as applicable there as well.
  • Keynote "The Truth about Agile" by Melissa Boggs. What a great reminder what the agile movement was actually about. We should build our organizations in such a way that they can listen closely and move quickly. I loved the closer look at the agile manifesto and its principles that I'm sure many newer people haven't seen yet. Practices without principles are ineffective at best and damaging at worst. Since a long time, this was the first session covering agile in a very helpful way. A great thing to walk through with our own teams.
  • Topic Roulette #1 with Linda Rising. In this bonus session, Linda offered a few topics she could talk about and we as participants could decide what we wanted to learn about. In our case, we went for the brain and critical thinking. Main insights: There was never any benefit for thinking critically, and lots of benefit for behaving irrationally. We'd like to think we're making logical decisions, yet the underlying reasons are completely unknown to us. We should be more humble and open and try to understand people, if we would all do that it might be a better world. The point is not to change someone unless it's you. Have conversations, emphasize, listen. As a species we're doing best when we're together; emphasize what we have in common, not our differences. Now, Linda is just amazing and has a wealth of knowledge she can present on the fly in a very insightful manner. Just loved it and took a lot with me. Could listen to Linda all day!
  • "Security Tooling in Your DevOps Pipeline" by Nancy Gariché. Loved the topic! Nancy provided a great overview on how we can scale security expertise and knowledge while not having many experts around. Gatekeeping doesn't work, yet one thing that does is adding security checks in our pipelines. There's lots of different types of things we can run, and we can also do so asynchronously. I was especially intrigued to hear about security as code and am eager to dive into this deeper.
  • Keynote "An Easy Way Out" by Linda Rising. Linda is just amazing, have I already said that? All the talks I've heard from her are worthwhile - and so is this one. Linda inspired us to try expressive writing as it is proven to reduce anxiety and lower stress hormones, and provided us an easy guideline along with it. I really like how she interweaves storytelling, scientific experiments and instant actions we can take - wonderful. Also, this topic is dearly needed by humans these stressful days.
The evening ended with the Flower Power Costume Party which provided more opportunity to meet up with people, like Larissa RosochanskyRafael Cintra, Morgan Ahlström and also Kelsey Schoen - another first time conference joiner. Also great to see Mike Lyles again, who gifted me a signed copy of his new book "The Drive-Thru Is Not Always Faster", thanks Mike!


New conference day, new sessions. Today less talks and more workshops for me.
  • Keynote "Personal Branding & Storytelling" by Melissa Sassi. At first, I was not sure where this keynote is leading up to - and then Melissa told her origin story, and it changed everything and gave all this so much meaning. She basically turned her personal nightmare into her super power. What a deep message! Very inspiring indeed. It made me think about my own origin story that I tell in different ways to different people - good trigger to look into this again. Our origin stories can not only let others know who we are and where we come from, yet also what drives us, what we want to achieve and why it matters to us.
  • "Superpower to empathize with our users" by Udita Sharma. This was a great workshop that not only provided insightful ways how to discover usability issues or design for usability, yet also really engaged the participants hands-on. Udita encouraged us not to blame our users for design problems - they are just trying to solve their needs and will do so with any means necessary. How to catch design problems upfront? We learned about cognitive walkthroughs, a "formalized way of imagining people's thought and actions when they will be using an interface". We can include usability with just asking simple questions like "Is the action intuitive?" and "Is the feedback appropriate?" - and if not, why not? Loved all the examples that made the content very tangible, as well as the exercise that confronted us with our own biases. 
  • Keynote "How I lost my job by attending to Agile Testing Days" by Jan Jaap Cannegieter. A vulnerable story full of self-reflection reminding us on what's actually important. He shared he was happy before agile came - though probably not everyone around him was happy. When agile gained traction, it was hard for him to find his new role and position in a changed world - is he as a manager needed at all anymore? Until he figured out that it's not about agile or not - it's about finding happiness. I loved that he encouraged us not to stick to our job descriptions but to do what provides value to the organization.
  • "Ensemble Exploratory Testing" by me. I've given this workshop multiple times already, and while it's up to me to set the scene so participants can thrive, the outcome is always different depending on the people joining. This time around I had a wonderful group giving ensembling a first try and exploring an API together - it was a blast seeing them thrive and learn lots of things in short time in an effective way! Seems they had lots of fun, too. What else could I hope for?
  • Keynote panel "Creating a diverse and inclusive world in the digital age" by Deena McKay, Nancy Gariché, Raj Subrameyer and Tolu Adegbite. We need to hear underrepresented people more and listen to their stories and experiences. That was the best part of this panel - hearing the voices of these women, whatever they were willing to share. Not only on stage for the panel, yet also later on in the human space. We definitely need more of this. A few essential takeaways for me: 1) Always call microaggressions out. 2) Be open about your salary, it can make a difference for someone else. 3) Actively look for sponsoring opportunities.
  • The Friends & Allies - Human Space. Yes, more of this. More people, more stories to be told and heard. I am ever grateful for everyone sharing their experiences in this space. I felt my place there was to listen, and then go and take action. I've been diversifying my sources for a while now, and feel it's time again to seek out new voices. I also need to talk more with other white people about what I've understood so far. And definitely, I am still working on calling things out as I see them, not letting them slide - it's a continuous learning journey.


