My Eurostar 2014 closing keynote

I had the privilige of delivering the closing keynote at the Eurostar 2014 conference in Dublin. I crafted a talk that was unique to this event, bringing the theme together, summarizing what the theme meant to me and exploring how it is all connected.

I know the slides can only tell you so much when the narrative isn’t there, but here is the online version of my Prezi:

Everything is connected – exploring diversity, innovation, leadership

Everything is connected

Although it was the first (and last) rendition of this talk, I think it went well. Several people found it to be “thought-provoking”, which is exactly what I was aiming (and hoping) for.

Now that this is over, I feel I am done with conference presentations for a while. I’m planning to take a long-awaited deep dive – with lots of reading, learning and working on new content. I’m taking it slowly. There are some important topics that need exploring, and now I am finally giving them (and me) the time to make that happen. I’m also looking forward to some exciting collaborations with others in the near future.

I’m following my energy. Let’s see where that leads us.

The Eurostar 2012 diaries – part 3 (tuesday Nov 6)

Super Tuesday

Photo by Rik Marselis

Early tuesday, and my dreams were filled with empty auditoria and keynote speakers stuck in airports. A first reality check eases my mind a bit. The people I dreamt about are already checked in, and ready to rumble. As am I. I skip breakfast to be on site as early as possible, but halfway there I realize I left my phone in the hotel room. I hurry back and when I finally get to the premises, James and Julian beat me to it. While we help the tutorial speakers get all settled for the morning, the registration area is again being flashmobbed by testers. Delegates are now flowing in at a steady pace, but I notice remarkably few hiccups. Sure, there is the occasional delegate who is worried about his tutorial enrollment, but Siobhan seems to have a firm grip on payments and registrations. Siobhan handles all the adminstrative stuff throughout the year, a job that can never be underestimated. Rumor has it that she can even make Chuck Norris comply with Eurostar’s presentation materials deadline (which we couldn’t verify this year since his submission “I sit down in stand-up meetings” didn’t make the cut). The Eurostar team deals with the rush-hour queues swiftly, and before I can say “Morning coffee, anyone?”, the AM sessions are kicked off.

Photo by Randy Rice

Like yesterday, I wander around the now quiet and peaceful venue and do a temperature reading in the different tutorial rooms. Fiona Charles has everyone in her room up on their feet, milling around and fully engaged in her “Right-sizing Test Documentation”.  Paul Gerrard is testing the room capacity boundaries in his totally sold out “How to Create a Test Strategy”. Randy Rice – all the way from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – is mighty popular with his “Free and Cheap Test Tools”. Michael D. Kelly – all the way from Indianapolis, Indiana – is spreading his wisdom about managing exploratory testing for a full house as well in his “Session Based Test Management”. When I check in with Alan Richardson’s and Simon Stewart’s Selenium Clinic, I see a screens full of code and two presenters on fire. All is good.

Again I feel sorry that I cannot sit in – imagine all the learning I’m mssing! – but as it turns out there is plenty of learning to be done elsewhere: rendez-vous at 11 AM in the main auditorium for a run-through of the conference opening. Finally, the auditorium is made Shrek-free and we can admire the beautiful – blueish – theatre. While the main idea of the run-through was a rehearsal of the opening remarks, we spend an hour test-driving four yellow tourist bikes through various aisles of the auditorium, checking where to brake and how to park – testing the risky bits first, so to speak. Daragh and Paul of the Eurostar team were able to secure these bikes last-minute as we are going to use them in the most vital part of the conference opening: the committee entrance. While James, Julian and Shmuel get in touch with their inner 13 year-old and do little uphill races on the blue carpet, ringing frantically, I try to make my slideset work on Alan Page’s nifty little Surface RT. Hungry? Not really. No stress, no sirree.

      Half past one. The official conference opening is upon us. The auditorium is packed, music is blasting out of the speakers and the four of us are in the – by now deserted – registration area, using our dubious trial bike skills to balance our yellow monsters in place. Lorraine gives us a go and we make our way to the front of the auditorium, all the time aware of the bizarreness of the situation: low visibility, a steep decline, funny brakes, loud music and a suit don’t make for a fluent biking experience. This concludes our very own “Men in Black”/”Boys are back in town” moment – and I’m glad we make it in one piece. We park the bikes and I climb onto the stage for the opening remarks. It is there that I have my first aha-moment. When asking how many people are attending the conference for the first time, I expect someting like 10-20% but see a *lot* of hands going up. I am a little thrown by that and I would like to see some official numbers to be sure what happened this year.

Ferran Adrià
Photo by Wired Magazine, 2012

I go ahead and explain the conference theme (Innovate/Renovate), telling the story of Ferran Adrià, the former chef from El Bulli, the best restaurant in the world for some time. Adrià started his career as a dishwater but managed to change the world of gastronomy by bringing elements of other disciplines into cooking: chemistry, psychology, physics. He expanded his cooking toolbox (his new toys were lyophilizers, liquid nitrogen, candy floss machines,…) and started investigating how the presentation of a dish influenced the perception of taste (did you know that strawberry mousse is perceived to be ten percent sweeter when served on a white plate compared to a black one?). My main message? In testing, it’s probably the easiest easy to say that innovation is not your job, rather something for those crazy boys and girls in R&D. But it’s not – it’s everyone’s job. Innovation is not just about products: it is also about business practices, processes, tools – it lies in everything we do. Everyone can be an innovator – testers too.

When the committee takes the stage for a personal address, expressing their wishes and hopes for the conference, I can actually stand back for a while and be amazed by the size of the whole endeavour. So many people here, in difficult economic times, all undergoing geographical and financial inconvenience to be here to learn and share experiences – this is great, and humbling at the same time. It is super tuesday alright.

