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?