Last day of the conference, time flew by! This was another great one.
  • Keynote "The Experimentation Mindset" by Doc Norton. The topic is dear to my heart and the speaker did a great job demonstrating the benefits of experimenting. Great storytelling as well! The moment he realized successful people went off script? That triggered him to think, challenge assumptions and try new things. We need to make failure acceptable, think big and start small, as well as discover leading practices for our context - practices that are currently great until we discover better ones through experimentation. 
  • "Coaching Skills For Testers - A Primer." by Vernon Richards. Coaching is about asking questions to help people gain a new insight or perspective, not telling them what to do. It requires unconditional positive regard and active listening. Ask powerful questions to further explore the situation with them, help them define and manage it. It's hard not to steer in a certain direction with questions! Yet the best person to solve the problem is the coachee, they have the full context. I loved this space to practice and experience coaching! Vernon provided a great concise introduction with the most essential tools, and gave ample of time for hands-on exercises, supporting us throughout the way. Exactly what I hope for in a workshop. I learned not only about coaching, but also about myself and gained new insights. Super valuable!
  • Keynote "Towards a Future of Self-Testing Systems" by Tariq King. Great session on topics we don't speak about too often yet (still): testing on production as well as making use of AI in testing. Tariq made clear that testing in production is not insufficient pre-production testing, it adds to it - and the future of testing is definitely production which is the only reality there is. It will also include AI as software has become more dynamic - and success for adaptive systems cannot be measured offline pre-production. AI supports self-testing and also requires it at the same time. Lots of food for thought! Awesome presentation as well.
  • "Team Work Isn‘t Always A Dream: Building A Culture Of Accountability" by Dr. Rochelle Carr. What a great talk on accountability in teams - just loved it. Lots of actionable wisdom shared with lots of energy! Much food for thought to act on for our own teams and companies. One thing that really intrigued me is not to settle for mediocrity! We need to have a vision for our team, create a culture of trust and take action - as only action will make it work.
  • "Distributed Exploratory Testing - Embrace the Chaos" by Chrishan Perera. Great story on how not to settle for an unsatisfactory status quo and instead go ahead, take action and try something different. Just loved how Chrishan's colleagues see CHAOS as an acronym: "Chrishan has an odd suggestion"! When you see chaos, embrace it - something beautiful can come out of it.
  • "Building a developer-tester relationship" by Brandon Jason Valle Tamayo and Janet Gregory. When Janet and Lisa set out to have a new web app for their courses built, things didn't go exactly as they hoped for. In fact, the collaboration with the developers was lacking at best! In the end, they managed to turn this around to a beautiful outcome - together. Loved the storytelling and the vulnerability included in this talk. We all make mistakes; this was leading by example how to acknowledge our mistakes and do better. Investing in building good relationships really pays off!
  • Keynote "The Last Keynote on Software Testing" by Rahul Verma. Rahul had a ready-made talk for this conference. Then the event was postponed for two years, and now he's a different person. The old talk didn't feel right anymore. So, he decided not to do this talk that would be so convenient and comfortable to just give - and instead showed lots of courage and vulnerability coming with no prepared talk at all. This made it possible for him to share a way more impactful and authentic, raw talk right from the heart. He asked lots of hard questions without necessarily having the answers: Are we allowing speakers to be weak and human? Are we expecting people just to entertain us instead of sharing deep knowledge? Are we really passionate about what we do or is it another lie we tell ourselves? Why are we not valuing specialists anymore? How can we get out of this and grow our craft further? It really made people think and asked them to take action. Thoughtful and inspiring, a great last keynote indeed.
The final conference evening was full of great conversations again. Including jokes! (Thanks Chrishan for the "schattiges Plätzchen" that I can't get out of my head anymore... ^^) I really appreciated everyone that stayed around, including lots of people for whom this was their very first conference. Seems we did a few things right this time in the never-ending effort to make conferences a welcoming space for everyone and not end up in elite cliques.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

After the conference is before the conference! At least when it comes to sightseeing. I just loved that lots of people still were around and open for discovering new places and having food together. A great combination of enjoyment as well as reflecting on what we learned at the conference.

Many thanks to Maryam Umar for a wonderful tea and pancakes breakfast and visiting the Art Institute of Chicago with me. Many thanks to Vernon Richards once more for long and deep conversations about all kinds of things in the evening. Many thanks to Michał Krzyżanowski for extending his stay and join me on a visit to the Shedd aquarium, a long walk through Chicago's different quarters, as well as the Morton Arboretum. If you're keen to see photos, just ask to follow me on Instagram.


Overall? It was an amazing experience. So much to learn, share, and especially take with me. Really, this time I have a lot more to take home with me than with other conferences in the past. My follow-up actions range from ideas for new sessions, to insights about myself to change my own behavior, to ways of practicing my skills, to inspiration for a new personal challenge, to lots of things to try at work. It's a long list indeed!

Was everything perfect? No, it wasn't - the venue for once was troublesome this time and I cannot leave unmentioned that rooms were freezing cold, even for American standards. The warmth of the community, however, outweighs this by far. I'm ever so thankful for everyone who made this feasible and happen - special shout-out to the wonderful organizers here! You created a very unique event, once again.