Photo by Rik Marselis

Time now for Alan Page to step into the light, with his opening keynote “Test Innovation for Everyone” (a link to the presentation can be found here). It turns out to be a great talk, in which he points out that innovation is all about ideas, which makes test innovation mainly about test ideas. We innovate to solve problems – but are we solving the right problems? Try a lot, but keep checking whether you are doing the right thing. Alan’s talk is also book recommendation hour: “Where Good Ideas Come From” (Steven Johnson), “The Wisdom of Crowds” (James Surowiecki), “The Lean Startup” (Eric Ries), “Jimbo – Adventures in Paradise” (Gary Panter), “Brain Rules” (John Medina), “The Myths of Innovation” (Scott Berkun), “They All Laughed” (Ira Flatow), “Steal Like an Artist” (Austin Kleon), “The 5 Elements of effective thinking” (Edward Burger, Michael Starbird) and “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (Clayton Christensen). Some of these are already acquired as we speak.

AlanRichardsonKeynoteNext up are the first track sessions of the conference. Finally, time to watch the sessions we have been debating way back in march. I switch to track-hopping mode again and sample bits of as many tracks as possible. The afternoon flies by way too fast, and before I know, we are all inside the auditorium again for Alan Richardson‘s eclectic closing keynote, “Unconventional Influences”. I am very much looking forward to his talk – I chose this talk from his long list of possible subjects because I am all for bringing elements from other fields into our testing practice. And I am happy to see that Alan completely nails it with references to Dr. Seuss, H.P. Lovercraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, the “Fortean Times” magazine and ghostbusting. He tells a story about how he never allowed his testing to be limited by other people’s attitudes to testing or company mandates. He thinks that is an excuse that people embrace to stop them having to identify their beliefs about testing and challenge themselves to become better testers. Slides of his talk can be found here. He also wrote an unconventional paper to go with it, link here.

Tuesday evening is the traditional Expo drinks moment, and I take the opportunity to mingle and talk with as many people as possible. I drop by the Improve boot, where my very pregnant DEWT colleague Jeanne Hofmans hands me the first issue of “Quality Level Management – Managing quality in outsourcing”, a book she wrote together with Erwin Pasmans. Once I make it to the Test Lab, I see that Shmuel brought his infamous box with testing games and waste the rest of the expo drink time trying to solve puzzles together with great testers – and beer. How awesome is that? Totally sucked into puzzle solving, I fail to notice that the expo is closing, and together with Shmuel (still limping like a hunchback) I spend a good 30 minutes deciding whether we should ride our yellow bikes through the torrential rain or take a taxi. Taxi lines lines outside the RAI are rather discouraging, so we end up getting soaked on the bikes. Back at the Novotel, the Test Lab people set up a portable Test Lab in the bar, but even the most die-hard TestLabber gets hungry after a while. And so it happens that a group of twentysomething people find themselves in a great tapas restaurant for an evening of comido, bebidas y alegría. The athmosphere was so relaxed that I am tempted to stay up until the wee hours, but I am being a good chair and take the taxi back – mañana es otro día.

Here are Esther Gons‘ graphical recordings of this day:

Opening remarks

Test Innovation for Everyone – Alan Page

Curing our Binary Disease – Rikard Edgren

Value Inspired Testing – Neil Thompson

Unconventional Influences – Alan Richardson

… to be continued

The Eurostar 2012 diaries – part 2 (monday Nov 5)

So it begins… tutorial day

En route from the novotel to the RAI on this dark and rainy monday morning, I am pleasantly surprised to see “Eurostar Conference” signposted everywhere (next to Shrek the Musical, where it belongs) – who knows I might have ended up at a conference far, far away. It is only 7 AM, but the RAI is buzzing with activity. The registration desk is fully (wo)man(n)ed, and last minute checks are being done. Not too long before the hounds will be released, and the eurostar crew is very much “in the zone”.  I decide not to disturb them too much and go for a little orientation walk around the venue. The main auditorium remains closed this day (secret Shrek stuff, I assume) and the expo is still being built, but I am able to get a good idea of the venue layout. Loungy sitting areas, roomy but cosy session rooms – this place has the right vibe.

By the time I get back to the desk, the first tutorial speakers are already registering. Part of my job today is to show them to their rooms, make sure they get all settled and have everything they need. Dorothy Graham (“Managing Successful Test Automation”) and Janet Gregory (“Transitioning to Agile Testing”) are our first teachers on site, soon followed by Bob van de Burgt & Iris Pinkster O’Riordan (“Lessons Learned in Test Management”) and Rikard Edgren (“Exploratory Test Design”). I walk them up to their campsite for the day and when I get back down, the registration area looks like it is being flash-mobbed by multiple nationalities – minus the dancing. The desk is invaded with people waiting to get a name tag, conference bag and that very slick looking 20th-anniversary running shirt. They get a complimentary friendly word and welcome from the Eurostar crew, some advice and orientation, and off they are to learning heaven. By now I realize that I somehow missed Michael Bolton (“Critical thinking for testers”) entering the venue, but Siobhan reassures me that he /is/ in the house. I go upstairs again to say hi, and notice that Michael’s room is nearly full. Wait, is it 8:30 already? The last queues are cleared, and we have a lift off.

Standing by the registration desk, I notice keynote speakers Alan Page and Simon Stewart check in. As they are not teaching/speaking today, and they probably won’t be hanging around the venue the whole time, I make sure to remind them of the speaker’s drink taking place this evening in a bar behind the RAI. Apparently, I wasn’t the first:

The rest of the morning I spend wandering from room to room, sitting in for short periods of time, to catch the vibe and to see whether the delegates are enjoying themselves. This is a strange change of perspective. During the previous years, I was always in these tutorials myself, focused on learning. Now, I am checking the reactions of people and not really paying attention to what is being told. I am a lousy multi-tasker. Not that I don’t pick up stuff – I vividly recall Rikard walking around without shoes, talking about software potatoes. I catch Bob and Iris talking about a thin (cheese) slicing test management method (mmm… cheese), and Michael debriefing one of his many exercises and quoting Jerry Weinberg (*). I hear Dorothy highlighting and explaining stories from her award-winning book (“Experiences of Test Automation“), and Janet is scaling her normally much more intimate workshop to a way bigger audience – and she seems to handle that with style and grace.

