TestBash Is It Just for Testers?

This blog was originally posted on Medium.

There have been a lot of blog posts about TestBash Brighton 2016. I’ve brought back a lot from the conference that has helped not just me, the sole tester for my company. I’m going to focus primarily on the social aspect of the conference because I think that part could be applied anywhere.

In the run up to TestBash there was a lot of talk about it on Twitter and Slack. I was familiar with Slack, but Twitter seemed to be too out there for me, too much information on the internet, but after much deliberation I made the leap and joined it.. Best.Career.Move.Ever.

This was my first conference so I was nervous. From talking to people in work it was all going to be very formal. I should be arranging meetings and bringing stacks of business cards, not sharing my twitter handle. In the weeks leading up to the conference there was a huge hype on twitter, Slack and meetup.com. People arranging to meet for tea, lunch, dinner, drinks and games. Most importantly everyone was welcome. These weren’t small groups of people arranging meetings among themselves and only for themselves, there were 50+ people attending these events and tweeting for others to do the same. Thank you especially to Rosie Sherry and Dan Billing on this front. Rosie for personally emailing me a reply for help to convince my company to go and Dan for replying to a comment I made on a meetup event. The comment was simple, something along the lines of looking forward to meeting you. I didn’t know these people and already I felt like they were my friends.

On my first day I attended a workshop run by Noah Sussman and Jess Ingrassellino. I happened to sit beside Graham Sherry who gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. “Make keeping up with technology and industry changes part of your job”. It will be hard at first but then it will become natural. It was definitely a difficult start because I was clicking on every blog post I saw. With time I learned to filter what I read and it is now a natural habit. Twitter really helped with this.

This workshop was attended by people from various areas of software development. There were testers, developers and managers. It was amazing because it got a really interesting dialog going. This was the start of my thinking “our whole dev team should come to this”.

On the Wednesday night there was a games evening. Thank you John Stevenson for bringing the games and writing a blog post afterwards so I could get them all. Let me start by saying the next morning I ordered two of the games on Amazon to be delivered to the office. We have since played Dixit in the office and it was a huge success. It got us all talking about how differently the whole office thinks. Our office is not just software developers and a tester, we have statisticians and mathematicians too. We aimed to play this at least once a month but it has been pulled out a few times now already. Who would have thought a games evening at a conference could get people talking so much. You have a room full of people who may or may not know each other playing board games. Yes we were mostly testers but this got you knowing each other on a social level which helped the professional discussions to continue more smoothly.

On Thursday I attended Ash Winter’s workshop for System Architecture. I have brought the exercises from this back to the office and everyone is trying to use them. Ash had us explain architecture in everyday terms e.g. a kitchen in a restaurant, how orders get to the kitchen, etc. This brought back memories from my statistics lecturer “You better be able to explain it to me as if I was your gran and I better be able to understand it”. So taking the theory from the workshop, could we apply it to the statistics side of the business? We all know our jobs very well so we should be able to. Yes this workshop was useful for me as a tester, and I wish it had been longer, but the theory from it could be applied to many areas within our company.

The Thursday afternoon workshop with Alexandra Casapu was examining your testing skills. I was initially frustrated at this workshop if I’m honest. Why couldn’t I figure out the pattern in the black box? What were my skills? Do I even have any useful skills? I’m very self-critical so it did take me a while to realise the full benefit of this workshop. That evening I thought “oh, I do that and it’s a skill” Wooo! If you took testing out of the title of this workshop it really could be applied to anywhere in the company. We regularly have to fill in information for contracts our company hopes to get through. They regularly ask what skills are in the company. We regularly scratch our heads. We know we can do the work no problem but to actually describe what skills we use to do the work is always a thinker.

Lean Coffee http://leancoffee.org/ do it. This opened the conference on the Friday and it was excellent. I made friends that I am still talking to today. We have done this in work with amazing results. We did one lean coffee which resulted in us learning what people don’t like to eat, planning an office trip out for lunch and saying events we would love to do as a group from the office. Shortly after this, the board of directors decided there should be a social budget set aside for things like this. We can plan events, buy games for the office, have payday pizza and the remainder can go towards our Christmas party. You really never know what you could achieve with Lean coffee so don’t hold back.

A BIG theme from the whole conference was Pairing. It was mentioned in a lot of talks, it was done in a lot of workshops, pairing was everywhere. We took that idea in our company and went a bit further. We plan to start with inter department pairing. Myself and the Devs will pair up and swap about, the statisticians will pair with each other on projects and swap about. We thought, why stop there though? Any of us could be asked what does our company do or even within the company asking for an ear to sound out some ideas. So we thought let’s add in cross department pairing when we finish the first leg. The Sales and Marketing team are very excited about this. It’s not always easy for us to explain what we do so showing how we do it and getting a different perspective on that will be amazing.

From the conference I have also done Tiny Habits http://tinyhabits.com/. You pick three tiny things you would like to make habits. Tiny is the key word here. You dedicate about 30 seconds each day to the habit for a week. You celebrate when you have achieved your tiny habit, for each habit. By the end of the week each of the habits become natural to you. This is also not just for testers. Three tiny things have helped make me more organised in my everyday life and achieve what Graham advised me on the Tuesday. I’ve also started learning Italian and sign language along with some programming skills. The trick is to celebrate when you achieve what you set out to do even if it is just a small celebration.

Finally, for everyone-you can be awesome. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I am normally a very shy individual, especially confronted with a room full of people I don’t know. Thanks to TestBash (and Kristine, Matt and Vernon) I got up in front of a room of a couple of hundred people and gave a 99 second talk. This thought was terrifying to me at the start of the week but by the end I thought anything was possible, all of these people were friendly and keen to help each other.

Everyone can learn something from TestBash.