I’ll just come right out and say it. EuroSTAR was an absolute blast. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to bask in and soak up the vast reserves of experience and knowledge so clearly present throughout the 3 days for which I was able to attend.
That’s not to say that it was all plain sailing though…
In my capacity as editor of The Testing Planet (the pre-eminent software testing magazine. What – you haven’t subscribed yet? Go do so. Now – here!), it really would have been a great idea to have distributed some copies of the physical Testing Planet newspaper. Alas, due to some logistical issues it was not to be. The only Testing Planet’s that made it anywhere near to the conference were those I could fit in my trusty rucksack (i.e. not many). Also, since I had to make a choice between carrying my camera or taking some Testing Planets, I figured I’d manage to take some snapshots of conference activities with my phone. Little did I know that I’d somehow managed to pack the one mini-USB cable that my phone doesn’t agree with. Doh!
Suffice to say that within a couple of hours of my arrival in Amsterdam I had precisely zero copies of The Testing Planet remaining. And by the end of day one, I had nothing with which to take pictures either. Not ideal. Unencumbered by Testing Planets, camera or undue reverence for the various tracks, themes or speakers, I resolved to make the very most of the conference by venturing forth to share the Software Testing Club vibe with as many testers as possible within the course of my three day visit! This then, is my story…
The conference opened with a brief circuit of the main auditorium by the conference chairs Zeger van Hese, Shmuel Gershon, Julian Harty and James Lyndsay on bright yellow Netherlands taxi-bicycles. Exhilarated and slightly out of breath, they proceeded to open the conference and after some opening remarks from Zeger, Alan Page delivered the first keynote speech – Test Innovation for Everyone. Much of his talk focused on testers thinking long and hard about their work and looking for new ideas everywhere they possibly can.
Carrying out your own research, reading wide and deep so as to generate as many ideas as possible and cultivating an environment within which said ideas can cross-pollinate were prevailing themes, recurring in different forms over a number of other presentations including Alan Richardson’s keynote Unconventional Influences and Neil Thompson’s seminar Value Inspired Testing: Renovating Risk-Based Testing, and Innovating with Emergence.
By the end of the first afternoon, and particularly after having sat through Neil’s excellent (if slightly difficult to digest in one sitting) seminar, my poor brain was pretty much filled to the brim with great ideas and thoughts to take away and ponder. But the day wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot…
The drinks and networking session in the conference expo centre was an ideal opportunity to spread the STC good news and I made a point of introducing myself to as many faces as possible. At some point during the proceedings, I hooked up with some consultant types and, well… To be honest, the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur! Suffice to say, some interesting discussions took place throughout the night and into the wee hours concerning various testing and many other non-testing related topics.
Slightly hung-over, my second day started with a joint presentation on TDD not being Tester Driven Development (Stephan Readman & Kevin Campbell) and progressed into the slightly more satisfying (and best paper award-winning) Performance Testing of a Road Tolling System by Siegfried Goeschl. Being heavily involved in the performance-testing scene myself; I was able to listen to Siegfried’s story with some appreciation for the technical and engineering issues involved. My only concern being that it didn’t quite go into as much depth as I would have liked with regards to how some of the (no doubt many) obstacles were overcome in order to deliver a successful project. This seemed to have been a problem in a number of the seminars and was cited as being one of the main reasons attendees weren’t getting quite as much out of the conference as they would have liked. The prevailing feeling being (amongst the people with whom I discussed the seminar content) that where the subject matter is of a technical nature, it ideally needs to be drilled into in much more detail.
Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, right?
Unfortunately, the next seminar I went along to was also a bit of a disappointment. Some sort of technical issue meant that the projector couldn’t be used to display the speakers slide deck. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but the speaker insisted on referring (by way of lengthy pauses while looking down at his laptop display every few moments) to the slides still, which made for a very disjointed and deeply frustrating experience. Rather than stick around and attempt to endure it further, and having previously established that Siegfried would be continuing his performance-testing tutorial during the afternoon, I headed down to the Test Lab instead.
I arrived at the lab just in time to join Siegfried in a JMeter coaching session. He uses JMeter as part of a USB testing setup (alongside a couple of other tools) with which I am well versed. Thus when the session started to slow down a bit due to proxy-recording concerns (check out the JMeter guide if you don’t understand what this means) I was able to step in and help out, ending up in a kind of joint-coach position for the rest of the session. Once done with this I wandered over to the Mindstorms testing display.
