I started out looking at my previous several posts and realized how many times in each of them I used the work "amazing." I promise I will do my best to not let my still spinning head succumb to such a word in this post. The thing is, I find it really hard to NOT use that word when I've been inundated with intellectually stimulating ideas.
After opening up to opportunity for anyone attending CAST to submit an idea to speak on, we then allowed anyone who was interested to comment, rank or otherwise ask questions around the proposals. Matt Heusser and I reviewed these comments, rankings, questions (and their answers) to pull together a program from the ideas submitted. Many of the proposals were from people who had not spoken at a conference before. Personally, I found that exciting. Why?
We were opening up venues for people to speak to one of the more challenging conference audiences I have ever encountered. People who think, and who may not agree with some of your points, are not only encouraged to speak up and ask questions (or challenge the speakers) but are expected to do so.
When Ben Yaroch let us know that there was a strong likelihood that we'd be able to stream the ET sessions live, that got me even more excited (yeah, right, as if I could get more excited.) Adam the Volunteer (I never did get his last name) was a big help getting things going Monday afternoon. That left me free to make sure the presenters were ready and we had their slide decks (presuming they had some) available. Thanks Adam! I do appreciate it.
When Monday rolled around and we kicked off right after lunch, then the fun began. The ensuing afternoon was much what I expected - a variety of speakers on a broad range of topics, all packed into 15 minute slots with 5 minutes saved for questions. Some of the speakers were a little un-polished. We did not care - It was the crisp thoughts they had (not crisp Powerpoint skills) we were interested in.
Personally, I liked how many speakers used no slide decks at all, instead they focused on the flip chart in the room, using markers to interact with the people in the room. Coolness - no Death by Powerpoint here! :)
What was the best? Hoo boy. How do I choose?
Michael Larsen gave an interesting presentation on EDGE (a cool Boy Scout acronym) and how that can be applied to testing. Anna Royzman gave an experience report on how she got a mixed community of people to work together and apply exploratory approaches to improve UX and overall testing. Lanette Creamer gave a very very brave demonstration of testing on the fly around using tools everyone "knows" in new ways. Neil Thompson and Felipe Knorr Kuhn both gave interesting talks (hard playing facilitator when the topics draw you in, not my most shining moment.) Robert Berqvist gave an interesting comparison on the groove of music and the groove in testing - yeah, drummers love that kind of stuff. Ben Yaroch spoke to a packed room on leadership ideas drawn from the military, and how they can be applied to testing. Finally, the most challenging presentation for the day was Geordie Keitt's presentation on "Complexity Quandary, or Why Certified Testers Continue to be in Demand." This seemed almost tailor-made to draw on ideas in Michael Bolton's keynote, and to serve as a bridge between James Bach and Doug Hoffman's debate on the idea of Schools of testing being divisive. We gave him a double long session (45 minutes) and the discussion went over that. I was too busy moderating to tweet - great stuff though.
Tuesday, Eric Jacobsen kicked things off by talking about combatting Tester Fatigue (as I was still recovering from the flight and the excitement that comes from CAST, I thought it appropriate for me!) Bill Matthews gave a good session on Myth Busting for Testers. Frankly, I hated cutting both of them off when I did as I thought it was good stuff, and I only wish he had time for more. Just before lunch, I gave a short version of "Messy Integration Testing" and how things that seem to be unrelated probably were not and needed to be considered in testing. That was well received, I thought.
After Lunch, Todd Mazierski gave a short overview of Sinatra. This was followed by Geordie Keitt's All-Star Tester Revue (OK, I made that name up) Geordie stood up and played guitar and sang songs around a testing theme (it helps when you write them!) Then brought in a panel of Michael Bolton, Lanette Creamer, Dee Ann Pizzica who did some interesting improv comedy around a testing theme. Capped off by Lanette singing a song, with Geordie backing her on guitar - and Geordie closing the session with another original composition. What a great time. Matt Heusser wrapped the ET track with a lesson in communicating with "Agilistas" drawn from his experience.
We then turned the room over to Lightning talks - and I had the chance to go catch up with people.
One of the people I kept running into during the conference was Adam Yuret. No, not Adam the Volunteer mentioned before. He and I have met cyberly for some time, banter on Twitter and various on-line forums. All in all he's a good guy with ideas to consider.
Keynotes 'N Stuff
I was looking forward to hearing Cem Kaner's keynote this year. I missed him speaking last year as I was "otherwise engaged." Unfortunately, he had to cancel and was not able to attend CAST, so the workshop he was scheduled to teach got shuffled, and Michael Bolton slid into the keynote spot where Cem was scheduled to speak. Michael's keynote was astounding (avoiding the word "amazing" can ya tell?) He covered things I have been trying to express for some time. The minor issue encounterd, and gamely dealt with, was the projector simply did not work. The result was Michael gave a very academic-like reading of his document which was absolutely chock-full of ideas around the history of scientific thought and how it related to testing and the idea of context driven testing.
James Bach gave a keynote that, in my mind, was a solid argument on the benefits of avoiding processes that so many people advocate, and were challenged time and time again. All in all, it was a call-to-arms to reject the set-piece examples and practices that are part of so many people's views of "best practices."
I was sitting with two different groups on Monday and Tuesday. An amazing thing about CAST, so many people are welcoming and willing to engage in conversation no matter the topic or if you were a "famous" person. Based on comments around the table, both were well received.
A couple of things stand out at this point in my rambling narration. First, the hall was absolutely packed. When the requisite question "How many are at CAST for the first time?" it seemed to me that half the people in the hall raised their hands. It was an astounding sight. The first time attendees I met all very readily engaged in the spirit of the conference and actively participated. This bodes well for the future.
EdSIG - Education Special Interest Group
Tuesday night I participated in the discussions of the Education Special Interest Group. Topics on the table included getting more instructors for the BBST courses up and active, the upcoming next installment in the series, Test Design, ideas around why there are so many fewer students taking Bug Advocacy than are taking Foundations, branching out (reaching out?) to people who want to help but are not certain where to go to help. So, there are a stack of issues, including creating a "what to expect in this course" video for Foundations - hopefully so that the amount of work is not overwhelming to the student.
There is more, but much (for example Michael Bolton's workshop on test framing) is worthy of its own blog post.
I do want to thank the folks who organized the conference - I know James and Jon Bach were up to their eyebrows - but also Doug Hoffman, Ben Yaroch, Dawn Haynes (who is an all around trooper) - all the people who made all the big ideas (live web streaming for example) move from "idea" to "its happening now."