Two Conferences of the East

Conferences, Software Testing

East of where? Why, Belgium of course. Where else would you place the center of the universe?

I’ve written about several conferences before, such as TestBash & Eurostar. It occurred to me that all previous gatherings were placed North of my hometown, that’s to say, until a few weeks ago. A new wind called my name.

After surviving the far and cold North, where I made friends around warm campfires and was taught the dance of ‘socializing while balancing a beer’, my steel winged carriage pointed another direction.
My next adventure lay East. To the haven city of Gdansk and the Transylvanian valley of Cluj Napoca.

I would tell you of my ride across the hills where I battled three packs of wild Romanian dogs, or the dance of fire that initialized me into the ranks of the Polish testing army. But that would be largely exaggerated and are best told at a bar.

None the less:
Two more conferences have been scratched of my bucket-list since then: Romanian Testing Conference & Testing Cup.


TestSphere’s workshop: “The Quest for the Ultimate Test Story” in action

The Romanian Testing Conference

Imagine being picked up at the airport in a very expensive Audi. Imagine the driver telling you he arranged a bike for you (you like biking, btw). Imagine that during the ride you oversee a valley filled with houses and old church towers but green hills all around. Imagine a slight hill in that valley with a grand hotel of marble on top.

That’s the first encounter I had with RTC. They had everything planned for me, the bike, the hills, the hotel, my evening dinner and the scenery was groteske. I mean that in the best possible way.

The conference itself was inside the many rooms of the hotel and for several days it was bustling with a 300-400 headed enthusiastic and diverse group of testers.
What struck me about this crowd is that it is much younger and much more evenly distributed across gender. And the hunger for knowledge… Dear lord were they thirsty.

The people I talked to were very eager to hear my stories, were inquisitive, well spoken and remarkable.

I am greatly impressed by the organisation, the participants and the group of speakers that assembled. I would be remiss not to mention I will fondly look back upon the time spent exploring the city with Ard Kramer & Elizabeth Zagroba and Nicola Owen, Mike Noggens, and Keith Klain.


Andrei Contan receiving his prize for telling the Ultimate Testing Story

Testing Cup

I’m a sucker for Poland. Over the last 3 years, I’ve visited these greener pastures a good 4 times. But this time I was reminded that I had been visiting some of the wrong sides. Gdansk is more modern than any other city I visited in Poland by a long shot.

Upon arrival in the old town I was rejoined with Zeger, Andreas, Ard, Marianne and Johan. From that point on, everything went into light speed. That was the moment the stars became white lines flashing in my peripheral view and the limits of the universe became in reach.

I didn’t look back.


It was the second year that Testing Cup grew larger than ‘just their testing competition’, which was incredible, make no mistake. Last year they experimented with several international speakers and this year they invited a larger group.
As a team we immediately set forth to gather all speakers in a whatsapp in a “got to catch ’em all” kind of style.
This medium was the center of much, much absurd humour and self mocking. I loved it. You may find a selection of shared pictures at the bottom of this post.

Much like in Romania, we found a large amount of young, knowledge-hungry and diverse selection of Poland’s best testers.
They demonstrated that in the competition and in our workshops with witty remarks and colourful stories.

Two particular moments will haunt me until years to come:

The party was a surge of positive energy. Having drinks on the beach, standing barefooted in the Baltic sea, enjoying the view of a spectacular fire show and dancing until well in the night in good company.
The party was amazingly good, which was noticed in the sheer number of attendees that trickled in much later than intended the next day.
The first day we had 40 participants (the cap) in our workshop, the second one we had 9.

Another impression about how greatly the attendees LIVED this conference was all the way in the end when the champions of the competition were announced.
I saw a Software Tester run in the middle of the Gdansk football arena waving a huge golden cup above his head. I imagine he felt like Ronaldo. His face showed pure pride and happiness. The crowd was enamored.


What I witnessed at both conferences was a strong organization and an exceptionally large number of volunteers. Even though it felt like they weren’t there, that’s exactly what their strength was. They supported us, carried us and led us to have the best of times. We didn’t have to worry about a thing.
That’s Joanna Mocko, Maciej Chmielarz, Andrei Contan, Andrei Ghinescu, Radek Smilgin for you.

