Monday, September 2, 2013

CAST2013 Attendance Report

tldr: go to CAST

What did I expect? A useful conference with a context-driven theme.  What did I get? Three and a half days of applicable tutorials, practical sessions and speaking time with more people then I can count, who are as passionate about testing intelligently as I am.
  Sunday night was dinner with a cadre of testers and speakers. We chatted about backgrounds and random testing topics over dinner. Everyone was friendly; from people I've never met, to people whom I've read blogs from and are icons in the testing world. We eventually migrated to a bar where Meike Mertsch displayed great patience in teaching me the game of Set. A game where you try and define sets from cards given 4 rule sets, and each ruleset must be individual true or false. Took me longer then it should have given my less then sober self. So when I got home I bought the game and thought I'll teach my 7 and 9 year old how to play, that way I could progress at a steady pace with them (and not feel too stupid :). However after showing them 2 sets and the they went running the deck (aka they beat the snot out of me). So maybe I'll just play solitaire for awhile.
  Monday began with Lean Coffee directed by Peter Walen and Matt Heusser. This is where everyone comes together, places questions or topics they'd like to discuss on cards, and then votes on which topics they want to speak about. Five minutes is spent on each topic before being voted on for an extension of three minutes, or moving to the next topic. (More specifics can be had in Michael Larsen's blog)
  Monday's tutorial was by Anne-Marie Charrett as she educated us on "Coaching Testers". Anne-Marie explained in her own words her experience in coaching testers, educating us in ways and pitfalls that her (and others) have discovered over the coarse of educating other testers while using their coaching methods. Probably the biggest takeaway came from a demonstration she gave to me. She handed me a blue Sharpie flipchart marker, and then asked me to describe a single test that I would perform on it. Needless to say, about 150 tests ran through my head and I was about to describe every test I would perform. Anne-Marie managed in the next several minutes to isolate me down to a single test I would perform then tried to get from me how I knew that test passed. She managed to at last get a mediocre answer from me about how I would judge passing of my test "remove the cap from the marker". However the real lesson I learned was when she stopped and explained how nervous she was about how that demo of a real world coaching session was. I've spent many sessions attempting to coach other testers in how to test as a manager, and I was also more nervous, more unable to focus as the coach, then I ever am as the student. Seeing someone who coaches on a regular basis have that much nerves about it reminded me that being the coach is as brave as being the student. Thank you Anne-Marie, you did brilliant.
  That night was a quick dinner and back to the convention center for a round table (around rectangles) lead by Heusser and Walen about SWOT, specifically around how to identify Tasks, Stakeholders, Assumptions and Constraints. This was then followed by libations and the Agile Planning game ran by Matt, where we promptly failed, but with integrity (aka fired). The game was informative with regards to how to manage a project, as I've never had to think of a project from that level (I might have to apologize to some project managers if I ever see them again :)
  Tuesday began with another Lean Coffee (see Larsen's BlogThen continued with Jon Bach's keynote (on youtube) address of why we need more argument. Not argument in the new age sense of the word with all it's connotations of don't listen - just spout your opinion and see who can be the loudest - in the age old sense of debate amongst people - educated argument for the sake of understanding of the issue by both parties. It was an elegant argument that he made for the fact that too many people have become complacent in their need for harmony and their unwillingness to appear to cause conflict or strife. At first I was bemused by this, because I tend to argue with 5-10 people I trust, but then the thought occurred to me how much do I argue with people that I don't trust. Am I limiting myself to people that I trust in the hopes of not exposing myself to being vulnerable - better to say nothing, then be proven a fool. My take away from this will be to attempt to expose myself to more argument with people I trust less.
  Doug Hoffman's "Exploratory Automated Testing" was up next and I had such high hopes for this as automation is what I've been doing for most of my testing career. It's not so much I was disappointed in the talk, but that my crew and I have been doing what Hoffman suggested for the last couple of years. I was mostly hoping that his talk would start where it ended. There are still some new ideas I have about how to verify logging with our tests, what all CAN we be checking, what metrics exist for monitoring while running our tests? Why aren't we running all possible tests cases that we know how to generate? (it's merely clock cycles) This is probably the area we need to investigate the most next.
