Sunday, June 18, 2023

AgileTD Open Air 2023 - Welcome to Unicorn Beach

It's been my second time to the AgileTD Open Air, the beach edition of the Agile Testing Days. I'm really not an outdoor person, yet once again I thoroughly enjoyed this event.


Directly when arriving in Cologne, it felt like coming home when spotting first folks in the hotel. After initial conversations with Sophie Küster and Micha Kutz, and yet another practice session for my new talk, it was time to go for speakers dinner. Food and company were amazing and I enjoyed our table conversations. I finally had a chance to speak with Tariq King and his wife - loved it! We got into deeper discussions around certifications and whether they make sense or not. We had fun laughing about past conference stories (anyone remember "table 2"?). We celebrated new speakers at the table, like Mazin Inaad who decided to start conference speaking at Toyer Mamoojee's and my learning partner workshop back in 2018! So proud. We got drawn into the "pen game" to practice our observation and critical thinking skills - ask me about it in person, I won't spoil it here. We had deep meaningful conversations about life struggles; I just love how communities like these support each other all the way. And so much more. Many thanks also to João Proença, Richard Bradshaw, Zeb Ford-Reitz, Paul Holland and Patrick Van Enkhuijzen - it was a brilliant evening!


Micha Kutz invited a bunch of us to go sightseeing together before the conference officially started. Who can say no to that? Also, a great opportunity to re-connect with Heather Reid and Steph Desby! We really enjoyed our time discovering Cologne.

Then it was time, the conference was about to be kicked off. We took the bus to the event location Blackfoot Beach and had sufficient time to meet folks before the official opening.

  • Keynote "Invasion of the Gummy Bears: Fighting Back" by Janet Gregory. This was a great opening keynote on a very important topic. I loved the angle on it and can relate so much personally. It once again reminded me about all the coping mechanisms I already make use of, and provided me more ideas of what else to try. Finally, it provided an additional nudge to get out of my mental fatigue - easier said than done, yet I'm on it.
  • Bonus session "Puzzle your way to group success" by Patrick Van Enkhuijzen. I just loved this session! Each of us had been given one or two pictures that only we were allowed to see and not show anyone. We were tasked to figure out the pattern in order to place all images in one order  - just by speaking with each other. What a great exercise in communication and collaboration. I'm amazed it worked out so well, too! This gave a lot of food for thought to reflect on.
Dinner at the beach was great and the evening flew by. Special shoutout to Marc Kalmes and Ada Pohl for insightful conversations!


Originally, I wanted to start the conference day with a lean coffee session, as I often do. I had some topics in mind to bring, and looked forward to the evolving conversations. Well, it didn't work out as planned and I missed the first bus that would have gotten me to the venue in time. Guess I should have used that time for extra sleep, yet it was how it was.

  • Key-speech "Visibility of Testers" by Huib Schoots. It's a recurring topic that people dedicated to testing and quality are asked to justify their position and demonstrate their value-add. Yet I've seen the same apply to other roles as well, so making our contribution and impact visible is a topic for everyone. Transparency indeed often helps to do a better job, not only because it helps the team work closer together, yet also because you need to spend less headspace on justifying your value that you can use to deliver value instead.
  • "Cross Team Ensembling" by Christian Rucinski and Zeb Ford-Reitz. This topic is very dear to my heart and I hope more people get to hear about it. I loved this talk as it was an experience report, and the angle of cross-team collaboration gives yet another perspective how working as an ensemble can be valuable. I hope people got inspired to give this a try!
  • "The 8 ‘Commendments’ for Maintainable Test Automation" by Mazin Inaad. Can't believe Mazin just started out speaking at conferences - he delivered well! I believe also in 2023 more testers need to hear the presented "commendments" (a word play between recommendations and commandments), especially when automating tests through the whole tech stack. I really liked how he pointed out that this is not carved in stone as things depend on context - while still providing very tangible and actionable advice including examples.
  • "Data Driven Decisions in Testing" by Heather Reid. This talk was awesome, Heather rocked it. We really need to be advocating for using more data at any time for making more informed decisions - real data can indeed be a super power to bring to the table. Loved all the stories that made this talk very tangible!
  • "Team Transformation Tactics for Holistic Testing and Quality" by me. This is the third time I gave this brand-new talk and I felt I had practiced it well. Yet once again, real life situations differ! I was struggling a bit to find my rhythm and took more time than expected. I felt drained afterwards and wasn't sure if the message came across. Therefore, I was even more grateful when a bunch of people came to me afterwards and told me what they got out of it! Really, if you've been listening to a talk and it was helpful for you, please go and tell the speaker - we dearly need this feedback.
  • Keynote "Combining Force Multipliers to Improve Quality" by Tariq King. Just loved the emphasis on force multipliers, how they could be applied and combined! Great examples, too. Especially appreciated that Tariq emphasized how culture is a big multiplier in itself. I totally relate to this, have seen it over and over again. Quite some food for thought in this keynote!
  • Bonus session "Code Reading Club Session at the Beach" by Samuel Nitsche. I am part of a regular code reading club together with Sam and a bunch of other awesome folks, and I couldn't resist this opportunity for additional practice. I also always felt the testing community needs more of this - so I can only encourage folks to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. This was an amazing session indeed, it fully re-energized me. The whole group practiced together and the resulting exchange was really insightful.
  • Bonus session "Smoke Tests & Mirrors" by Benjamin Bischoff. What a magical session - literally! Just loved the combination of Benjamin doing a really awesome magic show (despite very tricky stage conditions for magicians) and showing how magic principles relate (or not) with principles in testing. Both educational and entertaining!
Wonderful conversations throughout the day just happened. Like with Stefan Scheidt on why we both love Star Trek and how it relates to our work in tech teams. Or with Rick Scott, whom I ended up sitting next to in talks a lot which enabled us to instantly exchange thoughts! Or with Sam and Gabrijela Hladnik talking about getting closer to other communities like the domain-driven design (DDD) or software crafter communities. Or with Maria Olga Raimondo about our origin stories; there are so many amazing ways to end up in tech and excel there. I loved the experience people bring in who don't take the straight way.