As a speaker, I recommend these conferences with the highest of regards.
Say hi when you’re there. I will be too.



A Tale of Two Conferences


The past few weeks have been hectic for me. Hell, the last 6 months have been.
And it doesn’t look to be cooling down though, with Test Sphere needing a lot of new and uncharted attention.

I take this time to reflect upon the two conferences I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at:
Test Bash Manchester and EuroStar 2016 in Stockholm.


The goal for both conferences was to meet as many people as possible, participate in discussions and learn from them, see what the hot subjects are in Testing and introduce Test Sphere to as many people as I can.
I was alone for both, but knew people at each conference. This enabled me to move between groups, but also gave me a ‘safe place’ to return to when fatigue strikes.

I was going to participate in every meetup, every extra activity and fill the glass to the brim.

Test Bash Manchester

I drove up to Manchester. That’s a 10 hour travel from Belgium,but god, England is beautiful in Autumn. Even from the highway you can enjoy the orange-and-yellow branded leaves that fill the landscape.

Once I arrived at Old Trafford, I called Richard and he invited me to join him at a bar.
The plans he and Rosie have for Ministry of Testing are incredible and I couldn’t help but wanting to participate in it.

And that’s the beauty of Ministry of Testing and Test Bash. You feel like one of the organizers. It’s completely up to you: Step up, take any of the chances that are given to you and you’ll be supported by the community to do more and get to the next level.
Test Bash makes everyone valuable. It makes everyone feel like a part of something greater. A community of testers that feels inclusive, open and exceptionally warm.

I drove back in one stretch, arrived late in the evening but still felt energized to last for days. That’s what Test Bash does to me.

Eurostar Stockholm

It’s huge. There’s so much going on I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I stayed in Stockholm for 5 days and try to do as much as I possibly could. But having to choose between 4 different talks left me feeling as if I was losing every time.

The talks I attended were generally very interesting and I’ve taken away quite a few explicit ideas for my day-to-day work and probably more ideas that aren’t as concrete, but will re-surface when the need arises. Especially Alexandra Sladebeck and Liz Keogh‘s talks and ideas resonated with me.

There are so many big names in testing speaking and attending that I was seeing stars. Because I wanted to spread the good word of Test Sphere and looked for a few apostles to do so too, I approached most of them and tried to convince them to do workshops with the cards.
These Testing Stars are incredibly friendly and always up for a chat. They are interested in what you have to say and will give you things to think about.

This is the big advantage of EuroStar over Test Bash: Tons of opportunities and there is a much broader reach.

But this has a negative side too:
There is a central hall where most time is spent. It’s filled with vendors and companies that seem completely disconnected with what’s being talked about in the sessions.
It is my interpretation that this central hall fixates on Repetition in testing and that most talks advocate for Diversity and Variation.
That frightens me. Especially as Jon Bach revealed 50% of the attendees of his talk considered themselves Test Managers.

The late night activities proved to be exactly what I imagined them to be. Good food, drinks, discussions, getting to know each other better and forging relationships.

To summarize

Test Bash made me feel at home, welcomed and valued. EuroStar gave me the impression I was certainly welcome but still a newcomer and was ‘on my way to become a member’.
Both feelings are good. One gives me a safe environment and the other challenges me.

I left EuroStar with many questions and things to consider, such as the state of our craft vs. the state of the testing market and why I want to become a speaker. Test Bash made speaking feel like a natural next step.
Asking questions and introspection are necessary, feeling encouraged is too.

Both conferences offered a ton of ideas to consider and many opportunities to act on. Workshops, collaborations, job prospects and possible sponsors for Test Sphere.

And to the question of “why I signed up to become a speaker in the first place?”, the answer is: People.
Anything I do and want to do well is because of my love for good and honest people.
I need that, in order to feel happy.
I want to move forward with teams and grow everyone around me by any means necessary.
To achieve this, I first have to meet all these wonderful people.

