Monday, November 20, 2023

Agile Testing Days 2023 - Celebrating Opportunities

It's been the 15th edition of Agile Testing Days and the conference came a long way. This was my very first conference in 2015 and I was fortunate to be able to come back every year since then - never regretted it! On the one hand, there's the huge and diverse program to choose from, and on the other hand, there's this wonderful and ever-growing community to come back to. Loved meeting so many awesome folks again, while I missed opportunity to check in with others - it's a lot going on, I hope next year we can make more space for it. At the same time, I got to know lots of people I haven't met yet! This is something I'm looking out for deliberately, and while I didn't have much capacity this year to go mingle proactively, I'm glad it still happened.


After attending so many editions of the Agile Testing Days, returning to the venue felt like coming home in all the best ways. There are usually some familiar faces to instantly meet in the lobby on arrival, and there are lots of people to re-connect with during the evening before the event starts.

A few of the people I could already catch up with were Elizabeth ZagrobaJoep Schuurkes and João Proença, having a lovely dinner together and exchanging what happened since we last met. I really enjoy these kinds of shared moments at conferences. Besides the official program, these opportunities are usually the most insightful for me.

The evening faded out at the hotel bar, meeting more awesome people again like Udita Sharma, Shivani Gaba, Dragan Spiridonov, Richard Bradshaw, and so many more. It was also the first opportunity to finally meet people I only knew from social media like Yuya Kazama, as well as make new connections like with Nadja Schulz.


The first day of the event is dedicated to full-day tutorials, the official conference opening and dinner in the evening. Personally, I really like kicking off the conference with attending a tutorial. On the one hand, I enjoy the focus time on one topic before the huge, busy program starts, and on the other hand, I really like starting with a smaller group of people and get to know them better before a whole lot more join during the regular conference days. This time, I had the pleasure of having Sanne Visser right next to me in the tutorial - loved it. Over lunch, I could also re-connect with Jumpei Ito and get to know Masanori Kawarada. The day was already off to a good start for the conference!

  • Tutorial Breaking into AI and Machine Learning by Tariq King. I hesitated for quite some time to dive further into machine learning. Yes, I've attended a few talks and workshops in the past years on the topic, yet haven't tried much of the generative tools or LLMs yet. Therefore, this tutorial was clearly one to learn from. Also, I've had a few chances to join Tariq's tutorial at other conferences yet always went for a different topic. So, it was about time to finally get out of my comfort zone and seize this opportunity. Didn't regret it one bit! It was a great dive into different areas of AI and machine learning. I especially appreciated the hands-on experience we could gain, and then learning about theory as we went - instead of the other way around. It made this topic really accessible, and you could see how you could apply this in other areas as well. Definitely recommended.
  • Keynote My tale of playing the Testing Game by Maaike Brinkhof. This keynote was an awesome opening for the conference - a pity not everybody was there yet, this would have deserved the big audience. I love it when people share their story, what decisions they made, what they learned, where they struggled. Really related to the options provided in the end as well - we should be intentional about our moves; we don't have to just stay where we are and be miserable.
  • Mini-missions: making the everyday exciting by Veerle Verhagen. Somehow I missed that there was yet another talk scheduled before the evening started, so this was a nice surprise! Unfortunately, I didn't take a sketchnote of this one, yet I really liked the idea Veerle presented. Going on mini missions (or side quests) to get your mind set on something else when everything is otherwise too much, you're getting anxious, you're lacking drive, or anything else. No actual tasks you have to accomplish, yet fun little optional things that can help you enjoy life more. It was amazing to see how this idea really stuck with people throughout the conference, looking for mini missions throughout and having fun with them - what an impact!

The evening started with speakers dinner as well as greet and meet dinners for participants to break the ice and get to know a few people already. This is a really good opportunity for everyone already around. The event can be overwhelming as it is, and it's good to have some familiar faces in the crowd you can more easily catch up with. That's one of the huge advantages of being a speaker returning to an event you've already spoken at, as you usually have made lots of connections already through speaking.

When it comes to speakers dinner, Agile Testing Days is known for treating their speakers very well! That includes food and drinks, the scenery, basically the whole atmosphere. It's been yet another amazing evening together with lots and lots of awesome conversations. Catching up with Micha Kutz and Vernon Richards. An amazing opportunity to reconnect with my dear friend Thierry de Pauw! Together, we had really insightful conversations with João Proença and Johannes Nicolai about branching strategies and pull requests with all the trouble and benefits that can come from it - loved it.


The first regular conference day started with all its usual busyness, lots of people, lots of learning. Here are the sessions I joined on that day.

