Mirror, mirror, on the wall - what's the best test conference of them all? That’s the question that many of you may be asking yourselves when trying to decide which conference to attend. Well, we believe we have discovered what may be one of the top contenders for best software testing conferences: the Ministry of Testing’s TestBash.
Each year, sessions of TestBash are held throughout the UK and in other locations around the world, including the US, Germany, and Australia. This conference was created and is run by testers, and we think that is part of what makes TestBash so special. Its main focus is helping testers learn from each other’s experiences. TestBash is far more than just a conference; it has also developed a community of testers that inspire and motivate each other to become better at what they do.
In Fall 2017, Caktus QA Analyst Gerald attended TestBash Philadelphia. His enthusiastic response encouraged Robbie to attend TestBash Brighton in March 2018, and Sarah to attend TestBash Netherlands in April 2018. Having experienced three separate TestBash conferences, we reviewed our experiences together and discussed our key takeaways.
What did you like most about TestBash?
Gerald: “The atmosphere was different than most of the other conferences that I’ve attended. People weren't afraid to speak to each other and share their experiences. I mentioned my interest in ATDD (acceptance test driven development) to an attendee at the end of the conference and he was able to connect me with someone else who had experience with it. The speakers also connect with the attendees on a personal level; they stick around for the whole conference instead of leaving once they’ve given their talk. I also loved the hands-on workshops where I had the opportunity to learn things that I could apply immediately. Also the food was really good.”
Robbie: “The conference felt like it was for testers by testers. TestBash has a sense of community that I have not experienced at other conferences. Attendees went out of their way to talk to each other, and learn from everyone at the conference, not just from the speakers. I also really enjoyed the speakers. Most conferences the speakers tend to use lots of buzzwords and lingo but that was not the case at TestBash.”
Sarah: “Plus one to the food! The meals and snacks were amazing. More seriously, the intimacy and openness was very refreshing. Since the conference is confined to a small number of people and a small space, you feel more like individuals than sheep being herded through halls and rooms, like you can at really large conferences. You also get to feel more comfortable with the other people, and it makes it easier to talk and share experiences and knowledge.”
Who do you recommend attends TestBash?
Gerald: “I’d say that TestBash is geared towards testers of all kinds, whether that be manual, automation, or even API; but if you aren’t a tester that shouldn’t discourage you from attending. The talks are structured so that although they are coming from the perspective of a tester, the context relates to other roles involved in software development as well. I even met a developer from Sauce Labs who told me he attends just so he can learn how he could work better with the testers on his team.”
Robbie: “Anyone interested in testing, both experienced and inexperienced. A few of the speakers even talked about TestBash as being their intro to testing and that they keep coming back.”
Sarah: “Honestly, I’d recommend anyone in software development attend TestBash. It will be most valuable for testers of all types, but still provides value to developers and managers. Any role in software development can benefit from the insight into the testing culture and community provided by TestBash.”
Any tips for future attendees to get the most out of TestBash?
Gerald: “If you are on Twitter, watch the Twitter hashtag handle for your specific conference. People at the conference tweet throughout the whole event, even the speakers. Attendees will sometimes post links to valuable resources or additional articles related to the talks. A lot of people used Twitter to ask questions and quickly connect with other attendees. In fact, I connected with a few people by simply asking a question with the hashtag: ‘Does anyone here have experience with ATTD #TestBashPhilly?’ Also I recommend that you stay for the social event! This is when people have more time to talk about their own experiences in testing and it gives you a chance to have deeper conversations. I connected with a few people that I’ve stayed in touch with after the conference was long over.”
Robbie: “Interact with the other attendees, get involved with the community both during the conference and at the social meet ups that happen around the conference.”
Sarah: “Stay the full day, all the way through the 99 second talks! If possible, also take a workshop beforehand; you’ll meet conference attendees in an even smaller, more intimate setting that way.”
What was your favorite talk at the TestBash you attended?
Gerald: “‘How to benefit from being uncomfortable’ by Cassandra H. Leung. This talk was about intentionally putting yourself into uncomfortable situations as a way to overcome a fear of being uncomfortable. This was a great talk because I was able to apply it to my role as a tester when it comes to asking questions about technical things that I may not understand even after it’s been explained. As someone who dreads public speaking I was motivated by this talk to force myself to give my first talk in front of our company.”
Robbie: “‘Experiences in Modern Testing’ by Alan Page. This talk was about the importance of embracing change, moving beyond creating/executing tests, and building a culture of quality. Alan, and many of the other speakers, also touched on the importance of communities of practice and continuing to learn throughout your career.”
Sarah: “‘Holding Space: Making Things Better by Doing Less’ by Maaret Pyhäjärvi. Maaret talked about how to empower and inspire teams by letting team members take action themselves, rather than working yourself to the bone. I trained as a Scrum Master for a bit several years ago and her talk struck a chord with me since it seemed to be what true ‘servant leadership’, or leading a team by serving them, is all about. It was very interesting to hear about it from a testing perspective.”
What did you take away from TestBash that you are using right now at Caktus?
Gerald: “Since attending the conference I have introduced the team to pair testing. For any opportunity that seems to fit, I pair up with a developer on the team and we test specific features together. As we’re testing we exchange thoughts, which generates extra test scenarios that may not have been covered previously.
"I also picked up a deck of TestSphere cards from the conference which highlight general quality aspects, testing techniques, and patterns that can be applied to any software project. One of the ways that we use these cards is for Risk Storming. Although not required, these TestSphere cards can be used to drive a risk assessment activity. The process involves reading through the cards to determine if any of the principles or techniques can be applied to whatever project we are working on. The cards have helped generate discussion about potential risks around the projects and as a team we think of ways that we can mitigate them.”
Robbie: “Formalizing exploratory testing, not just diving in head first but planning test sessions and taking more detailed notes as I test.”
Sarah: “We’re starting to use the 99 second talk format as a way to practice public speaking and peer feedback. We all have TestSphere decks as well.”
Would you attend TestBash again?
Gerald: “Yes, I plan to make this a conference that I attend every year.”
Robbie: “Already signed up for notices on when and where TestBash will be next year.”
Sarah: “Absolutely, and I hope to next year!”
TestBash has been a great discovery for the QA team here at Caktus. The quality of the talks, the intimate communal atmosphere, and the friendliness of the people make for an excellent conference experience. We hope to see you at the next Ministry of Testing event! In the meantime, you can read more on the Caktus blog about software quality assurance and how we prioritize defects.
(Editor’s Note: Neither the authors nor Caktus have any connection with the TestBash, other than as attendees. No payment or other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the personal opinion and experience of the authors and should not be considered an endorsement by Caktus Group.)