Such as Marcel and Ard:

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Grading Proposals: My Experience


After writing a few of my own proposals to attend conferences I was asked to participate in grading proposals for Test Bash Philadelphia.
This is my experience.

Let me start by stating the first core lesson of this exercise:

Everyone should get the chance to read through a whole batch of proposals before writing their own.

When I started out, I had no idea what a good proposal looked like.
There are limited resources available concerning this topic, and Helena’s tips are the first that come to mind.
While I have nothing much to add to her tips, I can give you an insight in how I tackled the grading process, how I believe others do this and what made me decide in colouring things red and not green.

How I set to work

My goal is to provide relevant information to the people who make the decisions. Sounds like testing, right? Right!
What’s relevant information? My feelings, my thoughts and my judgment.

I should always keep in mind that little biases of are steering me, influencing me towards outcomes that might be slightly different from what I intend.

I try to ward myself from these influencing factors as best as possible.
It should be completely anonymous. As an objective grader, I shouldn’t be bothered with the name of the person, the gender, the ethnicity or anything else. The only thing that is important are the description of the talk, the takeaways for the public and the format.

Graders are not organizers. They shouldn’t take into account who you are, only your description counts and what you might bring to the conference.

I’m fully aware that there is A LOT more to organizing a conference than just filtering information. That’s Rosie and Richard’s jobs. With their combined experience, integrity and skill I have every confidence they’ll carry this conference to great heights.
I hope I have served them well.

It has to be stellar.

While I usually forgive a few spelling errors, typo’s, formatting errors,… (as I’m definitely not perfect myself) I do think that when you submit an official proposal to a conference, you want to radiate an aura of quality and reliability.
If the people deciding whether you go up on stage or not (which was not my role) can’t depend on you to be excellent in your proposal, how can they be confident in your ability to give a quality talk?

Additionally, every spelling error, formatting mistake and sentence that breaks off too early risks me believing your work is of lesser quality than it actually is.

It has to be real.

I don’t like sales talks. I don’t like one-size-fits all and I don’t like people telling me how I should do what I do.
Please, tell me about the troubles you faced and what made you investigate your new and bright idea. Give me a story of how you developed a solution and how you implemented it. Don’t shy away from your hardships, troubles and possible failures. It’s those that learn us the most. They make for a compelling story.

I want you to be real and I want your story to be real.
When I’m reading a submission and feel that it serves more to expose you than bring value to the attendees, that’s a red flag for me.

It has to be thorough.

People who investigate their own ideas, have them reviewed, read books about them and do their field work will have their chances boosted, as far as I’m concerned.
I believe that anyone can come up with a variation on a beaten-path topic and get away with it.
Don’t take the easy road. The experience you gain is unique, take it by the horns and refine it. Learn from it and make it teachable.

Invest in your ideas. Gather more information, discuss them, read books and dig deeper.

The final verdict

For each proposal, I supplied positive and negative points and eventually a colour:
Red, Orange or Green.

I must say that I’ve often struggled to decide and rechecked everything before finally judging.
This is not an easy task, but you learn a lot from it. Trust me.

In the end, I’ve selected (for myself) a good lucking bunch of proposals that I would love to attend myself. I envy the people that will be there.


These are the three big pillars I based my grading experience on. Next time, I’ll try to look broader than just my thoughts and feelings but try to empathize with what others might find interesting.
That’s bound to be a much harder experience.

TestBash Brighton 2016: Homecoming


TestBash is the Mecca for testers around the world.
I have been wanting to go for a long, long time. It’s got a ton of interesting, great people who are, on top of that, highly experienced and motivated testers!
Alas, this year, I wasn’t going to make it. Weeping, I looked forward to the twitterstorm that would leave me somewhat involved and envious of the people who were able to attend.


Then, Steve happened.

Completely by surprise, the news of me being able to go to TestBash2016 swept me off my feet: unprepared and unplanned a spot just opened up for me.
I have Steve Green from TestPartners (London) to thank. A colleague of his wasn’t able to make it and Steve decided to bestow the ticket to a tester he deemed worthy.
I got lucky, as I was apparently the only tester available who could clear his schedule.
A free test bash ticket and a hotel to spend the night were mine to enjoy.


