Home; Not Alone: Five Perks of an Online TestBash

After the disappointment of TestBash Brighton being cancelled due to coronavirus, it was very exciting to hear of Ministry of Testing’s plans for an all-online conference: the first ever TestBash Home.

The TestBash team could have simply taken a normal TestBash schedule and broadcast it online but they did better than that, planning a 24-hour extravaganza of talks, panels, live interactive sessions and social time.

The result was a conference that had all the usual things we love about TestBash, plus some extra benefits that were only possible because of the new format.

These are my top five benefits of an online TestBash:

1. Global

The 24-hour format meant that there were talks scheduled at a convenient time for everyone, no matter where in the world they were. The hosts formed an international relay team from the UK, USA, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, and the audience members were even more widely distributed.

It was great to see the constant chat between people thousands of miles away from each other, who wouldn’t normally have the chance to meet.

2. Accessible

There were lots of first-timers at TestBash Home, including plenty of people who wouldn’t have been able to come to an in-person conference due to cost, travel or childcare requirements.

Due to the lower ticket cost, my workplace sent twice as many people as we usually would to an in-person TestBash, which means there are twice as many people to spread the good ideas we picked up to others in the company.

Being based at home also meant the conference was more accessible for people who would find a full-time conference overwhelming. It meant you could take breaks when you needed, catch up when you were ready and socialise as much or as little as you liked.

3. Interactive

It’s a challenge to make any event with hundreds of participants feel interactive, whether it’s in-person or online. However, this is an area where the online format actually helped. The best examples were the live bug hunt and the live coaching session with James Lyndsey. It was great fun to join in from home, sharing our ideas on Slack while still being able to hear the handy hints and words of wisdom from the presenters.

I also loved host Bart Knaack’s short exercise sessions. In my opinion, every working day should have a dance break!

4. “Revisited” talks

One innovation for TestBash Home was the three “Revisited” talks. These were popular talks from previous conferences which were shown again as part of TestBash Home.

It was great to be able to see talks from conferences I’d missed, but what made this really interesting was the Q&A sessions after each talk, where the presenters explained how their thoughts had changed in the years since they gave the talk.

5. The personal touch

With so many people working from home, we’re getting used to seeing glimpses of people’s lives in the background of calls. TestBash was no exception: there were off-camera noises from children, the occasional dog and so many cats. I think there might have been a secret requirement that all speakers own a cat.

There was even a bonus cat when host James Espie switched to “cat mode”.

None of this made the conference any less professional, it just made it feel more personal, as if we’d all been given a chance to get to know the speakers better.

Things that stayed the same

Although the format was very different, some things didn’t change.

Community

When I first attended TestBash Brighton, I was blown away by the friendly and welcoming community that I found. That community was just the same at TestBash Home, only bigger and spread across many more timezones!

There was a constant stream of chat in Slack, in the live chat during talks and in the virtual venue that had been set up for socialising. Everyone wanted to meet other testers, share their experiences and help other people with their issues.

Quality and variety of talks

The team did an amazing job of putting together the schedule, with 10 talks, 2 panels, 2 live interactive sessions and loads of other things in between.

My most memorable bits were:

  • Amy Phillips’s highly practical advice on joining a new team in “The tester’s survival guide to joining a continuous delivery project”
  • Tips on how to disrupt the norm, from Martin Hynie’s talk “What’s in a name? Experimenting with testing job titles”
  • Words of wisdom from James Lyndsey’s live coaching session – especially how to deal with the “hump of confusion”
  • Advice on recognising anxiety in yourself and others from Maryam Umar’s courageous “Inspiration …and burnout” talk.

99-second talks

It wouldn’t be TestBash without the famous 99-second talks! I was amazed when I heard the organisers were planning to do these live – I’d assumed the only way it could work would be if they were pre-recorded – but it in the end it went very smoothly.

I hadn’t planned to stay until the end of TestBash Home as I had other plans that evening, but Gwen Diagram was such an enthusiastic host that I ended up staying long enough to give a 99-second talk, and I’m really glad I did. The short talks are so much fun to give, and the audience is so supportive!

What now?

We can look forward to more online TestBashes in future: the TestBash team has announced that TestBash Netherlands, TestBash Manchester and TestBash New Zealand will all be online conferences (see https://www.ministryoftesting.com/news/an-update-on-testbash-and-mot-from-bossboss-richard-bradshaw).

Beyond that, who knows? Maybe someday TestBash Home will be an annual fixture, alongside the physical conferences.

Ideas for TestSphere Cards Part 1: Axes

For those who haven’t come across them yet, TestSphere cards are a deck of playing cards designed by Beren Van Daele from the Ministry of Testing. They have the aim of helping people to communicate and think about testing. Each card features a testing concept, a brief description, and three examples of how the concept can be used. The cards are spread across five categories: Quality Aspects, Techniques, Patterns, Heuristics and Feelings.

