The New Testing Conference

Anna Royzman is starting a new testing conference which she has decided to call the New Testing Conference. Anna has asked me to tell you about some of the ways we will be trying to live up to that bold name.

(Disclosure: although it doesn’t belong to me and I am not in charge of anything, bear in mind that I have an economic interest in it. I’m being paid to present at it and I’m advising Anna on the design of the program and invitation of speakers. I will be doing a tutorial and probably other things, too.)

Position Talks as Gentle Debate

We were talking about what it means to have a test conference that focuses on “newness” and one of the things we realized is that new is always controversial. New is always sketchy. For any new practice, there will be lots of practitioners who roll their eyes about it or scowl darkly. Therefore, if we want to talk about new things, we have to deal with the clash between “tried and comfortable” and “new and nervous.” So, this conference must help good ideas move beyond the new and nervous stage, while letting the not so good ideas fall back into obscurity (at least for a while… until the next generation unearths it again like a cursed monkey paw).

A structure we want to try is this:

  1. Hold two or more short position talks around a particular topic. For instance “Is BDD worth doing or a vain waste of time?”
  2. The speakers discuss and debate the topic BEFORE the conference. That way, at the conference, they would be able to put their best ideas forward and avoid misrepresenting the other side’s argument.
  3. They each speak for 10-15 minutes explaining their arguments.
  4. There is a 20-minute break for the audience, during which they may speak with the speakers to give them ideas or continue the debate. The speaker don’t get a break.
  5. The speakers give 5-minute follow-up lightning talks to respond to the other speakers or amend their previous statements.

Each Track Talk Includes a Demonstration, Exercise, or Experience Report

We feel that just talking about concepts isn’t enough. So, each track talk will include at least one of the following:

  • Demonstration: Show how an idea works in practice, then take questions and comments from the audience.
  • Exercise: Get the audience to try something, then debrief.
  • Experience Report: Tell a specific story about something that you experienced at a particular time and place, then take questions and comments.

“360 degree” Tutorials

I’m not sure if that’s quite the right name, but we want to do some workshops based on a particular structure I’ve been experimenting with:

  1. The instructor offers a challenge (which he has previously performed and has results ready to share).
  2. The students perform the challenge.
  3. Debrief with instructor commentary and critique.
  4. The instructor shows what he did and challenges the students to critique it.
  5. Students critique instructors work.
  6. Instructor critiques his own work.

Part of the fun of a “360” kind of workshop, as an instructor, is that I try to anticipate every criticism that the students will make of my work. I usually miss something, but then I add it to my list of critiques and I am even more prepared for the next time I run the workshop. I end up looking smarter and smarter– but of course the punchline is: I’m smarter because I opened myself to all this criticism. And when we all get comfortable hearing critical reactions to our work, our whole community grows smarter, faster.

14 thoughts on “The New Testing Conference

  1. Regarding “They each speak for 10-15 minutes explaining their arguments.”.

    Don’t do it as a panel where all the speakers sit behind a table on the stage while one is speaking and they take turns. As a speaker I hate sitting in front of an audience, exposed, with nothing to do and without being able to move.

    [James’ Reply: Don’t worry, we won’t do it that way.

    However, I don’t know why you say you can’t move. When I am in that situation I make faces, pound my forehead into the table, wave my arms around– I don’t yawn, though, because that would be disrespectful.]

  2. Good Luck James!! I am excited about the debate part…lot more exposure for audience.
    Is there any Testing conference that takes place on the weekends, I have not seen many, please post details if you know any. Thx…Preeti

    [James’ Reply: I don’t know any commercial conferences that do.]

  3. I hope you will find some genuinely new ideas and/or novel approaches to old ideas. I will admit that on the face of it I am not confident this will happen.

    My concern is that Test Masters Academy seems to be very “Agile”-oriented. Their April conference includes lots of talks on “automation” and tools (although they are by speakers who I respect, like Richard Bradshaw.) I hope this is not going to be the major focus for this conference.

    [James’ Reply: Agile is pretty important, but I would say the focus will be more on testing skills– at least to the degree I can influence that.]

    Btw, where is this taking place? I can’t find anything on the site.

    [James’ Reply: New York City. Specific place is not yet set.]

    Also: “Black box/white box: what is the right way to test a software?”


    [James’ Reply: I agree that snippet is poorly written, but there is a spark of value to it. How would you suggest rephrasing it into something sensible?]

    • I’d be inclined to remove it completely, there are too many problems with it. I’m not a fan of the black box/white box distinction and there is no “right way” to test software.

