TestBash San Francisco 2018

I really enjoy writing about the conferences I attend - I think it’s a great way for me to reflect on what I learned, and remember which cultural or technical ideas I want to try out. I also hope that it helps someone who is on the fence about whether to attend a conference - being able to read about the content and impact can help them decide (or convince their company to pay for it)!

So, read on for my TestBash experience!

Why TestBash?

I came across TestBash via Ministry of Testing, which is a testing-focused organization based in the UK. They have helped create a fantastic community of testers and testing! MoT is a really great resource for learning - they have webinars and AMAs, articles, testing courses, a Slack team, and meetups all over the world.

Their focus on community and learning was a big pull for me - I want to feel engaged and involved in conferences! I also talked with people who had attended previous TestBash conferences, and heard such positive feedback about them. I put it on my radar to attend, but also to apply as a speaker. I was so excited when my talk got accepted! It was my first TestBash, but it definitely won’t be the last - speaking and attending was such a great experience.

The Conference

TestBash San Francisco was a single-track conference, which I always prefer. I get anxiety when I have to pick and choose between talks, or miss a talk that sounds really cool because it’s at the same time as another talk that sounds really cool!

At the end of the first day, Paul Grizzaffi did a fabulous job hosting TestBash Family Feud (and Angie Jones was very on point with her buzzer duties!). The Family Feud was a lot of fun, very hilarious - and the winning team won tickets to a future TestBash conference of their choice!

Day Two ended with 99-second talks, which were so good! Adrian Dunston did a Tweet thread of the talks - topics included ethics in software, imposter syndrome, test automation, and how raising children prepares you for engineering teams. It was amazing how much content can fit into 99 seconds!

Angie and Ash organized a really fantastic TestBash. I’ve never seen smoother speaker set-up operations, the end-of-day activities were engaging and fun, and they fed us really well! And of course, they had a great range of speakers and content. I came away feeling really inspired, whether it was a new process I wanted to try out, an insight that really hit home, or a quote that solidified something I’ve been reflecting on.

Talk Highlights

I always take notes and live-tweet conferences. I use both forms of writing as a way to engage with the material, to reflect about the speaker’s experiences and advice. Here are some of my takeaways and favorite bits from two days of awesome speakers!

On Influence Over Authority

Elisabeth Hendrickson gave a talk on leadership, focusing on leading from a place of influence vc leading from a place of authority. Authority can be simply given to someone, but having the power or privilege of authority doesn’t make you an effective leader. Influence, on the other hand, is earned from people respecting you, and therefore is a more effective way to lead people. She gave some great tips about how to be a better leader:

  • Leading by example
  • Sponsorship! Using your authority or influence to amplify someone else’s voice
  • Facilitating meetings - a visible way to enhance other people’s productivity
  • Positive feedback to reinforce behaviors you want to continue seeing, versus negative feedback to get rid of unwanted behavior (I love this - I learned it as a technique when I was a teacher!)
  • Don’t lead from a place of fear - this will not lead to success or trust

As someone with leadership tendencies, but without an official leadership role, I know I have a lot to learn! Elisabeth’s talk held a lot of great advice and experience that I know I’ll revisit and reflect on for improving my leadership style.

Elisabeth had a great topic, but she was also a really great storyteller, and the audience was so engaged in her talk! She was the first talk of the conference, and really set the stage for the overall vibe.

On Mob Programming as a Tester

Jasmin Smith was a first-time speaker, and she talked about her experience participating in mob programming with her engineering team. I really like how she described mob programming as a collaboration tool, to remove the emphasis on programming - you don’t need to be a programmer to participate!

As a tester, Jasmin contributes just as much in mob programming as the developers. She asked questions that they hadn’t thought of, suggested rollout and rollback strategies, and helped her team design tests. With her testing perspective, she brought a better mental model of the overall system, and an awareness of the user perspective as well.