  Erik Davis then gave a report on his experience hiring testing people in the rust belt. His area has a lack of techies, a lack of testing people and a lack of four-year-degree-educated people. So he has had to resort to hiring from other fields. He has had to sell testing to people and convince them that testing is a good career / profession. I've found myself doing the sell thing, not for lack of techies or of a pool of semi-qualified candidates, but more because the people that I want to be testers (thinkers, learners and self-motivated people) are rarely aware of the fun and challenging career that is testing, hiding in plain sight. My takeaway from this is to educate people on testing, from management down to the tester themselves. Not just about what testing is and how it can be fun, but why testing is a profession worthy of pursuing, akin to some of the most challenging engineering disiplines out there. 
  After that was Michael Larsen and Summer QAMP. He described his early successes and his later failures. This talk was more interesting than I thought it would be as Michael is engaging and energetic. As well, his subject matter was part of the future of testing, a subject that has been heavy on my mind as of late.
  Last lecture of the night was Heather Tinkham who talked about five unconventional traits of extraordinary testers. I was interested to hear this one, cause it was the subject of a talk I gave at a local code camp recently, albeit I didn't limit myself to five but I should have. Heather focused on five traits, 3 of which I had already 'known' about. The last two I hadn't really thought about. The ability to be wrong, and that being okay. Lastly Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, which is a simple and complex idea all in one. One which I don't feel comfortable trying to explain yet, as I'm waiting for the book to arrive before I can digest it.
  Then came lightning talks and tester games, both of which were really fun. Later that night I had an engaging talk with Jon Bach about how his (and his brothers) experience with SMBT all started on the floor right above mine, when I worked for Adecco at HP. It's interesting to think of the implications of having been all of 50 feet from a better way to test, when I was downstairs struggling to figure out why the testing we were doing just felt wrong. All in all I've come full circle, the information is out there now and I feel I am on the right path.
  Wednesday began with another, albeit smaller, Lean Coffee. Then breakfast with a host of people, where I expressed my interest in forming a Boise tester group. Several people gave me some advice, such as: Virtual Meetings,, make a compelling name, being by practitioners for practitioners, make it a social meeting, not just testers (what about TDD, Agile, Systems Engineering) and of course the "Pizza and Beer" requirement. My takeaway from this is I've already started to talk with several of the Test/QA managers here locally and find out how much interest there is. But I'll be starting regardless of interest, beer and pizza for just me will be interesting.
  Then Dawn Haynes' keynote on "Introspective Retrospectives". Dawn's talk was so engaging that I neglected to take any notes as I was busy trying to digest everything she said, while nodding along in agreement. I remember specifically how important retrospectives are, even if all you are retro'ing is yourself. Watch it here for yourself. I'll be watching again soon, and talking notes this time.
  Next, Aaron Hodder blew my mind with his talk about Mind Maps as a practical tool for test planning and reporting. The visualization he used made even developers and managers walk by and say, "Oh hey this is interesting, but what about this area here?" When was the last time anyone said, "Oh, this test plan is interesting?" or provided useful feedback to your test 'plan'? I know what he was trying to say but what I took away was more generic, "How can we visualize stuff easier?" Aaron found a way to make test planning and reporting visual. I'd love to see it taken up another notch, how do you visualize a website? Can you visual test coverage of a website? Is there any use in that?
  Then as Carsten Feilberg's experiential, "How do you solve problems?" I'm hesitant to talk about this yet as to discuss the experience will ruin it for future attendees. What I can say is, "Damn, this was awesome". If you have the chance for an experiential exercise, I can't recommend it enough. Carsten did a most excellent job about making it not about him, as the speaker, but about what everyone else learned.
  Last official talk was the closing keynote from Scott Barber and Rob Sabourin. They provided some pretty funny and solid takeaways from the conference which will hopefully be on this channel soon.
  Later that night I attended the Quality Leader SIG panel, which started late but ended up being an interesting chance to hear other people's idea on what leader meant. This was followed by the Education SIG meeting where I volunteered for several projects.