By the time I drove to Brighton, I knew more about Test Bash than I needed but much, much less than I wanted to.
That evening, I wandered the streets of Brighton in search of testers who I’d recognize from Twitter and/or Slack profile pictures or tried to pick up flashes of test-speak.
Needless to say, that tactic wasn’t too successful.

After some frantic twittering and emailing, I finally got the coordinates to some covert, next-to-the-beach pub that had an open bar, about 200 testers and plenty of discussions ranging from forehead-tattoos and the most funny bug people had uncovered.
I got drawn right in. It felt like homecoming. Everywhere I looked I saw faces of people whom I’d chatted with, read blogposts from, had reached out to and had shared ideas with.
It was like seeing your family again, after being abroad for way too long.

I was there for about two beers time and met so many people I wanted to compliment and thank for the impact they’ve had on me as a tester.
Rosie, Richard, Vernon and Huib were the first to greet me. They introduced me to several other new people I had already met, but hadn’t recognized.

Anna Baik, I wanted to thank for her involvement on the Tester Slack group and her guarding of the integrity of the community on that channel, even if it’s easier to disregard people who ask the wrong questions. So I did. And I hope it sounded much more earnest in person than it would do over twitter or chat.

Helena Jeret-mäe, I thanked for helping me with creating a proposal for Let’s Test. Even though I didn’t make the cut that time, she told me what she appreciated about my effort, what could be better and on top of things, she gave me two more challenges. The first, I completed a day later: “Participate in the 99-second talks”.
Furthermore, she told me of her experiences and why she does what she does, further motivating me to make my own kind of music.


Eight hours later, I woke up to the sound of seagulls. Brighton! Right! pre-TestBash run, Let’s go!
Seven other crazy runners and me jogged along the Brighton coastline for a few miles and talked about each other’s Test work and sporting goals.

CdQAew1UYAE_QByIt’s a fun tradition that cleared my head and sharpened my mind for the whirlwind of a day to come.
Full English Breakfast, with capital letters, was enriched by getting to know my benefactor, Steve Green and his colleagues. If I ever consider working in London, his shop would be my place to go. During the course of a breakfast it became clear our ideas about testing are very aligned.
If you’re looking for a test gig in London and are tired of mindless testing and rigid processes, contact Steve. Really.

The conference had yet to start but my expectations were already met. I had met great people. Steve and all the people from the day before would have left me satisfied for a long time.
It had only been the beginning…

I made it a point to not linger too long with the same person, so as to not miss to many others. I was there to connect, thank, appreciate and get to know other testers  and set a foundation for later interactions.
I met a huge number of people whom I’m looking forward to get to know better. Time did not permit more than that.

Apart from the great interactions with incredible people there were of course, the conference talks.
Two of these really stood out for me. Katrina Clokie’s experience report of organizing pairwork in her company struck a chord with me. Not because she told us the advantages pairing bring, but because of her methodical way of organizing, iterating and improving upon it. Katrina is a big personality through her modesty and a huge asset to the testing community.

Bill Matthews’ talk had me shivering in my seat. He started with a fun, entertaining demo of not-so-smart, smart algorithms. Do you know the “Calculate my age from my picture” or “which dog is on this picture” algorithm? Played around with it?
Funny, right?
Well, imagine algorithms like that controlling your car or calculating what the maximum price you’re willing to pay for your train ticket fares would be. Imagine them influencing the way you think, buy, make decisions,… the way that marketing does.
Scary, huhn?
How would you test these algorithms and the effects the have?
It gave me the willies , I tell you.

Between talks I met another tester, who’s hometown I share. It was his first Testing Conference and it was clear that a whole world was opening up to him. I’ll be seeing more of him, I’m sure.

I could write many, many more stories about these very limited hours and I could elaborate on the ones here a whole deal more.
If you have read this far, you probably already got the message:




DEWT, where’s the bar?