Example of TestSphere card for Requirements Engineering

I love these cards. As well as being beautifully designed, they contain a huge amount of useful information and examples in an easy-to-consume format. They provide a great visual aid for any discussion of quality requirements, risk or testing techniques.

The pack comes with a couple of suggested ideas for how to use the cards, but one of the great things about the cards is the flexibility to make up your own ways of using them, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. In this series of posts I’ll explain some of the ways I’ve used TestSphere cards in my own work.

First up is a method of using the cards for planning personal development: Axes.

Axes

I obtained my very own pack of TestSphere cards at TestBash Brighton in 2018. Shortly afterwards, I was trying to come up with actions to improve my practical testing skills when I realised I could use the TestSphere cards to help generate areas that I could focus on.

Two-Dimensional Axes

This version works well for the blue, green and pink cards: Quality Aspects, Techniques and Heuristics.

The idea is simple: imagine two axes. The first is the scale of how well you know a concept, from “I have no idea what this is” to “I understand this well and could easily explain it in detail to someone else”. The second is the scale of how frequently you use the concept in your testing, from “I have never used this” to “I use this every day”.

Then take the TestSphere cards and place them in the appropriate place relative to each axis, producing a 2D scatterplot of cards. I did this for one category at a time, with the following results.

You end up dividing the cards into four quadrants, and each quadrant prompts its own questions and ideas for personal development.

The four quadrants: Don’t know; Don’t use / Don’t know; Do use / Do know; Don’t use / Do know; Do use
Don’t know; Don’t use

There are two main reasons a card could be in this quadrant. Maybe you know that you don’t need to use this concept and therefore you’ve chosen not to learn more about it right now. Conversely, maybe not knowing much about the concept is the reason you don’t use it, and investing some effort here could give you a useful new skill.

Don’t know; Do use

You’re using a concept without really understanding it! Is that a problem? Maybe you only need a shallow understanding for your purposes.

Are you using this concept, but only the parts of it you understand? What could you gain from finding out more about the other parts?

Do you actually know it fairly well, but still feel that you want to learn more about it?

Do know; Don’t use

Did you consciously decide that this concept is not useful to you, or is there some other reason you don’t use it?

If you decided not to use it a while ago or in a different context, are your reasons still valid?

Do know; Do use

Do you take this concept for granted? 

If it’s something you use a lot, would you get any benefit from learning even more about it?

Does the TestSphere card give you a different perspective on the concept? Maybe the card uses the concept in a different context than you do, or gives a slightly different definition.

Do other people in your team understand it as well as you do? What can you do to spread your knowledge?

Next steps

When deciding where to focus your personal development, you can pick and choose cards from different quadrants based on what you think is most important, or you can choose a quadrant and look at all the cards in that quadrant.

In my case, I decided to start by focussing on the “Don’t know; Do use” quadrant. The cards in that set were mostly concepts that I used a lot but rarely thought about explicitly, such personas and installability, and I wanted to see what I could learn by thinking about them more deeply.

Modification for Patterns Cards

For the orange cards, representing testing patterns, I found that the Know Better/Know Worse axis didn’t work very well. It was much more binary: either I knew what the pattern was, or I hadn’t even heard of it and couldn’t judge how often I used it.

On top of that, of the patterns I knew, it didn’t feel like any knew any of them ‘better’ than any others. Therefore for these cards I got rid of the divide between the “Don’t know, Do use”  and “Don’t know; Don’t use” categories and didn’t bother with a continuous axis. Instead, I simply divided the cards into three groups:

  • Don’t know
  • Know but don’t use
  • Know and use

By basing your judgements on just the title of the card without reading the text, you can very quickly sort the Patterns cards into these three groups.

“Patterns” TestSphere cards, sorted into three groups: Don’t know / Know but don’t use / Know and use

These groups prompt similar questions to the groups in the first example, but there’s also one very obvious action: learn what all the patterns in the “Don’t know” group are.

Modification for Feelings Cards

I couldn’t think of a natural extension of this exercise which makes use of the purple ‘Feelings’ cards. If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments!

Hello World!

I’ve always found introductions awkward, but it feels rude to start throwing blog posts out into the world without any preamble, so here we go.

My name’s Jen, and I’m a software engineer and test specialist. I was first introduced to software testing about 4.5 years ago, took on a full-time testing role in 2018, and I haven’t looked back.

I’m originally from North-East England, but I’ve been based in North London since I graduated from university.

One of the big reasons I love testing is the fantastic international community that exists, and since my first TestBash (Brighton, 2018) I’ve been keen to get more involved. The energy and enthusiasm I felt at this year’s TestBash Home finally gave me the push I needed to start this blog!

My main motivation is to help other people, so I’ll post mainly about testing techniques or ideas I’ve found useful in my work. From time to time, I might post some other thoughts on topics that interest me. At the moment, that’s things like: test strategy, how we talk about quality, and how to develop testing skills in others.

I hope you enjoy my blog!