What just happened? Was I just part of the first-ever European conference on context-driven software testing? It feels like it was only yesterday that was still thinking “this will never happen”, but it happened, and it’s already been over a month now since it did. So maybe it’s time for a quick (sort of) retrospective? Let’s see, where do I begin…?
Almost a year ago, I did something I rarely do. I made a promise. The reason I rarely make promises is because I’m lousy at following a plan and with many if not most promises, there’s planning involved… So making a promise would force me to both make a plan and then follow it. Impossible.
And yet, almost a year ago now, I found myself at the CAST conference in Seattle, standing in front of 200+ people (and another couple of hundred people listening in via webcast I’ve been told) and telling the audience that me and some other people from Sweden were going to put on a conference on context-driven testing in 2012 and that it would be just like CAST, only in Europe. And of course we had it all planned out and ready to be launched! Right…? Well… not… really…
At that point we didn’t have a date set, no venue contract in place, no program that we could market, no funding, no facilitators – heck, we didn’t even really have a proper project team. The people who had been discussing this up until now had only started talking about organizing a conference at the 2nd SWET workshop on exploratory testing in Sweden a couple of months earlier. In my mind, it was all still only on a “Yeah, that would be a neat thing to pull off! We should do that!” level of planning or committment from anyone. At least as far as I was concerned. The other guys might tell you that they had made up their minds long before this, but I don’t think I had.
Anyway, since I was elected (sort of) to go ahead and announce our “plan” (sort of), I guess this is the point were I made up my mind to be a part of what we later named “Let’s Test – The Context-Driven Way” and over the next couple of months we actually got a project team together and became more or less ready to take on what we had already promised (sort of) to do.
Fast forward a couple of months more. So now we have that committed team of 5 people in place, working from 5 different locations around the country (distributed teams, yay!). We have an awesome website, a Twitter account, a shared project Dropbox and some other boring back office stuff in place. The team members are all testers by trade, ready to crete a conference that is truely “by testers, for testers”. Done. What more do we need? Turns out, a conference program is pretty high up on the “must have” list for a conference. Yeah, we should get on that…
I think that this was the point where I started to realize just how much support this idea had out there in the context-driven testing community already. Scott Barber, Michael Bolton and Rob Sabourin were three of our earliest “big name” supporters who had heard our annoucement at CAST, and many testers from the different European testing communities were also cheering for the idea early on, offering support. A bunch of fabulous tutorial teachers and many fantastic testing thinkers and speakers from (literally) all over the world, who we never dreamed would come all the way to Sweden, also accepted our invitations early on. Our call for papers (that I at first feared wouldn’t get many submissions since we were a first-time conference) also rendered a superb yield of excellent proposals. So much so that it was almost impossible to only pick a limited number to put on the program.
So while I can say in retrospect that creating a conference program is no small task, it is a heck of a lot easier when you get as awesome a repsonse and support from the community as we’ve gotten throughout this past year. It did not go unnoticed folks!
After we got the program in place, I was still a bit nervous about the venue and residential conference format. Would people actually like to come to this relatively remote venue and stay there for three days and nights, while basically doing nothing else but talk about testing, or would they become bored and long for a night on the town? I had to remind myself of the reasons we decided to go down this route in the first place: CAST and SWET.
CAST is the annual “Conference of the Association for Sotware Testing” which uses a facilitated discussion format developed through the LAWST workshops. People who come to CAST usually leave saying it’s been one of their best conference experiences ever, in large parts due to (I believe) this format with facilitated discussions after each and every presentation. We borrowed this format for Let’s Test, and with the help of the Association for Software Testing (AST) we were able to bring in CAST head facilitator Paul Holland to offer facilitaiton training to a bunch of brilliant volunteers. Awesome.
SWET is the “Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing”, which is a small-scale peer workshop that also uses the LAWST style discussion format. But what makes this sort of gathering different from most regular conferences is that the people who come to the workshop all stay at the same location as the workshop is being held, for one or two consecutive days and nights. So after the workshop has concluded for the day, discussions still don’t stop. People at SWET stay up late and continue to share and debate ideas well into the night, at times using the sunrise as their only cue to get to bed. I believe one of the main reasons for this is… because they can. They don’t have to catch a bus or a cab to go back to their hotel(s) and when given the opportunity to stay up late and talk shop with other people who are as turned on by software testing as they are, they take it. We wanted to see this made possible for about ten times as many people as we usually see at SWET as well. Hence the residential format and extensive evening program at Let’s Test, which I believe is a fairly unusual if not unique format for a conference of this size. At least in our neck of the woods.
In the end, I personally think we were able to offer a nice blend of these two conference models that had inspired us. People weren’t forced to enter into discussions after sessions, but they were always able and encouraged to participate, and in a structured manner (great job all facilitators!). Also, people could choose to go to bed early and recharge their batteries after a long day of conferencing, or they could opt-in for either high energy test lab activities, or a more mellow and laid back art tour around the venue campus (to name but a couple of the well attended evening activities) before heading for the bar. I think I managed to get to bed at around 02.00 AM each night, but I know that some folks stayed up talking for a couple of hours beyond that each night too.
Wrapping up this little retrospective, I’d like to say thank you to our sponsors who, among other things, helped make the evening events such a well appreciated part of the conference experience and who all really engaged actively in the conference, which was something we as organizers really appreciated. Finally, a special shout out to the very professional Runö venue crew and kitchen staff who readily helped us out whenever we needed it. You made the execution of this event a total joy.
I’m very happy about how Let’s Test turned out. It exceeded my own expectations for sure. Judging by the feedback we saw on Twitter during the event, and in the blogosphere afterwards, I’d say it looks like most who attended were pretty ok with the experience as well. Check out the blog links we’ve gathered on the Let’s Test 2012 Recap page and judge for yourselves. Seriously, it’s been extremely rewarding to read through all these blog posts. Thank you for that.
Plans are already well underway for next year’s conference. We’re delighted that both James Bach and Johanna Rothman have signed on to be two of our keynote speakers and we’ll announce a call for proposals sometime after the summer for sure and I encourage all of you who sent something in last year to do so again. Oh, and you can sign up right now for Let’s Test 2013 and catch the advantageous first responder rate. A bunch of people already have, so you’ll be in good company.
One final thing… We know a good deal about what people liked at Let’s Test 2012, but no doubt there are also a few things that we can and should improve. Let us know.
It’s been a pleasure. See you all there next year I hope!