Organising a TinyTestBash

This blog was originally posted on Medium.

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blogging front recently. There have been multiple reasons for this, one of them being the amazing honour of being part of the organising team for TinyTestBash Belfast. I want to shed some light on what the experience was like for me.

I remember when Richard Bradshaw first started the group message with myself, Hugh and Neill asking us if we would be interested in organising a TestBash. I was so excited! It’s an unusual feeling when someone you respect feels like they can trust you enough with something like this. I remember jumping the gun with swag ideas, social ideas and other such things. My mind was racing with all of the wonderful possibilities.

The three of us had been involved with the testing community in Belfast for a while, some longer than others. We had seen the amazing potential that there was here. We wanted to encourage that. From the beginning, we agreed this was not to be on the scale of other TestBashes. The purpose of TinyTestBash Belfast was to encourage the local community and give new speakers a chance to take to the stage.

The process was not plain sailing. We were new to this, we never claimed to be perfect but we had the enthusiasm to try. We also had both Rosie and Richard to mentor us through. They are patient mentors and when we felt we were out of our depth, they helped guide us rather than do it for us.

The biggest hurdle for us was choosing the speakers. Our decisions were questioned a lot. We retrospected over and over. Had we made the right decisions? Were we keeping the balance of new speakers and speakers based on this fine island? Had we a good diverse range of speakers? It’s a difficult place to imagine yourself until you are in it. We had made our decisions and explained our reasoning to Richard and Rosie. They were the external impartial mentors for this. They questioned us too. I would say that every speaker on the schedule appeared there after a good healthy discussion about each. These decisions were not made lightly.

Of our line up we had two first time speakers. There were 3 speakers based on this fine island of ours. We also had 3 wonderful women speak. This is a great ratio for our first event we feel, certainly comparative to other conferences. It’s absolutely something we care about, and will be factoring in to future events. Best and most positive of all for me in this process was that every speaker we picked in the beginning said yes.

Ticket sales were slow until the last minute which made this quite stressful. Experience had a big part to play here, Richard and Rosie reassured us over and over that we would be OK. The magic number to hit was 80. We got to 50 and we were hopeful. It felt like it took forever to get from 60 to 70! With just short of 2 months to go to the event we finally hit 80. We didn’t take the feet off the accelerator then but we felt more relaxed about it. In the end there were 92 attendees (including speakers and staff). I think this is an amazing achievement for the first of this kind in Belfast. From the very first ticket sale to the last I was bursting with pride!

As we neared the date for TestBash, Rosie let us know that she wouldn’t be attending. This felt like a blow. It would be her first TestBash not to attend. I realised what it really meant was she trusted us and Richard enough to handle the day without her. In a sense, this removed the safety net. In another way I saw how it tied in to the local community encouragement. It said “I trust you guys enough to know your own turf and be able to make educated decisions”. Rosie has been organising TestBashes for years. She has been working with Richard for 18 months and us for almost a year to organise this. We were the people she trusted to start her TestBash baby growing up. We were the people she trusted to keep those community values listed in her blog post. I know I said I felt honoured already but I really did!

On the day as it turned out we had focused so much on making sure we had all the tech issues under control, getting a good video guy, ensuring we had all dietary restrictions covered, getting all of the swag laid out/organised that we had forgotten to check that the venue had WiFi. In hindsight this was really stupid of us but you live and learn. Was this the only issue on the day? Not at all! Did it phase us? Somewhat but, when we looked at the attendees all networking with each other it helped keep those smiles on our faces.

Now that it’s all over how do I feel? Partly relieved. I felt like I had massive shoes to fill. I’ve done what I feel I could do. I now know what things I would change and what decisions we made that, I feel, were solid. The biggest part of me is sad that it is all over. I had so much fun with the team that was around me organising this. It is a testament to the testing community in Belfast that there was such a great local turn out but also a significant number of attendees that traveled to Belfast from further afield.

We will be doing a retrospective to identify pain points. We’re also calling on the attendees to let us know what they think went well or could have been better. We took a leap. We set the bar. Will you help us raise that bar? This has always been about community. We want your input. We want you to help this grow as you’d like to see it grow.

I’ve been fortunate enough to join the TestBash Dublin organising team for next year so there won’t be sadness for much longer :-)