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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.