The rest of the RAI is empty at this time of day, which makes for a strange contrast with the invasion of only an hour earlier. During the coffee breaks, the friendly chatter reappears, and I observe and talk. Finally, I bump into Shmuel, who is limping like someone with bad shoes who had a very long walk in Amsterdam on a rainy sunday. It adds to his overall funniness, although I think he already is funny enough as is. We discuss the subject of yellow tourist bikes to go back and forth between the Novotel and the RAI – bikes that will play a role in our conference opening as well.

Right before lunch, as I am welcoming delegates into the lunch restaurant, fellow committee member James Lyndsay enters the venue. He is sporting a big bag that mostly contains a stylish – and heavy – kilt. Guaranteed gala dinner goodness. During lunch, James is mentioning his upcoming gig with the London Bulgarian Choir – the friday after the conference. And I thought /I/ had a hectic schedule! When the tutorials start up again and the restaurant is emptying, Shmuel and I act as a (poor man’s excuse for a ) choir while James rehearses one of his deep-voiced solos, leaving the waiters and RAI staff wondering what they just witnessed. The RAI restaurant has good acoustics, actually. Rumor has it that James’ voice is still haunting the premises.

The afternoon flows smoothly, I feel, and around 4 pm I follow Lorraine’s recommendation to use the last couple of hours of the afternoon to relax a bit before things get really hectic tomorrow. The weather is crisp and clear, so I go for a walk around the area. Not too long though, since the speaker drinks kick off at 6.

At the drink, which turns out to take place in a cosy Austrian log cabin, I meet Julian Harty who just flew in from Nairobi with a short detour to the UK – to switch from summer to winter clothes. On thursday evening, he has to move on to go speak at the (equally fantastic) Oredev conference, which unfortunately takes place in the same week this year. Speaking of hectic schedules, I am convinced that Julian’s travel arrangements would make Kofi Annan look lazy. It is good to have our committee finally complete, and on site. Actually, this is the first time that the four of us together meet face to face, as Shmuel was skyping in while the rest of us were meeting in Galway in march.

As the committee is hosting the drinks, we do our best to make everyone feel welcome. Shmuel goes full reversed paparazzo and has his picture taken with everyone present – behavior that he will continue to exhibit throughout the whole conference, which makes me wonder: doesn’t that make his photo albums mighty Shmuel-centric? The athmosphere is really relaxed, and I am glad to see things turning out so nicely. I am now able to put faces to submissions, and voices to pictures. Michael D. Kelly – very thrilled to finally meet him, by the way – looked so young that I didn’t even recognize him at first. I don’t know why I had imagined him older, must be his reputation preceeding him.

My evening ended in a tasty Indonesian restaurant, where a large group of testers was diving into a rice table as we entered. I was invited to eat (heaps of) spicy leftovers from other people (thank you Rob Lambert and John Stevenson for feeding the hungry and the impatient – your good Samaritanism is highly appreciated). Again,  occasions like this work wonders in putting faces to twitter handles: be warned, @GeirGulbrandsen and @Kristoffer_Nord, you’re no longer safe from me.

After dinner : plenty of rest for the wicked. Tomorrow, there’s an official conference-opening to be done. 

… to be continued

——————————– 

(*) Which comes as no surprise, as Jerry Weinberg – Patron Saint of thinking testers – is very much worth quoting. And reading, even more so. If you haven’t read any of his books, I encourage you to do so.

The Eurostar 2012 diaries (the prequel)

What a year…

It has been a while since my last blog post, and being the programme chair for Europe’s biggest software testing conference probably had something to do with that. Now that the twentieth edition of Eurostar is over and the whole event is still very much in my system, I figured it is about time to revive Ye Olde TestSideStory blog.

The Eurostar office, Galway

The whole year leading up to this moment was one big trip into testing conference wonderland. I learned loads about conference-making (I’m pretending that this is a dictionary entry somewhere) in the small and the large. Selecting a committee, a theme, keynotes, tutorials, assembling a balanced programme out of 400+ submissions – these things in itself already were quite a challenge. This, combined with a steady flow of related side-activities proved to occupy the better part of my free time. Luckily, the Eurostar team in Galway (Ireland) made this into a very enjoyable and fluent experience. I had the privilige of visiting the Galway office a couple of times in the past year, and the team has a great energy that gets things going (and a love for Belgian chocolates and all things Guinness). Props to my employer CTG as well, for giving me the opportunity to spend time preparing the conference.

Working with my committee (Julian Harty James LyndsayShmuel Gershon) throughout the year was certainly a highlight. I have fond memories of our lengthy skype sessions, discussing about anything in the testing conference realm – we even managed to find some emerging behavior in skype chat in the process. In hindsight, I was particularly impressed with Julian’s pragmatism and fresh ideas, James’ note-taking fu in the face of a truckload of submissions, and Shmuel’s contagious enthusiasm.

The last weeks, pressure had been building gradually: seeing the early bird subscriptions take off, hearing about testlab preparations, tutorials filling up… Later on, a couple of speakers opted out and needed replacement – things were getting more real every week.

Rainy Amsterdam – Sunday November 4

After some uneventful aquaplaning all the way from Belgium, I met up with Israeli-Brazilian superstar (and programme committee member extraordinaire) Shmuel Gershon. Originally there was a visit planned to the RAI to get acquainted with the venue layout, but since Eurostar happened to coincide with Shrek The musical (Ogres in the main auditorium! Fionas mindmapping a test strategy!), this was no longer possible. We decided to dive headfirst into the city of Amsterdam, to explore. Some observations:

  • A couple of hours in Amsterdam can spawn more rain than six days in Ireland
  • Torrential rain will soak up even the sturdiest shoes
  • The Anne Frank house has bigger lines than the newly opened Amsterdam Apple Store
  • From now on, if the map and the territory disagree, I’m believing the territory
  • Serendipitous wandering can make you end up in one of the finer Indian Restaurants in Amsterdam
  • The finer Indian bread is very kosher – but expensive
  • Two men with identical bright blue Novotel umbrellas look funny (I guess people expected a Gene Kelly dance routine)

When arriving back at the Novotel, soaked to the bone, a bunch of testers had already gathered for an informal meetup in the bar. I was planning to change into dry clothes first, but got engaged in conversation and totally forgot about it. Sometimes you have to plan as you go along.