  • Tuesday Morning Lean Coffee by Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin. I just love lean coffee sessions for all the serendipitous insights and inspiration! Janet and Lisa are great at setting a welcoming space for them. This time, I learned about maturity maps - Wardley mapping applied to teams. We also once again talked about adapting our wording for desired impact; for example, does it help more to talk about a "test strategy" or a "delivery strategy" in the given context?
  • Keynote 10x Software Testing by Kristel Kruustuk. Kristel painted a picture how testing evolved over time, and how AI and machine learning helped her company become more effective. She also made clear that big changes don't happen over night, yet usually in taking many small steps.
  • The alliance of a security engineer and a tester by Aleksandra Kornecka. I really liked that this talk spread awareness on collaboration and career options in security! Personally, I've seen testing and quality overlap with security work quite a few times, and vice versa. Joining forces resonated a lot with me, as well as her point that cybersecurity is everyone's job.
  • Facilitating a quality process assessment by Janet Gregory. As I've done a few assessments myself in the past for my own as well as other teams, I really related to this talk. Janet presented steps to facilitate an assessment and gave lots of advice what to look out for. For example, watching for gaps between what people say and what they do - so much this!
  • Keynote Could Agile Testers Help Debug Management? by John Buck. John shared how common organizational structures result in autocracies, especially on the top. These usually lack the feedback loops that are crucial to have good product outcomes. He presented a different option in the form of a sociocracy with elected representatives and various forms of consensual collaboration. Including debugging the system and finding better approaches instead.
  • Workshop Collect your explorer badge by Udita Sharma and me. This was the first time we could give our brand-new workshop together! We presented a new approach to help with exploratory testing: applying high concepts from the domain of fiction to the world of exploration. What for? To come up with exploration ideas ourselves, to explain what we do to others, and to inspire more folks to join us in these efforts. All in very short time, without unfamiliar jargon to make it accessible for everyone. It's been a great experience to prepare and facilitate this workshop together with Udita, and we just loved seeing people engage so much with our content.
  • Keynote Missed Opportunities. When quality is put in a box. by Erika Chestnut. I really liked Erika's take on opportunities, especially those that we miss, be it intentionally or unintentionally. For ourselves personally, in our careers, as well as for our product. "Poor quality is a succession of missed opportunities" - I so much relate to this! Erika also encouraged people not to stop with testing, yet look for further opportunities to influence quality.

That wasn't it yet for the evening! First, there was the snack exchange, initiated by Sophie Küster (who unfortunately didn't make it in the event, and who was missed dearly!), and organized by Tobias Geyer. Lots of folks from the community brought regional snacks they love and it all came together in huge snack piles on the tables. So many wonderful tastes to explore! Just awesome. Some might say it maybe wasn't the very best idea to do this right before the big dinner, but hey, we all still enjoyed both very much - and it's unicorn land after all, so who is anyone to judge?

Dinner and party for everyone is on the usual program for this evening. A costume party to be precise! I personally really dislike dressing up, yet this is my favorite costume party ever. I've not been judged by not dressing up once, and everyone just enjoys whatever they want to wear and whatever everyone else came up with. This year, the theme was 90s, so it was a real throwback time into me teenage years for me. Loved it. Also, lovely food, a huge 15th anniversary cake, and great conversations. 

Usually, this is also the time organizers reveal who won the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person (MIATPP) award. This year was special though. It was officially the last in-person conference for Janet Gregory. Phew, what a tough, sad moment for all of us to say goodbye to such a huge and dearly loved figure in the community. At the same time, what a happy moment for Janet to move on to new endeavors and opportunities! All the feelings. Janet and everything she's done for this community was celebrated - so very well deserved. I owe a lot to her and can only hope to pay it forward in some ways. I'm very happy I had the opportunity to be there to witness her goodbye, and I'll keep her in my heart and memory.

The evening was long and awesome. There was finally time to catch up with my dear friend and learning partner Toyer Mamoojee. Time to talk with my amazing colleague Rita Avota who volunteered at the event. Janina Nemec and I could finally play SET together, an opportunity we waited for since SoCraTes. A chance to re-connect with Marianne Duijst and her family! Really loved seeing my friends Anne Colder and Vincent Wijnen again. The evening got longer and longer, lots of folks, I just loved it.


The longer the previous evening got, the more tired I was when getting up on this day. Well, there's always a trade-off, and I realized the fear of missing out and the enjoyment of the moment didn't let me take care of myself as much as I should have. Not sleeping enough took a toll on me. Still, I tried to make the best out of what the day had to offer.

