Hey conference haters.  Maybe it’s you…

I just got back from another awesome testing conference, Spring STPCon 2012 in New Orleans.  Apparently not all attendees shared my positive experience.  Between track sessions I heard the usual gripes:


“It’s not technical enough!”

“I expected the presenter to teach me how to install a tool and start writing tests with it.”

“It was just another Agile hippy love fest.”

“He just came up with fancy words to describe something I already do.”


I used to whine with the best of them.  Used to.  But now I have a blast and return full of ideas and inspiration.  Here are my suggestions on how to attend a testing conference and get the most out of it:

  • Look for ideas, not instructions.  Adjust your expectations.  You are not going to learn how to script in Ruby.  That is something you can learn on your own.  Instead, you are going to learn how one tester used Ruby to write automated and manual API-layer REST service checks.
  • Follow the presenters.  Long before the conference, select the track sessions you are interested in.  Find each presenter’s testing blog and/or Twitter name and follow them for several weeks.  Compare them and discard the duds.
  • Talk to the presenters.  At the conference, use your test observation skills to identify presenters.  Introduce yourself and ask questions related to your project back at the office.  If you did my second bulleted suggestion above, you now have an ice-breaker, “Hey, I read your blog post about crowd source testing, I’m not sure I agree…”.
  • Attend the non-track-session stuff too.  I think track sessions are the least interesting part of conferences.  The most interesting, entertaining, and easily digestible parts are the Lightning Talks, Speed Geeking, Breakfast Bytes, meal discussion tables, tester games, and keynotes.  Don’t miss these.
  • Take notes.  Take waaaaaay more notes than you think you need.  I bring a little book and write non-stop during presentations.  It keeps me awake and engaged.  I can flip through said book on the plane, even when forced to turn off all personal electronics.
  • Log Ideas.  Sometimes ideas are directly given during presentations.  But mostly, they come to you while applying information from presentations to your own situation.  I write the word “IDEA” in my book, followed by the idea.  Sometime these ideas have nothing to do with the presentation context.
  • Don’t flee the scene.  When the conference ends each day, stick around.  You’ll generally find the big thinkers, still talking about testing in an informal hallway discussion.  I am uncomfortable in social situations and always feel awkward/intimidated by these folks but they are generally thrilled to bend your ear.
  • Mix and mingle.  Again, I find parties and social situations extremely scary.  Despite that fear, I almost always make it a point to eat my conference meal with a group of people I’ve never seen before.  It always starts awkward but it ends with some new friends, business cards, and the realization that other testers are just as unsophisticated as I am.
  • Submit a presentation.  If you hated one or more track sessions, channel that hate into your own presentation.  Take all the things you hated and do the opposite.  I did.  I got sick of always seeing consultants, vendors, and people who work for big fancy software companies.  So I pitched the opposite.  The real trick here is if you get accepted, the conference is free.  Let’s see your boss turn that one down.
  • Play tester games or challenges.  If James Bach, Michael Bolton, or any of the other popular context-driven approach testers are attending the conference, tell them you are interested in playing tester games.  They are usually happy to coach you on testing skills in a fun way.  It may be a refreshing break from track sessions.
  • Write a thank you card to your boss.  Don’t send an email.  Send something distinctive.  Let them know how much you appreciate their training money.  Tell them a few things you learned.  Tell them about my next bullet.
  • Share something with your team.  The prospect of sharing your conference takeaways with your team will keep you motivated to learn during the conference and help you put those ideas to use.

What do you do to get the most out of your testing conference experiences?


  1. Unknown said...

    Good for you Eric!

    By the way, I enjoyed meeting and talking to you and look forward to many more (and hopefully at least a few less rushed) conversations with you in the future.

    Looking forward to seeing you next time & will most certainly follow-up with you if you do the *next* thing in the "how to enjoy a testing conference" list... which is:

    *Follow-up via blog, email, twitter, etc. with the folks you met that you'd like to explore more ideas with in the future. :)

  2. Calkelpdiver said...

    Excellent points, all of them. Conferences are not about you being 'taught', but about you 'learning'. You get a chance to see what other people are doing and their experiences, and then later on how you could apply them to your daily work.

    I totally agree with the one point about putting together a presentation and doing it. Because part of putting a presentation together is learning what you have done, and how to get those ideas across to other people. In the testing realm that is a key component to success.


    Jim Hazen

  3. Alex said...

    Love it. Completely agree and wish I could go to more.

  4. Carl said...

    This is an excellent post! Thanks for posting the positive vibes.

  5. Carl said...

    Thanks for this excellent post and positive vibes. I tend to do all of those things accept send the boss a note. Good idea!

  6. Neil Thompson said...

    Eric, great stuff, thanks. Although I rate track sessions higher than that.

  7. Phil said...

    Great addition to Dont Be This Guy - now I'm really prepared for conferences

  8. Eric Jacobson said...

    Thanks for the excellent addition to my list, Scott:

    "Follow-up via blog, email, twitter, etc. with the folks you met that you'd like to explore more ideas with in the future."

  9. Catherine Powell said...

    Eric, nice job hiding the feeling of being socially awkward. I suspect many of us feel that way! And you certainly came up with a great list.

    Oh, and I know I'm relieved when I give a talk and there are people who want to keep talking afterward. It's the sign of a good talk.

    Congrats, and happy future conferences!

  10. Dave McNulla said...

    I haven't heard so many negative remarks about conferences, but I get your ideas about making the most of the conference. I just got back from the Test Automation Bazaar and learned so much. I now challenge myself to write the summary of what I learned, to build the preso of what I liked most, and implement at least one awesome idea.

  11. Anonymous said...

    This was great post, as I am participating my first testing conference in May this year and have now lots of time to go through these points and be prepared.

    You mentioned that you take notes to a book. Have you tried taking notes with laptop or are you just making a lot of drawings, mindmaps, etc. which make book better option? I am not that fast writer with a pen, so that is biggest reason I doubt using pen and paper.

    I would also like know how do you choose the talks you attend? Do you put more weight on the "status" of the presenter or the content of the presentation? Probably both, but any tips regarding this?

    All the best for future. Your blog is among few blogs I regularly check and not the least because of the practical touch of it.



  12. dhtester said...

    Hey Eric,

    Thanks for such a great post! I think I will add a ref to it in my slide decks for future conferences. :)

    It was awesome to see you again and chat with you a bit at STPCon. I always enjoy your energy and perspective. Look forward to meeting up again in the future.


  13. Krishnaveni said...

    Hi Eric, Many thanks for this informative post. Though I attend conferences I never really gave a thought on the ways I could make it more meaningful. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. - Krishnaveni (http://passionatetester.wordpress.com)

  14. Krishnaveni said...

    Hi Eric, Many thanks for this informative post. Though I attend conferences I never really gave a thought on the ways I could make it more meaningful. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. - Krishnaveni (http://passionatetester.wordpress.com)

  15. Moods said...

    Great post. I will definitely share.

    Are you aware of any testing conferences or training coming up in the Boston area? I'd like to sent my staff, but the company won't pay for travel.

    Thank you!

  16. Eric Jacobson said...

    Moods, I went to a STPCon conference in Boston about 3 years ago but I don't see anything on the calendar for 2012. Go fish.

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