Lessons Learned at the Agile Testing Days 2015 Conference

The 2015 edition of the Agile Testing Day Conference recently took place in Postdam, Germany. I was one of the around 800 people who have attended, some of them testers, some Agile people with different roles in their organizations. Within 3 days of the conference, i had the opportunity to attend different types of presentations, from non technical to very technical ones, with lots of fresh new ideas, but also some not so great content. I will try to share some of my personal takeaways from this meet-up, so here goes.

About the Keynotes

There were quite a large number of keynotes, i think more than i have seen at other conferences. As these were the moments were no other presentations were running, the keynotes gathered all the crowd from the premises. Since the audience was so varied, the keynotes had to present general content, which included:

  • by far the best keynote i saw was that of a guy who first of all made the whole audience laugh, as he was “cursing a lot, but it is tasteful”; among all his jokes and improv, he did manage to present his ideas and get you thinking; some of these ideas included:
    • how do you see your professional growth and what are you doing to get there, understanding how complex this growth is
    • what ceiling are you trying to reach, how are you getting to it, and once there, which is the next ceiling you are trying to reach
    • if you are not feeling any joy at work, you are doing something wrong
    • everybody is searching for something, so how do you make this search more efficient and how do you coordinate it
    • how do you as an individual help in the company’s search for a goal
  • starting from a real example of electricity problems in South Africa and how these problems are currently addressed by the relevant people, a parallel between the steps taken to solve this problem and testing was made, like the fact that people must be aware of the problems, being responsible enough to participate in fixing the issues, removing barriers that might be involved and measuring how the whole strategy worked
  • music: a lady and a guy playing two different instruments, one of them not so properly (in fact i had to put music in my earphones to remove the sense of headache the presentation was giving me); the speakers were trying to draw some faint parallels between music and testing, but the structure of the presentation was all over the place, not logical nor musical, so i was not very impressed (especially after having seen at least two similar presentations previously, which were quite good).
  • food: when a presentation is entitled “human refactoring”, you might think you will not see how to change your code, but i think nobody expected a presentation on how we need to hydrate, eat properly or exercise; really nothing to do with agile or testing; luckily i had water at hand to… hydrate
  • two stories of divorce: one of the presentations showed how a lady came to grow professionally having children at home in the wake of a divorce, becoming a very successful business person – however the story became quite boring at a point and people started grabbing coffee from the hallway instead of listening to…well the whole story of becoming; the other presentation was also given by a lady, who was also divorced, with a kid, having broken up with her latest boyfriend a couple of weeks ago, and also a big Richard Branson fan – basically her whole presentation was a discussion with the public on a bunch of Branson quotes. What did not impress me in these presentations was on one hand the amount of personal details people didn’t really care about (since we were not a group of friends sharing personal details over coffee, like details about our boyfriends), on the other hand presenting someone else’s ideas (if i wanted to hear Richard Branson’s ideas, i would have enrolled to one of his seminars, hearing the content straight from the source).
  • some presentations regarding reaching the goals of the company you work for, or setting some goals for investing in developing new features, with loads of graphs and data
Technical presentations

Some of the presentations i found interested are presented below:

  • one of the most useful presentations i saw was named “infrastructure under the magnifying glass”. The emphasis was on the fact that the infrastructure is also code, therefore it should be tested. Things such as Chef configurations, checking whether the services have started and whether the configurations for them are correct.  For this purpose, kitchen (http://kitchen.ci/docs/getting-started/writing-test), bats(https://github.com/sstephenson/bats) and serverspec (http://serverspec.org/) were exemplified. The full presentation can be found here, however the workshop code has not been published (the links above should be really useful, though).
  • another interesting presentation was regarding documentation, describing the most common issues with it, like becoming outdated and abandoned or having different structure and logic, depending on who wrote it (architects for example have a way of structuring the content, testers have a different one). Some good suggestions were made, like writing a glossary of terms for the product you are working on, so that everyone can have a common understanding of the product. Also documentation should not be written of all the minor changes, or from a change perspective, but from a feature one (just updating the feature documentation page when code is being changed). An interesting plugin called LivingDoc was also introduced, where users (like the product owner or the testers) can write the specifications and test cases in Confluence, and by using Eclipse these can be plugged into the code, ran, and the results added into the Confluence page. The full presentation can be found here.
  • there were also a series of presentations about running tests (mostly Selenium) by using the Docker platform, including: http://de.slideshare.net/carlossg/using-docker-for-testing and a workshop (http://www.agiletestingdays.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Maarten-van-den-Enden-scalable-qa-with-docker-workshop.pdf).
  • other interesting presentations related to: security testing and making your tests run faster.
 General feel
  • as the crowd was so varied, there were different ways people are doing their testing: some of the people were advanced and at a satisfying level with the automation they were doing, as far as they were concerned; others were not yet doing the amount of automation they wanted; others were not as agile as they wanted
  • tech presentations i saw were in general concise and well presented, with one exception where there was way too much information on the slides and it was impossible to follow both the speaker and the slides at the same time; feedback on presentations was however mixed: some people enjoyed stuff i liked, or viceversa, but in general the tech stuff was really good
  • there were a few non-technical sessions on the hallways, where a visual artist was teaching you how to draw (pictograms mostly) in a fun and interesting way; this was a very nice addition to the conference, apart from the presentations
  • i saw a tendency of people becoming coaches or consultants after a few years of working as a QA
  • atmosphere in general was nice; there were also after parties of course, areas where you could help build stuff, and sponsor booths
  • food was really good 🙂 and coffee was a big plus…oh but way too many sweets; people enjoyed themselves therefore i believe it was a useful gathering.

All the presentations ca be found on the conference’s site.

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