  • Keynote Reimagining Automation by Andrew Knight. He presented an interesting narrative of the past and future of testing, showing what could be. I especially liked the emphasis of automation as tool beyond testing, which we already see nowadays. Lots of food for thought how we would like to create our future, and for which cases tools will be able to assist us best.
  • Workshop The Hitchhiker's Guide to mobile accessibility by Nithin SS. This was a really great session that would have deserved more time, as there are so many aspects for mobile accessibility to consider. I gained lots of insights and resources from the session and loved the hands-on exercises. A lot to take with me and digest further.
  • Keynote Everyone is a Leader by Zuzi Sochova. Lots of gems in this talk! I really liked the message of everybody being a leader and being able to influence - more people need to hear this. Same applies to what true collaboration really means.
  • Workshop How to Untangle Your Spaghetti Test Code by Michael Kutz and Christian Baumann. Loved this session! Very relevant and very hands-on. Micha and Chris shared lots of tangible advice how to recognize issues in our code base and what helps to remedy them. My table formed an awesome ensemble to work together on the exercises provided, which allowed us to contribute from our different perspectives and learn from each other. It's been a real pleasure to work again with Mazin Inaad this way!
  • Keynote MOVE THAT WALL by Dr. Rochelle Carr. I've seen her keynote at Agile Testing Days USA this year, a talk that really hit home for me. And once again, this was yet another powerful and energetic presentation. I saw and heard from many folks how impactful it was for them, and you could also hear it in the many, very personal questions asked right after the keynote. I especially appreciated the very direct and clear advice provided that makes you think. In the end, if there's a wall in front of you, no matter what or who it is - let's move it!
  • Keynote Don’t go breaking my code by Lena Nyström and Samuel Nitsche. Now this was something completely different! I knew these two were up for something, and yet they exceeded my expectations. A different kind of keynote to be sure! Who can claim they've seen conference speakers act and sing on stage, in a musical-like way, while also conveying great points probably lots of people can relate to? Very entertaining, something to remember. I especially loved the message that we need each other to deliver something of value, so let's build on that together.

In the evening, I felt really tired and was ready to take a break from the crowd. That was when I met Parveen Khan again, and we decided to go out for dinner that night! Loved that calm time to catch up. Afterwards, I had energy again to mingle and have the evening fade out in good company.


While Agile Testing Days usually starts slow with the whole week and plenty of time lying ahead, it often quite quickly comes around to the last day of the conference. Here's what I chose to close things off.

  • Keynote A Fighting Chance - Learning the Art of Conflict Resolution by Alex Schladebeck. This keynote was meant to be given by both Alex and Sophie Küster together. Although Sophie unfortunately couldn't make it, Alex did a great job keeping Sophie in this talk and in people's heads nonetheless. The keynote provided lots of valuable and tangible advice on how to deal with conflict situations. I especially loved the concrete statements provided that we could use in our communication with each other, as this is what I often struggle with.
  • Workshop Ensemble Testing by Elizabeth ZagrobaJoep Schuurkes and me. Time for my second workshop! Again, I was in lovely company. Elizabeth, Joep and I had lots of fun setting the space for effective collaboration and fun learning to happen. We introduced people to working as an ensemble (also known as software teaming, formerly referred to as mob programming). We offered three different topics for people to choose from: exploration, programming, and security. I had really fun with the latter, facilitating yet another "capture the flag together" ensemble session! People really engaged and, judging from the feedback received, seemed to have a good time while gaining lots of insights. Just loved seeing this!
  • Keynote Wait! That’s Not Tested by Heather Reid. I really like Heather's stories and all the data she gathers to tell them. This keynote was full of great points as well. I especially loved shifting the narrative towards thinking in bets and hence minimum shippable risk - phew, some real food for thought to take with us!
  • Continuous performance testing with K6 by Alexander Chumakin. Alexander presented a distinct set of tools and demonstrated how they can work nicely together. Really concise talk, giving a concrete example of how we can improve performance testing.
  • The paradoxical state of performance testing by Sonja Nesic and Frank Kootte. Sonja and Frank shared their story of where they came from and what they did to turn the ship around when it comes to performance testing. Lots of tangible advice. Especially applying lessons learned from functional testing to performance was great food for thought! 
  • Keynote The Rise of Generative AI: Judgment Day by Tariq King. And here it was, the closing keynote of the conference. Tariq shed a light on generative AI from the angle of the Turing test. He also did a live imitation game with us, presenting us with artwork and music that may or may not be real. That was a quite impressive demonstration that drove the point home how easy we are to trick! While there's no real intelligence yet for machines, we should consider revising the Turing test. In any case, we're overdue in coming up with an ethics framework around these kinds of tools to use them for good rather than bad purposes.

With that, it was a wrap. The 15th edition of Agile Testing Days was officially over. Lots of people still stayed around and engaged in the various evening activities. As it became a tradition, I went out for dinner with a lovely group of people.

As always, we still ended up in the hotel lobby. Playing another round of games. Using the opportunity to catch up with people we couldn't talk with yet. I really appreciated the time I had with Gitte Klitgaard this evening. Also, last minute opportunities to meet new people like Virginia Weidhaas and Nicole van der Hoeven. So many more good memories to take home with me.

I loved that this year a whole bunch of people from my code reading club were there and we even managed to make photos with (most of) each other! Huge shoutout to Anne ColderJanina NemecLisa CrispinSamuel Nitsche, Vernon Richards - while missing everyone else being on the club.

Change Is Coming

This year was amazing, next year will be different. Well, Agile Testing Days is slightly different every year, they do a great job listening to feedback and adapting. Yet for 2024, the organizers already announced that the concept will change. I'm really curious what they are up to. They have my full trust. I will be back in any case.

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