Why You Should Attend CAST (Experience Report from 2010)
I have attended CAST, the Conference for the Association for Software Testing, the last four years. The conference is happening again this year in San Jose, California, from July 16-18, 2012. If you haven’t already signed up to go, there is still time, so get yourself over to the website and register now!
It is one of my favourite testing conferences to attend because it focuses on ‘conferring’ with fellow attendees and presenters. This includes challenging and exploring ideas both within and outside of sessions. Be forewarned, if you want a conference where presenters talk at you all day, CAST is NOT for you.
The people who attend (and present at) CAST tend to be smart, fun, challenging, usually respectful, individuals who lean towards thinking throughout the entire project cycle (and not doing things because a process or manager said so). They are my kind of people – following their instincts to find the problems in software requirements, designs, documentation, applications,… whatever! Some of them attend many other conferences too to help spread the ‘thinking’ and ‘humanistic’ parts of software development.
If you need more inspiration to go to this conference, I’ve included an experience report from my attendance back in 2010. Read, enjoy, then go register!
An Experience Report from 2010
In 2010 CAST was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was my third in attendance, and my second as a presenter. As always, it was fabulous. A bold statement? … Perhaps. If you have ever attended CAST though, I am sure you would agree with me.
Exploratory Test Automation
That year I started Monday with a full day workshop by Harry Robinson on Exploratory Test Automation. He challenged the prevalent notion that test automation means running the exact same set of scripts every time. The same idea is still rather prevalent when it comes to manual testing, but exploratory testing is starting to make inroads in the testing industry to change that. You may be surprised to learn that similar principles can be applied to test automation too.
The basics: Challenge automation assumptions, vary inputs, vary paths through a program, automated tests <> human-driven tests.
I have been fortunate in guiding teams in applying basic exploratory-like automation techniques, but appreciated the stories and experiences that Harry shared. They were interesting challenges to hear about.
Though I was not able to attend, Cem Kaner and Doug Hoffman also did a track session on the same topic, which I heard was also quite good.
After a rushed dinner, I spent Monday evening chatting with a number of other people about Mentorship and Consulting. I had volunteered to be on a ‘panel’ for each of these and ended up being double-booked. Pleasantly, both turned into informal chat sessions, which allowed all participants and panel members to hang out and learn from each other.
The Mentorship talk focused on the qualities and behaviours of good mentors and/or coaches, and things to consider if you wanted to become a mentor. The Consulting talk focused on the building blocks in deciding to become a consultant, what to do before you make the leap, and how to get through those first couple of years. Good discussions all around.
Art of Visualization
Wednesday afternoon I presented ‘The Art of Visualization’, on how visual modeling techniques help improve effectiveness in testing and allow testers to add more value to stakeholders. I shared examples of how visual models like flowcharts, mindmaps, informal whiteboard diagrams, and use case diagrams are valuable tools for customer requirements, software designs, test strategies, and problem resolution.
I particularly enjoyed the discussion that occurred during the latter portion of my session. Participants questioned some ideas, shared their own experiences, and even drafted a list of tools that can be used to enable the use of visual models. Thanks to all who attended!
Wednesday afternoon I also presented “Communication Chameleons”, on the importance of testers being able to speak effectively to different types of stakeholders. I shared a story about a coworker who did this well and held the respect (and ear) of everyone he worked with, from customer support, to programmers, through to the executive team. The presentation finished up by summarizing important parts of communication as testers, such as active listening, engagement, adaptive behaviours, and information radiation.
The discussion that followed was engaging as attendees shared their own communication experiences, recommendations, and insights. I thank everyone who attended for their contributions.
It used to be that when I went to a conference I planned out all the sessions I was going to attend and the evening activities I would partake in. A couple of years prior I broke that habit and learned to ‘take it as it comes’. My conference experiences are now never what I expect, yet seem to provide me with exactly what I need.
Case in point: Instead of attending sessions on Tuesday, I spent most of the day talking with different testers. The discussions were wonderful (both the people and the topics) and covered a variety of testing, software, and other various topics.
Then again: In one instance fate seemed to intervene. Someone I spoke with had a teenage son with Asperger’s Syndrome (high functioning autism). I suspect my son may as well. We spent time comparing stories and they offered helpful advice. In another fate-like intervention, I had a conversation with someone about experiences with chronic pain (from which I suffer) and pain management strategies. I now have new approaches to look into that I had not investigated before. I did not expect those experiences at CAST!
At CAST this year the Rebel Alliance hosted a sponsored event (with several independents kicking in sponsorship funds) with drinks and snacks. There was a strong turn out with many conference attendees partaking in the goods and enjoying conversations.
While going out with folks for dinner and drinks is exhausting every night, I highly recommend it. It is well worth the effort, as you will have conversations you would never have at a conference otherwise.
Games nights are also encouraged! Wednesday evening saw a large number of people playing interesting strategy games. While I’m a board-game fanatic, I didn’t get to participate as I needed to get out to eat dinner. I did buy one of the games on my way home though (and it was so much fun!).
I was pleased to spend time talking with so many friendly, intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful testers. I hung with old friends, met people I had only met online through BBST or Twitter, as well as people who knew me and my blog (how cool!), and many others I met for the first time. I can’t possibly list everyone, so you will have to trust me in that the calibre of people who attend CAST is top-notch.
Thanks to everyone I met and spoke with, I appreciate you for the pleasure of your company, time and insights.
This Year – CAST 2012
The conference is happening again this year in San Jose, California, from July 16-18, 2012. If you haven’t already signed up to go, there is still time, so get yourself over to the website and register now!
I hope to see you there … and bring some friends along too!
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