Conference pre-opening (photo by Huib Schoots)

While my shoes were drying slowly, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with new friends (Cyril Boucher, Jeanne Peng, Erkki Pöyhönen) and catching up with old ones (John Stevenson, Michael Bolton, Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Rikard Edgren, Shmuel). John in particular was on fire that evening, quoting book titles like some kind of human reading tip generator. The two that I managed to note down are “The click moment” and “Everything is obvious“. The rest got lost in a pre-conference haze.

Later on I ran into the Eurostar crew as well. They had been on site since friday, unpacking stuff and basically building everything from scratch. They expanded their team for the conference, and it was nice meeting new faces there too. They all looked happy and confident, which was kind of reassuring to see: the logistic side is under control. Chatting with them also made me realize that things were about to be kicked off for real.

Are those nerves I feel? Anyway, time for bed – appointment at the RAI at 7 am.

… to be continued

Innovate & Renovate: Evolving Testing

Test Side Sorry

I know it’s been quiet here lately. A big Test Side Sorry for that. A lot has happened the last months, and many things occupy my mind and time.

Eurostar 2011

One of these is Eurostar, Europe’s largest testing conference which took place in Manchester in november. I had a great time meeting new people and catching up with others. Finally meeting people from twitter in person is one of the best side-effects from conferences I know. It feels like meeting old acquaintances, in a way. 

The test lab vibe was great, as always. I saw some great track sessions, and there were loads of things happening behind the scenes as well: video tapings, special and fun sessions that will be published the coming months. I even spotted a smoke machine or two on a Thin Lizzy soundtrack. The conferring didn’t stop at 6 pm – Manchester pubs were test-infected for a while.

At the gala awards dinner, in the magnificent setting of the Manchester Monastery, Julian Harty received the Testing Excellence award. Geoff Thompson also revealed next year’s programme chair.

Eurostar 2012

Rewind three weeks. Lorraine – Eurostar’s conference manager – calls me during my daily commute to inquire if I would be interested in becoming the programme chair for 2012. I barely manage to steer clear of a ditch. And I apologize to that old lady I almost ran into. Back to the call. I hesitate at first, ask some time to think it through. Seconds later I realize: “wait a minute, what was I thinking? Of course I’ll do it! Yes, there will be work involved. But it’s all good.

Eurostar will turn twenty in november 2012. I will be the host of this special edition, taking place from november 5-8 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Twenty years, that is quite something. No longer a teenager, and old enough to party.

My partners in crime for this conference are James Lyndsay, Julian Harty and Shmuel Gershon, and I can’t stress enough how honored I feel that they accepted to be on the team. Our first task was to come up with a theme. Since our aim is to craft a learning conference, focusing on innovation, renovation and creativity in testing, we decided on:

Innovate & Renovate: Evolving Testing

The call for submissions is now open, by the way. I look forward to receiving your ideas.

Rebel rebel – the Danish Alliance @ Eurostar 2010

Something way cool happened at Eurostar this year. A group of like-minded people got together after the conference to do a mini-CONFERence in a more intimate setting. They called themselves the Danish Alliance (or Oprørsalliancen, when they felt like badly pronouncing Danish words). The concept was based on the Rebel Alliance, started by Matt Heusser at StarEast last year. I had been thinking about a localized version of the Alliance before, but it was the ever energetic Shmuel Gershon who put his efforts into organizing the first Alliance on European soil. Of course, this little guerilla conference couldn’t have happened without the generous help of the Eurostar folks, who set us up with a superb meeting room. Need I say that they ROCK?

The ingredients were simple: 

  • A handful of passionate testers
  • A safe setting
  • Drinks
  • Pizza
  • Music
  • Chocolates & cookies

Throw all these together and stir gently. Observe.

Whatever happens, happens. There was no agenda, really. In this case we mingled first, talked and drank a bit until pizzas arrived. Major  epiphany: Denmark has pizzas that come in the size of a small wallaby. After that, there were some lighting talks, timed by quality gatetimekeeper Michael Bolton (who definitely should get into the timekeeping business whenever he gets out of the QA business). You can see (transcripted!) videos of the talks in Shmuel’s write-up of the event

‘Talks’ don’t have to be ‘talks’, per se. James Lyndsay did a call to action to test one of his new black box testing machines. Andy Glover (the Cartoon Tester) got us drawing abstract concepts. Dorothy Graham even gave us a Sound of Music flashback by singing about her favorite techniques. Anything goes.

Discussions continued until the wee hours. I thought it was wonderful. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t regularly happen during the day at conferences. Sure, the Eurostar programme was great, again (and I’ll be writing more about that later), but the real conferring often happens outside the track sessions and tutorials. It feels great to connect with other people that are all driven by the same thing: a passion for their craft.

So thank you Shmuel Gershon, Jesper L Ottosen, Joris Meerts, Dorothy Graham, James LyndsayBart Knaack, Martin Jansson, Henrik AnderssonMichael Bolton, Andy Glover, John Stevenson, Rob LambertCarsten Feilberg, Ajay BalamurugadasMarkus GaertnerHenrik Emilsson, Julian Harty, Rob Sabourin, Rikard Edgren, Lynn McKee and Rob Lugton. The force will be with you, always.