Jasmin’s talk helped me realize the benefits of pair or mob programming with the developers on my team. It’s another way to get involved earlier in the process. It also lets you gain more understanding around the work being done, as well as the developers’ thought process when they’re doing the work - and more empathy is always a good thing!

On Testing Voice-First Devices

Kim Knup gave a really cool talk about her experience testing an Alexa device! I don’t test voice-first devices, but Kim’s talk was still very relevant - she used the Alexa testing as a specific scenario, but covered things that would be applicable generally to testing and testers.

Voice-first devices are newer tech, and it’s something that’s likely to continue and even increase in the future. You never know where you might end up, so her description of the Alexa architecture was really interesting. We learned about invocation, intent, utterances, and slots; and how they all fit together to become something that uses can interact with! I also appreciated the insights she gave into how she chose certain testing tools or methods - we all do it, so it’s nice to see how other testers tackle it!

On A/B Testing

Antonia Landi talk was another one that seemed very specific on paper, but actually abstracts out more generally to testing and testers.

As testers, we’re often the voice of the user when features are being planned and implemented. But how do we find that voice when there are multiple versions being released? How do you solve the problem of users experiencing the product in different ways? Antonia had some good advice:

  • Make sure there’s a shared understanding of the feature before you implement it
  • Automate the bits that don’t change, so you can focus on the features that do
  • Talk with customer support! They’re closer to the user, and more likely to hear from them first if something’s wrong

Antonia also had some tips for getting started with A/B testing if your company doesn’t do it now. I think her advice not to reinvent the wheel was the most important - by starting small and using an existing tool, you can slowly introduce the idea of A/B testing without overloading your team.

She also pointed out “Users aren’t our guinea pigs - they’re our livelihood” - it’s important to have empathy for them. A/B testing is a way to gain that empathy and insight into what users really want!

On the Tester In Your Head

Adrian Dunston - who, by the way, was a developer at a testing conference! - gave a phenomenal talk about the “tester in his head”. I absolutely loved his insights into the relationship and balance between developers and testers, and took a lot of notes back with me on how I can communicate better with the developers on my engineering team, and improve the developer-tester dynamic within teams.

Some of the insights he offered:

  • Developers support testers, and testers keep developers safe
  • Focus on making the argument, rather than being seen as right
  • Use stories of experience to shine a light on risks
  • We have the opportunity to be a positive influence on others by sharing the best part of ourselves

I really liked that last one. I think it loops back to Elisabeth’s talk, where she mentioned leading by example and leading through influence. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, show that you trust your developers, focus on positive ways to bring in quality - and by setting this example for your team, you encourage them to do the same.

Takeaways

I’ve described a few talks here, but I really came away feeling inspired by all of the talks and the speakers. One thing I noticed during the conference is that many of the talks had an underlying theme in common - focusing on the users.

As testers, we advocate for a lot of things; but ultimately, we need to make sure we advocate for our users. In order to do that, we need to understand our users - what do they want (or think they want)? How do we communicate changes to them? Who are our users - other developers, or a tech support team, or an indirect user? How do we interact with users?

When we’re testing a feature, we’re testing something that a user will come across. If there are bugs, we need to think about whether it’s worth fixing from a user’s perspective: is it infrequent, but catastrophic when it happens? Is it common, but small enough to delay a fix for a bit? Testers strive to find a balance between quality and speed - helping shepherd features to release, while make sure users aren’t negatively impacted by the change.

As someone whose work directly impacts our users and the company’s bottom line, TestBash SF really inspired me to be a better advocate for our users. I left San Francisco feeling better equipped and more confident as a tester; but I also left feeling so happy and grateful to be part of such an amazing testing community! Ministry of Testing has created something really special with TestBash, and I love that I got to be a part of it this year.

I would absolutely recommend TestBash to anyone - it’s a great place to learn and connect, and to strengthen your skills as a tester because of it. Just tell your company to email me if they have any questions when you ask them for a ticket!

Written on November 20, 2018