I had the very good fortune recently to attend the 3-day online conference Agile Testing Days 2020 , courtesy of the authors of the books 'Agile Testing' and 'More Agile Testing'. Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin, who offered me their ‘scholarship’ ticket sponsored by their company, Agile Testing Fellowship, to attend for free completely out of the blue. I was rather surprised but delighted by their generosity, and to be lucky enough to be the person they chose to take it up.
I’m a Senior Software Test Engineer with over 17 years’ testing experience, the past ten or so years of which I’ve spent in a complex engineering company, testing a variety of software products, and where I have spent the last couple of years in a multidisciplinary department working to fulfil our research-level customers’ needs. I currently deal with the automation test suite primarily, but all of us step outside our immediate roles to achieve what the team is working on.
I've never attended the Agile Testing Days conference, although I had known of it for a few years, and usually the autumn one takes place over a week in Germany, but it has been running for around a decade now. There is also Agile Testing Days USA, usually held in June. Trendig, a German-based technology services company, organizes the events, and co-founder José Diaz led in hosting duties. For this first online edition, there were over 600 people attending.
Unlike the one-day conferences I’d previously attended both in person and online, where there is only one track to follow, this conference had a variety of keynotes (starting, post-lunch, and ending each day) and 4 tracks of presentations or discussions. Where usually ATD would hold workshops on a couple of days in real life, any workshops which could be run online via virtual means were run in the afternoon also, but most didn't last more than 2-3 hours at a time. With a multi-track conference however, you do end up only being able to 'attend' or watch online one track live at a time, so there are a huge set of videos to watch later on if you wanted to cover everything.
Having been also able to download virtually every slide deck from the event, I ended up counting over 50, for which I will try and review them in the next few months. Attendees are able to watch the sessions online, and I believe eventually some of these will also be published on the Agile Testing Days YouTube channel.
Three days of conference, talking testing. A treat!! For sure, it is a treat, and I am always happy to take that time from my work schedule and enjoy boosting my own professional knowledge. But how best to write a blogpost about it? Normally, I can write quite a lot about half a day! I’ve decided to go with my gut feelings from the whole experience, and save more detailed elements for another time.
So, my impressions of the conference, and the feel of attending. There was a well-organised team, headed by José Diaz who kicked off proceedings, greeting us all from the Agile Testing Days symbolic white & rainbow unicorn! (It is real!) In addition, there were many volunteers from the testing world, who were helping with introducing and hosting the speaker sessions and later discussion forums. A great many names I recognised too. Every presentation via Crowdcast had a 15 minute break after it, but if discussion was continuing, the organisation shifted the debates into a meetup-type online venue, Jitsi, which enabled the speaker, the moderator, and any number of other guests to continue talking, or doing Q & A.
Over this year, with attending other conference days online, I was a little better prepared, and had not only one computer for the live presentations and speeches, but another tablet with keyboard, on which I could record lots of notes. Additionally, if I had enough time, I had means for tweeting or posting on the Agile Testing Days Slack channel as well. To be honest, I didn’t find much time after the first day!!
During all the presentations, the chat via Crowdcast was also open and depending on subject and interest level, the attendees were able to talk about what they were hearing from the presenter, and add or debate points, whilst adding their questions via Crowdcast's question mechanism, which could be up-voted as well.
One of the nicest things about the conference was its program of talks, which had a wide range, from technical, to experiential, to ethical, and to well-being focussed, especially appropriate in this distanced year of SARS-CoV-2, where agile teams are no longer co-located and able to overhear team conversations, and where different people will react differently to the situation they find themselves in. In that respect, I felt there was a lot for managers to take away from this conference too.
In particular, throughout the program, there were New Voice Talks, from people such as Tom Young, Sophie Küster, Ismael Sánchez Villar, Bart Enkelaar, Clare Norman, and Amanda Baker, to name only a few of the debut speakers. This really helps bring others into the speaking arena, to give their experiences of testing or coaching in agile environments, and often they bring a new insight altogether. The ones I saw did an amazing job at presenting online, and were both interesting and clear in what they talked about.
There were also Vendor Talks available, to find out more about some tools, which if you’re at a point where you’re looking at tools, can be invaluable to see in action, and ask questions about, so that also gives a different viewpoint.
At the end of the first day, given that we had the closing keynote given by Angie Jones (at AppliTools), it was really nice that a few of the past 'Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person' award-winners joined in a video call at the end, as Angie Jones was the attendees' vote winner for the MIATPP award this year.
This year may have been very different to attending live, but the organising ATD team were inspired to create some virtual online evening events, to give a flavour of the social nature of this conference – I believe when held in person, events like a large dinner with entertainments are held, as evidenced with some flashback photos from previous years, but in this year, thinking outside the box was more in evidence. The first evening encompassed Virtual Bars, each hosted by a volunteer, and including chats, an interactive scavenger hunt, or online games, which sounded great.
I have to admit, having been attending from 8am until about 6.30pm UK time, I needed to spend a little time with family and eat dinner by that point, but viewing Twitter and elsewhere, you could tell fun was being had in these online social events. I particularly liked Gitte Klitgaard’s comment that she had sent everyone off on their scavenger hunt and was then just waiting for returning scavengers!!
The second day had a wonderful concluding ‘Keynote’ event, not strictly speaking a keynote, but it was a well-attended and commented event, and the joint presenters did a great job: Alex Schladebeck, Bart Knaack and Huib Schoots presented bAd-gile: The Online Gameshow. This gave rise to all sorts of ways that things could be done better in various situations, and used a useful game or two with a couple of teams filmed online to acquire a set of objects, or to create a post-it picture of something being described. Just watching it provided lots of fun and laughter!
Soon after, the Intergalactic Online Party kicked off, with the fancy-dress competition, Powerpoint Karaoke, chat bars and a final online music/dancing room. One thing I’ve learned, is that if you’re going to attend ATD in person, make sure you’re prepared to have lots of fun in the evenings!
Throughout the whole week, if you didn’t need to go off and get your lunch on any of the days, there were additional events happening in the lunch hours, such as ‘Ask Alex Anything About Music’ and ‘Ask Janet & Lisa Anything About Donkeys And Dragons’ and an ‘Ask Me Anything Jose Diaz’ session. There were Lean Coffee sessions, there were Daily Ensemble sessions, so many things going on, and so much extra within the online organisation, there was a feeling of being quite spoilt for choice.
By the time I reached Day 3, I was full of information, full of enthusiasm, and full of notes, even if I was slightly less full of energy! There was a lot to take in. But, I had prepared. I had already told work I was taking the Friday off as vacation time, or in reality, recovery time over a long weekend… And yes, it was needed. Conferences are great, and you often come out feeling exhilarated and full of the joys of testing, but it can also be sometimes very tiring, and I think more so with an online conference. But it’s probably partly my age and having a family around you at the same time when attending virtually. However, it also takes quite a while to digest and distil what you’ve heard, what you’ve learnt and seen, and sometimes that also means going back to watch it again too! There’s a few on my list for that.
The final day was still full of great talks, expertly moderated and with amazingly-good timekeeping between each talk. The organising team and the volunteers did a great job with the odd technical glitch in Crowdcast or Jitsi, and everyone came together for the final keynote, from Nicola Sedgewick entitled ‘Let It Go’, which covered her experiences through her career in various types of businesses.
And then it was all over.
So many great talks, so many friendly people to chat with, and discuss things with, so many things to think about for any agile (or not) organisation to take on board, experiment with, and take forward or discard. Overall, I really enjoyed it all, and will look to attend ATD again in the future. I may need a few more days off afterwards, though!