  - Blog 2x / week, 1-2k words, for 3 years... (thanks Matt, who said this like a doctor telling me how to take ibuprofen)
  - Focus / De-focus, stepping from the high to the low level and vice versa, this is something I need to work on. (Thanks Jesse)
    - Oblique strategies deck, helps with de-focusing
  - Games for learning
    -Dice Game, Set, Zendo, Agile Planning (Thanks to all the many people who showed me)
  - Need to form a tester group in Boise (thanks to mainly Aaron)
  - Trying to figure out at what level Lean Coffee would work in Boise, i.e. should it be an internal company thing or should it be more of a high-level cross company thing??? (Thanks Peter and Matt)
  - If you complain about something, but don't do anything about're just a whiner (so do something about it)

NOTES for newbies next year:
  - Be fearless
    - walk up and talk with people you don't know
    - introduce yourself
    - interject yourself into conversations
    - remember they are just people too, yes even the keynote speaker is a real live human
  - Go to everything you can
    - Lean Coffee in the morning
    - Dinner with a group of people who you just met
    - Bar scene at night (you don't have to drink)
  - Write down what you expect to get out of the conference before you go
    - This way you've thought about things before Lean Coffee
    - You should have questions for each of the speakers before they even start to talk
    - You'll be able to compare what you expected from what you got

Negatives about CAST2013:
  - Automation was talked about like the devil...
  - I was surprised that in every talk I attended (minus Doug's), automation was talked about as a bad thing. However, when I would ask speakers after talks "about their views on automation" they would qualify that automation does have a place. It wasn't so much that I was disappointed in the opinions of people, but that they're opinion when left unquestioned was so strong against automation.
  - There was also this underlying political thing with ISST, people mumbling about it, but not really wanting to talk about it openly. I'm not fully sure of what the thing was, but it was semi-distracting. Or maybe I'm just blissfully ignorant.
  - Most of the supplied stuff (Red, yellow and green card, tickets, stickers, etc) were not explained till the start of Tuesday. For those of use who got them on was not clear what to do with them.


  1. Nice writeup!

    On the topic of the automation thing, the Context-Driven community seems to be aligning against a thing called "test automation" which seems to me to be a construct defined by tool vendors like HP: test automation equals automated regression testing through the UI.

    There's another, better paradigm for the ways testers can use scripts and automation to speed them up (Alan Page has written about this at length in his new e-book: but people seem to prefer assigning a bunch of new names to that usage ("tool-driven testing" - eeewwwwww) instead of fighting for a better definition of "test automation."

    1. I'll have to read up on those before I comment more about automation :)

  2. You can read about ISST here:

    I don't think AST and ISST competes, they rather compliment each other as far as I've understood where AST focus on educating the individual tester and ISST focus on raising awareness about Context Driven Testing... But that's my view (some credit should get to Paul Holland here as well)... point is it seems rather sad to me if people from either side feel challenged or want to compete with the other.

    Great post! It's Thanks to guys like you that missing sessions is not that bad.

    1. I wasn't saying they compete...just that there was internal mumbling happening..and I never quite got the gist of the mumbling.
      But good to know Erik, thanks for the link.

  3. Nice write-up and great to meet you at the conference.

    I didnt really pick up on an 'automation is bad' vibe - or maybe I tuned it out as the topic has been done to death on blogs

    Good luck with starting a local user group, I've got a lot out of the Grand Rapids one

    and keep this blog going, I'll be following it :)

    1. Great to meet you as well Phil.
      Well, here's to having a great start for the User group :)