For those not in the know, DEWT (pronounced similar to “dude”) is the Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing. It’s a peer conference and “boy, a hell of a lot of fun!”.

Feelings beforehand

I was incredibly nervous driving towards the conference. I knew no one. The next 48 hours would be spent with 25 total strangers.
On top of that, there was a chance I’d had to present my experience report. Everyone had to prepare an experience report in advance, with the possibility of presenting it. After these presentations, rigorous and in-depth discussion would ensue.
In my mind’s eye, I saw my ideas torn to pieces by highly critical, well versed testers.

As a tester, I felt curious. I had heard and read a lot of good things about peer conferences. Yet, many stories tell of ‘peer-conferences-gone-bad” as well. (I learned a few extra during DEWT as well.) I wanted to know what takes place, how it’s organized and how the atmosphere felt. It turned out to be incredible experience that was surprisingly embracing.

I’m caught. I feel energized, backed up, and dizzy from all the ideas going around in my head and butterflies in my belly. I got to know so many interesting and lovable people. Each one of them brought something different to the conference and everyone’s perspective was heard, nay, absorbed.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t put 25 people of any other same profession together and experience a likewise challenging, passionate, engaging, yet open and friendly surge of energy as I did this weekend.

The Bar

I was terribly late. Traffic, you see. But I was lucky the organizers saved me a plateful of food.
A few minutes later, I was talking with three other testers on our way to the bar. They were telling me all about their current project, how they became a team and how they are still improving.

I listened and asked questions. I felt right in.

At the bar, beers were provided and games were conjured. The hotel provided everything we could possibly need. Snacks were brought before you knew you could do with some food and whatever drink you liked suddenly appeared in your hand a few moments later.

Before long, we grew closer together, in a safe environment filled with laughter and like-minded people. Not a worry around us.

I fell asleep just before my head hit the pillow.

Day one

What followed, was a full day of presentations and discussions. Everyone pitched in and offered help, a unique viewpoint, books, podcasts, articles and plenty of other triggers.

Most of what was discussed that day will seep into my every day test work over time, I’m sure.
Even today it dawned on me, that where I am working, even right down to the team I am working with, is suffering from a syndrome Ard Kramer laid bare that day. Ard’s presentation was about communicating risk, but what struck me today was a particular slide handling “meaning vs. systems”.
I’ve only been a month at my current project, but have had weekly “process improvement meetings”. Yet, no “value” or “meaning” or “purpose” meeting was had ever.

I had never looked at it that way. Ard showed me and he gave me a tool to communicate it.

The presentations where varied and each gave a different dynamic to the group discussions. I remember Susan’s presentation fondly about a shared responsibility problem and the coaching, understanding and kind words that followed. Or Joep’s presentation that talked of a success-story of some sorts but had a few people’s emotions (my own included) flare up for various reasons. Another presentation by Thomas had us all awestruck by it’s compelling and comprehensive mindmap, listing all the different dimensions of communication.

Day one was long and full of learning. It ended with Michael Bolton visiting on the way through, him playing his mandolin and a group performance of “500 miles”.
Whiskey tasting, party snacks, good beer, good talks, great music and perfect company.

Day two

Nothing much seemed changed on Sunday. Never change a winning team, right?
That’s what we thought…

Until chaos unravelled. Sweet chaos.
After a talk by Femke and Philip about pair testing and how they learned to interact with each other, it was Joep’s turn again.
Apparently, he had decided he had played enough with our feelings the day before. Today, he’d f*** with our minds.
He didn’t have to try too hard either, I guess…

“A workshop”, he told us. “A workshop that will combine all the different things you learned this weekend into one big mindmap. And I’ve got just the way to do it!”

Have you ever tried to build a mind map with another person? Have you ever done it with five? Have you ever combined four five-person mindmaps together?

Well, we did. And it wasn’t pretty.
It did get us to think about how everything fitted together and how everything we touched upon was linked.
Even though it might not look like it on a wall, it did in my head.

Thank you

These past days have left me invigorated, gave rebirth to old ideas in a new light, generated new ideas, provided fond memories and newfound friends.
What else could a person want?WP_003561