The Test Lab itself was probably a highlight of the conference. Speaking only for myself, it became kind of a default option for when nothing else particularly interesting was happening. For somebody like me, who finds it difficult just to sit and listen to other people talking without some form of active engagement, it provided an outlet for some of my energy and an opportunity to hone some skills. Exploratory testing skills in particular, since most of the Test Lab activities were geared towards trying your hand out on a system or application in a practical capacity, generally with expert testers on hand to provide guidance and support when needed. I’m still very much a keen apprentice when it comes to the art/science of exploratory testing, so it was great to spend some time in the lab working on some of the kinks. Chatting with one of the assistants for 10mins (thanks Ru) probably helped me out more than several entire seminars, and for me this was another of the key elements of the entire conference – communicating with, getting to know and sharing experiences with other testers. Indeed between talking with other attendees and speakers, and time spent testing in the Test Lab, I pretty much managed to kill the entire afternoon, not attending any of the other seminars and only finally re-joining the main track for the inspirational keynote the Sky is not the Limit by Peter Madsen.
Later on it was time for some more drinks, first with the Spil Games team (thanks guys for your hospitality) and then onto the double Michelin starred Ciel Bleu Restaurant in the Hotel Okura for the 20th anniversary gala black-tie celebration (thanks Huib for the jacket!) Much fun was had by all.
Day three of the conference was the best by far. For me anyway. Perhaps not as hung-over as some, I was ready and eager to hear Simon Stewart’s keynote, Selenium Over the Years alongside his contentious (to some) assertion that testers should learn to code. Much debate ensued, extending on throughout the morning and into a lunchtime discussion in the community room. A consensus most definitely was not reached.
For the record, I’m on the learn to code side of the fence. Simon Stewart wasn’t talking about writing production code. He was saying that testers should learn to harness the power of the machines on which they work to make their lives easier and become more efficient (and possibly more effective) at their work by using the machine’s native language (i.e. code) to automate repetitive and complex tasks. I agree with him and will continue my own efforts to at least learn how to automate test setup and teardown activities, in addition to improving my test automation efforts.
After ending up in the Test Lab listening to further hints and tips from Simon on the WebDriver API, I’d again somehow managed to miss all of the morning’s seminars. Oops! Fortunately, Michael D Kelly’s keynote, Lessons Learned in Software Testing at Startups more than made up for it (in my eyes at least), and I’ll certainly be making a point of searching for more of his material in the future. Amongst many other valuable insights, Michael opened my eyes to the fact that my role as a tester could be so much bigger than what it is currently, and that testers in startups can be absolutely invaluable sources of information for their founders. Hopefully Michael will put his slides online in due course. When he does, I heartily recommend you check them out.
After lunch (earlier testers should learn to code debate refers), the icing on the conference cake was Markus Gaertner’s active workshop Beyond Testing. Markus led us in groups through various situation and humanistic modeling exercises which, as well as being great fun, were also very enlightening and will no doubt serve as useful grounding on current and future projects and teams. Effects diagrams, non-violent communication, transactional analysis, human system dynamics and much more – Markus is a brilliant coach and an enormous inspiration. It was also great fun to meet and work in a team with several longstanding Twitter friends. Another one of the joys of being a part of a vibrant community, all gathered in one place.
I hope you can get just a glimpse of what it was like to attend the EuroSTAR conference from this report. I should mention that it was my first time at the conference, but that I’d definitely make a point of returning in the future. I’d also like to make a few observations:
- As mentioned above, many of the attendees that I spoke to found the seminars lacking in depth. Often, the seminars under discussion weren’t the same ones that I was at, so I can’t comment on specific examples directly, but certainly I can say that to some degree they [the seminars] were a mixed bag. I was happy enough to duck-out of seminars that weren’t interesting to me and head down to the Test Lab or find someone to talk to, but this may not have been the case for everyone.
- The Test Lab is an awesome extension to the conference and is frequented by many of the pre-eminent testers within our community. But it was tucked away right at the back of the expo-hall where it’s quite conceivable some attendees may not even venture. I’d like to see it take a much more central role in proceedings. Perhaps under Michael Bolton’s tenure, it will?
- Given the recurring theme of cross-pollination, it would be interesting to see if more non-testing material could be introduced to the conference. I’m not quite sure how this would work, and clearly there are commercial considerations, but I think it’s worth considering.
- Black-tie affairs are all well and good, but how about a disco for the young folk?
Also, If you’re interested official EuroSTAR photos can be found here.