Why you shouldn’t miss EuroSTAR 2010

10 reasons why you shouldn’t miss Eurostar 2010

Two weeks from now you will find me in trendy Copenhagen, proud home of the world’s best restaurant (Noma) and Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. But the real reason for my trek up north is not sightseeing or spending money on Tørret kammusling og biodynamiske gryn: Copenhagen is also the host of the 18th edition of the annual EuroSTAR testing conference.

If you’re not yet familiar with Europe’s biggest software testing conference, you should definitely check them out. If you’re still hesitating about attending, there’s no need to. If you’re thinking of going, do go. Here’s why:

  • First and foremost: the Content.
    • The programme committee assembled a promising line-up, centered around the main theme “sharing the passion”. Track session categories include test management, exploratory testing, virtualisation, techniques, Scrum, inspiration, education, Lean, MBT, people and automation, among many others. L’embarras du choix.
    • Keynotes, anyone? Antony Marcano, Rob Sabourin, Bob Galen, Dino Patti and Stuart Reid. Recent history teaches us that wherever Stuart lays his hat, controversy and discussion automagically appear. I’m confident that his keynote “When Passion Obscures The Facts: The Case for Evidence-Based Testing” will be no different. 
    • I especially look forward to the tutorials. Rob Sabourin will run a full-day tutorial on “Just In Time Testing – Effective Testing Strategies“. Michael Bolton will be doing a half-day tutorial on Test Framing (read his blogpost that coins test framing here). But that’s not all. There’s Lee Copeland too. And many, many more. L’embarras du choix, revisité.   
  • Test Lab.
    James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack will run their on-site Test Lab for the second consecutive year. They will be assisted by Henrik Emilsson and Martin Jansson, 2/3 of that restless online blogging collective called The Test Eye. The other 1/3 is Rikard Edgren, who is part of the programme committee this year – I guess you could say that Eurostar is TestEye-infected. From what I experienced last year, the test lab is a really unique experience. Live testing at a testing conference! Theory put into practice, and maybe some weekend testing sessions, testing dojos or katas. Anything goes, really.
  • Inspiration.
    Hearing all these different viewpoints, new ideas, talking with the experts, engaging in discussions… It’s a savory buffet full of food for thought. Attending conferences is intellectually stimulating, and you’ll probably learn more during these couple of days than you do during most ‘regular’ training courses. I see EuroSTAR as a multi-dimensional training course that as such deserves to be on every company’s training calendar.
  • Get Primed.
    Any problems you are facing at work – you just might see them differently when you get back. Things you hear at the conference and  people you talk to often trigger other ways of thinking. Conferences tend to broaden your perspective on things.
  • Reach out to the testing community.
    This year’s theme is ‘Sharing the passion’, which should make it easy to meet like-minded people who share the same interests. In his 2009 book “The Element”, Ken Robinson calls this “finding your tribe”: connecting with people who share the same passions and commitment (your “tribe”) helps in finding and developing your “element” (which is the place where passion and skill meet). Members of a passionate community tend to stimulate each other to explore the real extent of their talents. Whenever tribes gather in the same place, the opportunities for mutual inspiration can become intense.
  • Meet Testing Tweeps.
    Twitter has been doing brilliant things for testers already, community-wise. It’s a great way to interact with testers worldwide on a daily basis. It has also proven to be a very useful, fun and informative way to cover conferences, especially for the people missing out (watch that #esconfs hashtag for some conference goodness). If you’re on twitter, EuroSTAR will also be a good opportunity to meet numerous testing tweeps in person and to take your twitter-conversations with them to the next level.
  • Hallway/Bar discussions.
    In an earlier blog post, C is for Conferring, I mentioned that conferences are for conferring, and that the most interesting things often happen in the hallways, in between sessions. Or in the bar. Or somewhere totally unexpected. Make sure there are blank spots in your busy schedule to invite serendipity.
  • One word: Copenhagen.
    ‘Nuff said. But did I mention that the place of action is the Bella center? Last year, the Bella center hosted the first sustainable, international political summit – the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) – attracting over 33,000 people. No worries, Eurostar Conferences assured me that Eurostar 2010 will be more succesful than its flunked climatic counterpart.
  • Interactive Panel Session.
    On wednesday morning, Lee Copeland will facilitate a Hot Topics Panel Session. The expert panel is there to address *your* burning issues, so if you want to ask the EuroSTAR Panel a question, you can do so via facebook. Yes, the Social Network goes testing.
  • It’s fun!
    By focusing on all the content, the learning and networking, I almost forgot to mention that above all, it’s fun. All of the above takes place in a fun and relaxed athmosphere.Fun sessions for the weary testers are foreseen as well (I’ve been told that the supertesters are something to look out for).

This concludes *my* list. Rob Lambert wrote about attending EuroSTAR too, in his post EuroSTAR will rock. Eurostar Conferences has also listed their Top 10 Reasons To Attend EuroSTAR 2010! And if you need to make a case for attending the conference, the 10 ways to convince your boss to send you to EuroSTAR 2010 article may be able to help you with that.

I hope to see you in Copenhagen. I’m @TestSideStory, by the way. I’ll be roaming the hallways – feel free to come and talk to me. I’ll be the one with that thorny rose clenched in the teeth.

Short service announcement: tomorrow, October 16, programme committee member Peter Morgan will present a webinar especially for first time attendees. It is called “Getting The Most Out Of EuroSTAR“. More info and a link to register for the webinar can be found here.

A Eurostar interview

A Eurostar interview

A while ago, there was this little announcement on the Eurostar blog:

“As a new addition to the EuroSTAR community, we will be interviewing prominent testers from across the globe”

I thought that was pretty cool. There is lots to learn from experienced people. It’s nice to hear all these different takes on the sofware testing craft. They already published interviews with Isabel Evans, Mats Grindal, Tim Koomen, Michael Bolton, Martin Pol and Anne Mette Hass. Interesting stuff.

Several months later, I received an email from Kevin Byrne from the Qualtech/Eurostar team asking if I would be interested in doing an interview with them on testing (and other things as well). It took me a while to properly connect the term “prominent tester” with my own name. But I was honoured of course, so I accepted their offer.