The conference day concluded with a party with a live band made out of a bunch of speakers and friends! Loved it. Loved the more quiet and private conversations afterwards even more. Like with my dear friends Anne ColderVincent Wijnen and João Proença! One main insight was again that we can learn a lot of things. Everyone has a different learning curve and time when we plateau, though. Yet one thing is for sure, without practicing no one gets far. Behind skill there's usually a lot of practice and effort. 

At first glance, the program didn't seem too full that day, yet the day was over again very quickly being filled to the rim with awesome experiences.


Second day, second chance to get to lean coffee! Or not. My body already complained about lack of sleep, so it was rather not.

  • Key-speech "How do we stay relevant?" by Paul Holland. Paul reconnected this back to Huib's key-speech by sharing that if we're adding value yet aren't visible we might not stay relevant. Paul encouraged people to stop doing what automation can do, and instead start doing what only a human can do. This triggered a great conversation over lunch on which skills and behavior we assume will still continue to be relevant and which not.
  • Workshop "Let’s Get Into Coding" by Stefan Scheidt and Micha Kutz. While this was targeted at beginners, I made it a point for myself to catch as many hands-on coding sessions as I can, as usually I can always practice no matter the overall level. And I was not disappointed! I loved the setup and instructions provided, especially that it was close to real-life situations and that struggling through while also supporting each other and receiving support was an integral part of it. This made it not only very authentic yet also encouraging to go further and learn more - together.
  • Keynote "What I thought I knew about the status of testing" by Lena Nyström. I loved hearing all the misconceptions Lena had been holding or overheard in the past, and what she learned instead throughout her career. Awesome and authentic storytelling, very relatable, and I totally agreed with the provided advice. And hearing Lena say "I'm priceless because I care" really got to me, it's exactly feedback I recently received from a developer teammate (so I'm clearly biased), yet I truly believe people have to hear this more to make better career decisions.
  • Workshop "Ensemble Exploratory Testing" by me. I've given this workshop over and over again and it doesn't get boring yet for me or the participants from what I can tell. Most often, people have never had the opportunity to try any of the included components. Seems they also had a great time and took value out of it! What else can I want.
  • Bonus session "Bug Hunting - Explored" by Patrick Van Enkhuijzen and Jarno Lapere. This session was a perfect segue from my own workshop as we again explored in ensembles - and this time I had the opportunity to practice as well. It was great to learn about what's important for facilitating bug hunts, and then instantly experience one ourselves. It was especially awesome that we tested a real product so we could also provide real value. It worked really well to find a lot of issues in short time. This session was both educational and really fun. The chocolate prizes were much appreciated as well, especially as my group shared the first place with another group. :D
  • Keynote "Knowledge Gaps and the Quest For Rapid Feedback Loops" by Richard Bradshaw. I really liked Richard's angle on thinking in gaps together with feedback loops, encouraging people to spot gaps and fill them quickly. I really think this is so at the core of what we're doing and trying to achieve in teams, and that more people need to hear about that. Richard provided actionable ideas how to implement this, so people could start doing so right away. The delivery was also very entertaining! Perfect to close this conference.
Another live band played, even more conversations were to be had. One person really made my day sharing how they love my blog (I'm feeling honored they really go through these lengthy writings!) and that especially my post "I Am white" was very impactful on them, letting them dig into resources and start changing behavior. Just wow.
Saying goodbye is always hard and people didn't want to let go until the last bit - me included.


The day of going home had come. I took the opportunity to meet up with one more community friend who happened to be in the city: Janina Nemec. It was lovely to catch up before each of us headed home.

Returning from a conference like this usually needs me to sit and digest what I heard and what I learned, the conversations we had and the thoughts they inspired. I'm sad for the people I've missed to re-connect with more deeply, I'm glad for those I had the opportunity to do so, and I enjoyed getting to know all the new folks I had not met before.

I'm grateful to have been in such good company for the last days, people that we can have deep meaningful conversations with each other. I'm grateful for all the inspirational experience exchange. I'm grateful for practicing together for our personal growth. Looking back over the last years, I've been growing with every conference I've been at. I hope more people can make this experience as well, so I will continue paying it forward.

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