Conferences and Car Crashes

Pre-Flight Checks

I took a few days away from my current gig last week to attend and deliver a workshop at the Romanian Testing Conference. I’m very grateful to Stephen Blower for asking me to help him deliver the workshop since, as I’ve mentioned on previous occasions – I’m pretty busy/lazy and probably wouldn’t have gotten it together to submit a workshop abstract on my own. However, now I’ve gotten my first taste of actually presenting something at a conference, I’d certainly hope to do more of the same in the future. Of course there are a few lessons to be learnt along the way, but I’ll get to those in a bit. First, the conference experience!

My journey to Cluj-Napoca started at around 5am with a drive down to Luton Airport. In my normal diligent fashion I’d packed and checked my bags a couple of days before, in addition to topping up the gas tank in my car. I’d booked a meet & great valet car parking service so as to minimise any hassles upon arriving at the airport and of course checked in via the WizzAir website. Or so I thought anyway.

On arriving at the airport I first circled the drop-off car park (debit £2) before identifying the actual short term car-park where my valet was waiting, duly handed over the keys and proceeded to the check-in desks. I was very happy at this point to have left home around half an hour earlier than originally planned as the desks were absolutely jam-packed with punters travelling to various destinations. Who knew Luton Airport got so busy at 6am on a Wednesday morning? While checking in I was also informed that I hadn’t actually checked-in [on the website], but not to worry because – in the check-in desk clerk’s words – the website is “crap.” I was grateful not to get charged an additional fee at least.

The Three Amigos

The Three Amigos

In the airport lounge I bumped into Stephen Janaway and spent a pleasurable few hours in his, Andy Glovers and Stephen Blowers company for the remainder of the trip – including the flight over and subsequent RTC2014 branded car journey from Airport Cluj-Napoca to the Grand Hotel Napoca where the conference was to be held. The car journey was to be a kind of blueprint for all subsequent Romanian in-car experiences; i.e. was mostly spent in fear of ones life and wondering at what point we might actually hit the speed of light while dodging various in/animate objects. Thankfully we all arrived safely and after a brief interlude stowing our respective belongings we ventured into deepest Cluj-Napoca (well, the park immediately next door to the hotel) in search of lunch.

Later that evening we were treated to our first experience of Romanian cuisine joined by various other speakers and conference participants including the software testing rockstar Tony Bruce and Test Lab aficionado Adina Moldovan. Dinner consisted of a couple of enormous platters of what can only be described as grub, mainly consisting of meat, potato, rice and pickled veg. Yum! And of course, many beers. I think my share of the bill for dinner came to around 80 Lei, or £12, including drinks.

Dinner

Dinner

In Flight

The next day was the conference proper, starting at 9.30am (that’s 7.30am UK time) with Tony Bruce’s [unwitting] keynote – What do Testers do? Being a multi-track event, another opening talk was being given but this time over Skype because the scheduled speaker hadn’t been able to organise his visa in time for the event. Oops! One mans misfortune is another mans open door however and his absence provided an excellent opportunity for Dan Billing to step up and deliver a security testing workshop in his stead.

Though tempted to slope off for a crafty nap at various points, with the assistance of copious quantities of caffeine I managed to stay the course for the entire day, working my way through the various speakers and dutifully recording notes for distribution to those interested via Twitter. These can mostly be found below if you’d like to take a look:

Tony Bruce – What do Testers do?
Codruta Buena – Establishing a Test Approach for a Private Cloud Environment
Károly Kamarás – Continuous Delivery for Desktop Applications
René Tuinhout – Passionate Dating for Testers, and Vice-Versa

The talks were a mostly good mixture of entertaining (Tony Bruce, René Tuinhout), informative (Codruta Bunea, Károly Kamarás) and educational (Andy Glover) with only the one tool vendor demo which, with the benefit of hindsight I may have actually walked out on too quickly. However this did mean I managed to catch the end of Adrian Bolboaca’s talk on pairing, which seemed pretty cool. He has a number of blog posts on the same which can be found here.

After the event there was a speakers dinner and a chance to mingle with the Andrei’s. There was also an after-party event and people’s choice speaker award, but sadly I didn’t make it along to this due to my compulsive need to go home and work on my slides some more ahead of the big day. After a few last minute additions and some discussions about the running order etc, Stephen and I were able to relax with a few late night drinks in the hotel foyer.

This was actually the first time that we’d discussed the workshop content, in person, ahead of the event – other than a couple of very brief discussions at community events. If memory serves, Stephen first mentioned the idea to me at Eurostar, however we only really started work on it around January in order to get the abstract done. After that the next milestone for both of us was TestBash 3 (Stephen speaking, me hosting), so work on the meat of the workshop didn’t begin until around the end of March, by which point opportunities to meet up (ahead of the conference) were few and far between. Bearing all of this in mind, we were both pretty happy with what we’d managed to achieve working remotely and exchanging ideas via MindMup, Google Drive and Twitter messaging.

The workshop itself seemed very well received, with myself waxing lyrical about various worldview and cognitive bias concepts and attempting to steer our participants towards the use of various modelling approaches in order to provide them with different perspectives of the system under test. Stephens main role was to introduce the system they would actually be testing and to act as the product owner in specifying behaviours that needed to be tested for throughout the day. Overall this worked pretty well – the format of the workshop was logical and there was certainly sufficient content and activity to keep the participants engaged. There were a few problems however, many of which were of course picked up by the attendees by way of their gratefully received feedback.

Bumpy Landings

One of our original concepts for the workshop was to present a range of tools which could be used to deliver effective testing within a short space of time, and the abstract for the workshop reflected this. However, as our thinking evolved we made decisions that moved us away from the original concept (software tools) towards more analytical content (thinking tools). Although we didn’t think this would be a problem (and in terms of actually delivering the workshop – wasn’t), it did have the effect of making the published abstract slightly misleading in terms of the content and activities we would ultimately deliver.

Something that we also didn’t really foresee was how the evolution of the content would change the ultimate outcome of the workshop. To put this into perspective, one of the planned objectives was to have our participants prepare a report in respect of their testing and results. Due to the focus on modelling however, the models ultimately constituted the reports, and were in many cases extremely effective in doing so, as may be seen in the photo’s below. The Venn diagrams in particular proved to be surprisingly effective. Fortunately we were able to capitalise on this emergent property of the workshop by simply supporting efforts to turn the models into fully fledged reports as the workshop progressed, and my perception is that we were quite successful in doing so. However I also recognise, again with hindsight, that more time should have been spent on actually presenting the models on which we eventually devoted much of our time to working with. This however is certainly something that can be implemented in future iterations of the workshop, if there are any.

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In any event, after we were done most of the speaker contingent relaxed with a beer (or something harder – Dan Billing) and a very enjoyable trip to the Tokyo sushi restaurant. Our flight home necessitated a 4.30am pickup (that’s 2.30am UK time) and an hour or so navigating through the trials and tribulations of Romanian check-in queues and airport lounges.

On arriving home I also discovered that my car had been rear-ended whilst being driven to a compound in the care of the valet service.

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My car on the left… 🙁

Sigh…

- Simon

P.S If you're interested in learning more about performance testing, checkout my Performance Testing 101 course here.


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