And there it is. They even call me a ‘prominent Belgian tester’ in the introduction, which made me smile because it reminded me of the phrase “being big in Belgium” – often used interchangeably with being “big in Japan”, meaning as much as “totally unimportant”.

In the 1992 movie Singles, Matt Dillon plays in a band that claims to be “big in Belgium” – subtext: “what a bunch of forgettable losers”. Similarly, the legendary rock group Spinal Tap (the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap is hilarious, by the way) ended up being big in Japan, which basically meant “pathetically uncool and ridiculed at home”.

But I digress. I might not be all too prominent, but I am a Belgian tester allright. Here’s the interview:

http://www.eurostarconferences.com/blog/2010/5/18/an-interview-with-zeger-van-hese.aspx

C is for Conferring

On conferences and how to keep it cheap

The blogosphere is pregnant with conference posts these days. And good ones too I might add.
  • In his blogpost conferences on the cheap, Matt Heusser gives some helpful tips on keeping the cost of attending testing conferences down in these difficult times.
  • Matt also created a conference wiki where everyone can add any kind of testing event or conference that is taking place. A great source of information, that is still expanding as we speak. If you know of any noteworthy events that are not yet listed, feel free to add them. 
  • Very recently, the Software Testing Club spawned an interesting testing conference discussion whether or not people are paying for conferences out of their own pocket. 

I think being at conferences is great fun. You meet peers. You talk and share ideas. And get ideas, as well. Occasionally, you attend a track that makes you go “what was that all about?!”, but in general I get tremendously inspired. Not only from the track sessions – most of the time the hallway discussions provide some decent food for thought as well. Of course these benefits aren’t always very measurable, but conferences are doing their very best to provide attendees with ways to convince their managers and prove the added value. Eurostar even provides a justification kit and a Conference Evaluation & ROI Worksheet for reporting on the ROI back home.

But there’s always other ways: 

  • You can get in for free as a speaker, but in that case there’s some effort involved. Writing abstracts, papers, making a presentation. Can be quite a hassle – tit for tat. And you have to get selected of course.
  • Some conferences give away conference tickets in lotteries. Slim chance, but you never know.
  • Step out of the dark side and show your face to the community
    – be a video star. Are you ready for your close-up, <insert name here>?

Eurostar 2009 – a week to remember

A write-up of the Eurostar 2009-conference in Stockholm

I absolutely *love* Stockholm in wintertime. Pepparkakor, glögg, gravad lax… and Eurostar too. People keep telling me that I would probably love it even more in summertime, but I’ll always associate those dark days with Eurostar. I presented my first Eurostar track there in 2007 – nothing but good memories – and I was selected this year as well. The Eurostar line-up is always pretty impressive, so it can be both intimidating and exciting to be a part of that. It’s just a matter of keeping the intimidation level below the excitement level, I guess. As a boyscout, good old Baden Powell always told me to “be prepared”. Now sometimes I wouldn’t recognize a life lesson if it punched me in the face, but here’s one that I did remember. So I found myself writing a paper and assembling a presentation during those hot holiday nights in Southwestern France. You just gotta love those early deadlines!

November 29

After an uneventful flight from Brussels to Arlanda, set foot on Swedish soil. Met up with fellow Belgian Mieke Gevers, a member of this year’s program committee and in charge of the track chairs as well. I helped her carry some excess bagagge that turned out to contain presents for the trackchairs – you can’t go wrong with Belgian chocolates and “jenever“. We took the Arlanda express (easy and quick) to Stockholm C and a cab to the Rica Talk hotel.

November 30 – Tutorial day

On monday I attended a full-day tutorial by Michael Bolton called “Exploratory Testing Masterclass” (slides available here). Two years ago I attended his tutorial on Rapid Software Testing, which I found very valuable. Michael Bolton is an engaging speaker and teacher who invites you to think, rather than just sit and absorb theoretical matter. There were lots of exercises, including one on factoring (identifying dimensions of interest in a product). We were asked to identify all dimensions of a wineglass that may be relevant to testing it, using the “San Francisco Depot” – heuristic (Structure, Functions, Data, Platform, Operations, Time) – not new to me but always worth repeating. A lot of mnemonic wizardry to be found here. What about that handy mnemonic for oracles – HICCUPPS/F (History, Image, Comparable product, Claims, User expectation, Product, Purpose, Statutes, Familiar problems) – never again say that you don’t know why something should be considered a bug. Care to take a ride on that test reporting heuristic called MCOASTER? Well I’ll see your CRUSSPIC STMPL, and raise it with a FCC CUTS VIDS (Mike Kelly’s application touring heuristic). Mnemomania!

Of course, there were plenty of other impressions that kept lingering for a while.

  • A quote by Jerry Weinberg: “A tester is someone who knows things can be different” – true.
  • “If it ain’t exploratory, it’s avoidatory” – made me laugh. 
  • “A good tester doesn’t just ask “Pass or Fail?”. A good tester asks “Is there a problem here?”.
  • CHECks are CHange detECtors, testing is exploring.
  • A complete debunking of some boundary value analysis truisms: it is generally accepted that the behaviour at boundaries is more likely to show erratic behaviour, but how do we know these boundaries? The actual boundaries in a system may not be the ones we are told about. That’s why we must explore.
  • Testing is “storytelling” – I liked that take on testing:

“You must tell a story about the product, about how it failed, and how it might fail – in ways that matter to your various clients. But you must also also tell a story about testing, how you configured, operated and observed it – about what you haven’t tested, yet… or won’t test, at all – and about why what you did was good enough.”

The end of the session was foreseen at 5 PM. The discussions kept going on until 5.45 PM. I think that says it all. Later that evening, an international amalgam of testers set out to explore the possibilities of finding food in Gamla Stan. Eventually we found an Indian restaurant using that good old I.NEWTON heuristic (Indian, Nearby, Edible, Welcoming, Tasty, Open, Not-too-expensive). The end of a great day. Had some nice conversations with Rikard Edgren, Tone Molyneux, Ray Arell and  John Watkins (my trackchair) as well.