      Any way of modeling the software will have “black boxes”. Even if you are reading the code, there will be functions, types, control flow, arithmetic operations, etc. of which you won’t understand the underlying implementation.

      Perhaps it could be rephrased something like: “Black box/white box: Is it a false dichotomy? Is it a useful heuristic?”

      I think it is possible for a dichotomy to be both false and useful, after all any heuristic is fallible. But, I don’t find black box/white box useful.

      [James’ Reply: You have identified one of the ways to interpret that topic, and I think that might make an interesting debate. I could make arguments on either side of this.

      I also don’t find the term useful in everyday testing communication. This is because all testing is black box on some level, so the term immediately begs the question of what level you are referring to. I think I am with you on that.

      But when people refer to blackbox/whitebox they are often really talking about the merits of developer testing vs. independent testing, or the merits of technical testing vs. user-centered testing. So, the terms can be code for something else. That’s what I meant when I said it was poorly written.]

  4. Love the format, James.

    On the position talks, how soon before the actual conference will speakers “gently debate” their positions as preparation and how will that take place? The CFP didn’t mention that part, which is brilliant, in my opinion.

    I assume proposals that don’t also have an opposing side will be passed up? Have you or Anna considered keeping an updated list of position talks submitted available for those willing to gently debate a different side?

    [James’ Reply: Good questions. We were going to manage that by ear, actually. The speakers will work that out among themselves, but I imagine we will nudge them.

    If someone submits for one side of a debate, we will find someone to match on the other side.]

  5. Really like the idea of the 360 tutorials. I’ve done some exercises which are similar, and more based off trying to work out what from my science teacher training I can use to teach testing ideas.

    I think maybe we don’t think enough to encourage point 5 “the student critiques the instructor approach”.

  6. A thought I had about starting a new conference or even just giving a face lift to an old one is a twist on the “Lightning Strikes the Keynotes” done at the Star conferences. What if there was an opportunity for each speaker to “pitch” their presentation at the beginning of the conference? The conference schedules and handouts are helpful, but they are flat and two dimensional.

    [James’ Reply: That’s a great idea… except, I’m wondering how long that would take. We would have at most 60 seconds per speaker to get this done.]

    If I could hear from the speaker before I get stuck in a class for 40+ minutes with them I know I would make different choices on which classes I would attend. I have been on both ends of this, where I have chosen a class based on a topic only to find out they weren’t covering what I thought they would be covering, and I have chosen classes because there was “nothing else” and found some great speakers.
    To make this easier to digest, you could have the speakers present at the beginning of the day in which they will be speaking (as oppose to every single speaker presenting on day 1 causing a 2 hour delay in the conference).

    [James’ Reply: How about a 3 minute video that would be posted on the website. One for each talk?]

    • A video on the website could also work. And save time. But may cost more money to create and post. But would serve well those looking at attending a conference or class.

  7. It would be great if a conference could somehow differentiate the “levels” of the class. For example, “Intro to Rapid Testing Methodology” could be Rapid Testing 101. But, what happens if I have already been to that class or a similar class? What if I want to learn more? Is there a “Familiar with Rapid Testing Methodology? Come Learn the next steps.” Rapid Testing 201.

    [James’ Reply: If there were enough people who had already worked with it, I would do this. So, what I do is to teach most seminars to multiple levels of people at the same time. In most cases, that’s not too hard. But in some cases, I don’t know how to do that. This is why I rarely teach combinatorial testing. It’s a strictly advanced topic.]

    Also, if there will be “sales pitches” at the conference, I would really like to know that before I go in.

    [James’ Reply: Nobody allows sales pitches at a practitioner conference. Each presentation is meant to teach something.]

    I don’t mind being “sold” on a new methodology or idea. I would prefer not to be surprised in a session that it is only a sales pitch on a tool. And a sales pitch is very different from a training. “Training: SmartBear’s tools for your QA Org” may be something I want to attend if I am using SmartBear’s tools. But when they bait and switch me with something like “Code, Test, Performance: How they work together”, only to find out they are just selling me on their suite of software it can be frustrating.

    [James’ Reply: You generally find pitches like that under “vendor tracks.”]

    And no, I can’t just look at where the person is from because Jon Bach works at eBay and he doesn’t go in selling me on “eBay”. (Hmm…reread this and there appears to be some frustration in these comments, but I guess that is a point of friction that might be worked out with a “new” conference.)

    [James’ Reply: You think my brother is going to sell you eBay instead of talking about testing? Really?]

    • Your brother is a great example of what I hope for. Unlike many others who could give great “trainings” but end up giving me a sales pitch.

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