December 1

The second day started with a tutorial as well, be it a half-day one: Managing Exploratory Testing by Jonathan Kohl. Of course there were a lot of similarities with the first tutorial, but this was more of a hands-on session, where we could put Michael Bolton’s concepts from the day before into practise. There was some theory about coverage models – SF Depot anyone? We ended up describing a whole bunch of characteristics of a table that we had never associated with an ordinary table before. Practical and fun. Certainly an eye-opener.

At that point I was still trying to get a hold of the person I was supposed to trackchair on wednesday. Originally I would be trackchairing my colleague Wim De Mey’s track about regression testing in a migration project, but Wim had to cancel his presentation at the very last moment because of unfortunate familial circumstances. A replacement was found in the person of Mika Katara, from Finland – but no sign of him, yet. Oh well, time for a quick lunch, a tour of the expo and the actual kick-off of the conference.  Dorothy Graham opened the 17th Eurostar conference in style. She introduced the program committee (Tone and Mieke made sure Isabel Evans was also represented by carrying an air-filled balloon with a face drawn on it – I’m not sure if Isabel would be too happy with the analogy 🙂 ) and set the scene for the first keynote speaker.

Lee Copeland started this very first talk of the conference about nine of the most important innovations in software testing: the context-driven school, test-first development, really good books, open source tools, session-based test management, testing workshops, freedom of the press, virtualization and “testing in the cloud”. Strange that he sees the context-driven school as an innovation – as far as I know it was founded in 1999; the first book that explicitly named it was already published in 2001. I agree with the freedom of the press thing. Testing blogs are appearing everywhere (guilty, your honour), twitter is on the rise. Lee is apparently not a fan of twitter. Neither was I – I always thought of it as encouraging the spreading of triviality, but I’m actually starting to come back from that. I noticed that a lot of people within the testing community are using it to share their ideas, give advice or call for help. And it gives a great deal of extra coverage to an event like this (see twitter.com/esconfs), so maybe I’ll give it a try. Later. 

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a series of  short 20-minute tracks, which is mostly just enough to launch some provoking ideas, but not really ideal for a lot of content. Johan Jonasson talked about how he managed to save a project with the introduction of a structured exploratory testing approach. This track would have benefited from a 45 minute timeslot – there was no time to go into detail, which I found a pity. Next up was Julian Harty, who explained the concept of “trinity testing”: short session of around 90 minutes per feature, where the feature owner, the developer and the test engineer work interactively through the software to share knowledge and ideas. Pretty interesting, since I also found out later that “the trinity test” was also the name of the very first nuclear test ever conducted, marking the very start of the nuclear age. Julian is probably aware of this – I didn’t hear him mentioning it, though.
Geoff Thompson then talked about reporting – “If only we could make them listen!”. Well actually, it’s more the communicator’s job to make sure he gets heard. It was a great talk – he was able to slip in the Challenger disaster and the Heathrow terminal 5 debacle as examples of how important messages were apparently not deemed important enough, with horrendous results. Knowing your recipients is key, and knowing what information they want as well. Noteworthy: a lot of people are color-blind. If you absolutely want to make sure that everyone understands your reports, shouldn’t you avoid the reds and greens?
Besides being a sapient testing evangelist, Michael Bolton is also a human quote machine. He did this cross between stand-up routine and  political televangelism called “Burning Issues of the Day” (available here). A lot of wisecracks and eye-openers, the funniest moment at Eurostar for me. He was even able to win a bet by slipping in a quote about agilists and sex:

“The agilistas did not discover pairing or test-first programming. They’re like teenagers who’ve just discovered sex. It IS great, but calm down”.

The last speaker of the day was the same as the first one. Jonathan Kohl talked about how our urge to be “Agile” can distract us from our mission to deliver software that our customers value, while supporting our team. Agile can distract from skill development too. The term “Agile” has become big business, and lost a great deal of it’s significance. So let’s stop worrying about whether what we do is “agile” or not, and go back to calling it “software development”. As far as I’m concerned, he hit the nail on head. I wouldn’t have minded him talking about this a little longer.

The day ended with drinks in the expo and my attempt at playing a memory game at one of the stands. I kept failing epically. While I was trying to get asleep I found the ideal excuse: my head was already full of things to remember – no room for these trivial button sequences.

December 2

Right before the first keynote of the day I finally met Mika, whom I was supposed to be trackchairing in the afternoon. He was invited as a backup speaker on friday to speak on wednesday, was able to make it, but had to leave immediately after his talk. A true case of hit-and-run guerilla presenting at Eurostar! Naomi Karten then delivered an interesting keynote about “changing how you manage and communicate change”. Her talk was built around the Satir change model. There’s an initial status quo, then a foreign change-inducing element causing a ‘POW’, then chaos, after that an adjustment and in the end a new status quo. When people are confronted with change, they are experiencing a loss of control, and they often react to that in an emotional way. Important: listen, be empathic, regularly communicate the status of the change, even when there is nothing to report. She also used a quote that I well certainly use myself when feeling cornered:  

Hofstadter’s Law: It always take longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”

By then it was time to pay a visit to the Test Lab that was set up by James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack. It was a Eurostar first, and I am actually wondering now why it took so long to have some actual “testing” going on at a testing conference. The software they were running was Open EMR, an open source patient management and appointment book system. What made it even more interesting for me is that I have been testing and working with a similar (not open source, though) system for a long time, so I more or less know what to expect (or what actual users of the software would expect). I paired up with Rikard for a while and found a whole bunch of issues by merely touring the application – we noted them for later reference. It is always nice to pair with fellow testers to see what they focus on, and what their reasoning is. The state of the software under test was something else. It showed some pretty alarming behaviour, and it was far from intuitive or user-friendly.

By then it was time for Eurostar veteran Erik Boelen, speaking at Eurostar for the fifth time already. I’ve known Erik for some time now, and his talks are always entertaining and relaxing in a way. “The power of risk” was his view on how to use a risk-based test strategy that “makes people talk”, like Läkerol. His main message was (apart from the implicit one that testing can be fun *and* will rule the world) that they defined all the risks and used them as entry paths for exploratory testing. For the highest and medium risks they documented their test cases, and for low risks they just reported the results.

After lunch I introduced Mika Katanen (from the university of Tampere in Finland) and his talk about Automatic GUI test generation for smartphone applications. I am totally new to model-based testing and I was impressed with the brief demo he showed. His track went well, and there were a lot of people approaching him for a chat at the end. I do hope that he was able to catch his plane on time. Parallel with this track, Shrini Kulkarni held his talk about software metrics which I was unable to attend. People said it was good – I hope I will be able to see him speak some place else in the future.

Remembering the memory game disaster from the day before, I decided to unfocus for a while – my mind was getting stuck again. I teamed up with some CTG colleagues plus a wildcard named Tom and enrolled ourselves for the quiz that was supposed to take place in the evening. We aptly named ourselves “The Handsome Oracles”, but it wasn’t meant to be. The quiz was canceled later on, so we weren’t able to put the money where our mouth was. We also worked out some testing limericks for the limerick competition – we didn’t win. I thought they were good, but that’s probably just another example of parents not recognizing the ugliness of their own babies. There’s a good joke and an interesting analogy about that hereGitte Ottosen ended the day with a talk about combining agile and maturity models which was chosen best presentation last year in The Hague. I had the impression she was a little nervous – which is completely understandable. I was telling to myself that delivering a keynote for a full auditorium like that sure looked like a daunting task – until I suddenly realised that I would be standing in that same room tomorrow. My unfocused mind started wandering off.

While the temperatures were taking a dive, the Handsome Oracles went into town for dinner. I returned a bit earlier than the rest to rehearse my talk and to get a good night’s sleep while the (by then just plain) Oracles went barhopping. Haha! Life’s good, but not fair at all. 

December 3

The last day of the conference, and people started looking weary. Ray Arell gave us a good wake-up call with his keynote on moving to an agile environment, based on his experiences at Intel. Ray’s a great speaker (and a fun guy too – I might add). He described his hits and misses; the ‘misses’ are often the most interesting parts of experience reports. Lot’s of good advice and some nice puns (Wagile, FRagile, Scrumfalls).

I stayed in the agile track in the big auditorium where John Watkins presented some material from his book on agile testing, aptly named “Agile Testing”. John had gathered case study material from twenty agile projects and proposed agile methods for small, medium, large, off-site, and even off-shore projects. Intriguing, but upon hearing the idea of “agile best practises”, my context-driven genes started to play up.

John was also my great trackchair and introduced me as “Filmstar, Rockstar, Tester!” At least, that was his own juicy summary after I mentioned to him that I had worked as a movie distributor before and had also played in a rock band. Granted, I also admitted playing a zombie once – a serious case of method acting. Anyway, his introduction loosened the audience a bit and I was able to present my track “A lucky shot at agile?” without any problems. I wanted to tell a testing story and I think it went well. I felt at ease (those wireless microphones are really great) and there were many questions afterwards. During the rest of the day people I didn’t know came up to me to congratulate me with the presentation, which was nice. I took a long lunch and had a walk around the expo. I went back to the Test Lab to report the bugs that we found earlier. I didn’t succeed in entering them all, which made me feel kind of guilty – I wished that I would have spent more time there. But I had a hard time choosing. It’s a pity that test labbing also meant skipping tracks as well.

The last regular talk of the conference was held by Rikard Edgren, who is also a Eurostar regular. I had seen his presentation on testing creativity (“Where testing creativity grows”) in 2007 and I liked it a lot, since it is also a subject that is dear to me. There’s far too many people that think that testing is not a creative or challenging activity. This time he talked about  “More and better test ideas“. He promoted the use of oneliners as test ideas – a brief statement of something that should be tested. These test ideas can then be used as a basis for test cases, or as a guideline for other types of testing, or even discarded when there irrelevant or when there is simply not enough time. I think Rikard’s subjects will always be a bit polarizing due to their innovative nature – you either like them or you don’t. I am a believer and it was a good way for me to finish the conference.

I missed the first part of the Test Lab result presentation since they changed the timing and I totally forgot about that. But I got the most important statistics. Over two and a half days, more than 50 bugs were found. My first reaction was: “Only 56? Man, there’s hundreds of them hiding in there”, but then I realised that people had been testing in the lab only for short periods, in between tracks, just as I did. I wonder what would have happened if hundreds of testers had a go at it, all at the same time. Bugfest!

After a short panel discussion with John Fodeh (next year’s programme chair), Geoff thompson, Tobias Fors and Nathalie Van Delft it was time for the award ceremony. Naomi Karten received the Best Tutorial Award and the European Testing Excellence Award went to Anne Mette Hass. In the meanwhile I was dozing off in my not-so-comfy chair – these 4 days of conferencing were finally getting to me. A friendly woman on the stage was mentioning someting about a longlist of papers, and a shortlist, and a final selection of three, containing two Dutch and one Belgian paper. Now wait a minute… how many Belgians sent in a paper? 1…2… before I could make the math, my name was announced as winner of the ENEA Best Paper Award. Two talks at Eurostar, two papers, two awards… what are the odds of that? I was absolutely flabbergasted. That’s actually three in a row for my company CTG, since Bert Jagers won the award last year in The Hague. The pressure is on for next year :-).

I spent the rest of the evening in the hotel bar, where all the testers with an early flight on friday morning were flocking. We ended the day singing an eclectic mix of Irish traditionals, Dylan, early Springsteen and – of course! – Abba, accompanied by a non-certified tester, who plays a mean mandolin. I love Stockholm in wintertime. It was a good Eurostar. Yes sirree.