Talking at conferences: What have i learnt?

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This year i’ve been given the opportunity to speak at some well known conferences across Europe. My only previous experience was a 99 Second Talk at Test Bash 2014 and a consensus talk at Agile Testing Days 2014. This time around i was given the opportunity to step up to the full conference program at Belgium Testing Days, Nordic Testing Days and expoQA.

So what have i learnt……..?

Call for Papers

Writing a good abstract is the first step in getting asked to talk at a conference. I initially found it incredibly difficult to write an abstract. Typically you need to get the message of your talk across in a clear and concise manner within the strict word count. Not an easy task. Michael Bolton’s post from Eurostar 2013 has really helped me improve my abstracts. In addition to Michaels comments i’d highly recommend you review your abstract with someone else. This could be your colleagues, the testing community or even family. Also, read abstracts from other conferences for inspiration. That will give you some great examples of different abstract formats.

When submitting your abstract take note of the conference dates! I know it sounds simple, but i sent in a number of abstracts to different conferences expecting none of them to accept. In the end three did and they were quite close to each other which meant a very busy few weeks. In hindsight i’d have preferred to spread the talks not only from a personal perspective but with the impact on my employer too.

Preparing for the talk

One thing i’ve found is that putting together a good talk is very hard. The talks i’ve done this year ranged between 20 – 45 minutes. With my abstract i already had a good idea in my head about the structure of my talk but its a another thing turning the idea into a slick talk. Another thing i learnt was that putting together a great slide deck is hard. This TED Blog really helped when putting together my slides.

When preparing my slides i really wanted to break up the amount of talking. As an attendee myself i know after 10-15 mins of talking i start to switch off. So intentionally had a couple of simple 2-3 min exercises the group could do and some videos embedded. This was an attempt to present my content in different ways during the talk rather than 45 minutes of straight talking!

In addition to creating great slides i did a lot of preparation about How i would give the talk. Focusing on my speech, body language and how i’d get my message across. I practiced this with family and friends which helped to refine my presenting style. Speak: So your audience will listen was a great book that helped with my preparation. For example, the secret to a successful talk is to “Clench your Buttocks”

Finally ensure that you understand the process with regards to accommodation and travel for the conference. Some will pay all expenses, some arrange accommodation for you and some don’t. Ensure that you fully understand what you need to do ahead of the conference so that you are not left homeless!

At the conference

One of the first things you’ll get to do as a speaker is attend the “Speakers Dinner”. This is usually the night before the conference. I’d highly recommend attending as it provides a great way to meet the organisers of the conference and your fellow speakers. It certainly helped to calm my nerves although if your talk is on the first day then try not to drink too much! At the conference you’ll probably be assigned a Track Chair too who will be in the room when you do your talk. Try to meet them early on as they’ll be your main point of contact if you run into any problems. Try to visit the room where your talk is based and if you can, view a talk there. It will let you get a feel for the room and any specifics you may want to take into consideration.

Another big important learning point was how the conference experience changes when you are talking. You’ll probably be nervous for your talk so that will mean your concentration levels for the rest of the conference will be impacted. It can be hard to focus on the other talks when your constantly thinking of your upcoming talk. So in my experience, if you are talking at a conference, expect your learning capability to decrease.

Your talk

When the big moment comes it’s incredibly difficult to distill your emotions into a learning experience. When i look back on my talks everything is pretty much a blur. 45 minutes sounds like a long time but it if you have prepared well and know your content the talk really does fly by! There were a couple of things i learnt with delivering the talk. All three talks i gave were in countries where English is not the first language. I made an effort to talk slowly so that my strange northern english accent wasn’t hard to understand. Secondly i noticed a big difference between the cultures of the conferences. In my talk i had a simple exercise around “What stops you pairing?” At Belgium Testing Days the audience were very interactive so i asked attendees to shout out their thoughts. However at Nordic Testing Days and expoQA the audience were much quieter so instead i provided Post-It Notes to gather their thoughts.

Time management during my talk was really hard. Try to get someone to signal to you when you have 10 minutes left. At expoQA they had a person at the back room who would let you know. In hindsight i wish i had practiced my timing more.

Now its your turn

Talking at conferences has been a great learning opportunity and hopefully my talks have helped some attendees make a change in their teams.

Just over a year ago i’d never talked at a conference and now i’ve got a couple under my belt with an upcoming talk at Agile Testing Days 2015 too.

If you want to talk at conferences but are not sure where to start hopefully some of the my experience will help give you some motivation and confidence. I’d highly recommend starting like i did with a Short Lightning talk at a conference or your local meet-up. So many of todays great conference speakers started this way. Also there is a great initiative called Speak Easy which is another great route for those new to conference speaking.

See you soon!

How does it feel? The difference between Checking and Testing

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Leaving the office late one evening, after spending most of the day writing automated Checks for our application, i started to reflect on how my emotions. Earlier in the week i’d spent most of the day Testing and Exploring our application. The emotions i’d felt on those days were distinctly different. I decided to keep a track of my emotions to see if there was a correlation between how i felt when doing Checking or Testing.

Let me firstly define the terms Checking and Testing:

Checking is the process of making evaluations by applying algorithmic decision rules to specific observations of a product.

(A check is an instance of checking.)

Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modeling, observation, inference, etc.

(A test is an instance of testing.)

http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/856

What is my Emotional Context?

Before i bare my emotions, let me share my context. I work as a Tester in an Agile Team where everyone is encouraged to be a T-Shaped cross functional team member. This means that both Checking and Testing are very much part of my average week(in addition to other activities). I’ve been working in Software Engineering industry for around 9 years. My early career was focused on Testing but in the past few years i’ve been spending more and more time in front of a Development IDE, such as Microsoft Visual Studio, writing code. This could be automated Checks using WebDriver, writing utility scripts using PowerShell or even developing production code. In terms of my “Programming” ability i’m still on a steep learning curve, especially as i’ve jumped around different development languages from Java, C#, JavaScript to name but a few.

Understanding your Emotions

So reflecting back after a few weeks there was some impact of my activities on my emotions. My next question was “How do i make sense of these emotions?” I’m by no means an expert on emotions but luckily there are some models to help us. Recently i attended Stephen Janaways excellent talk on Testing your emotions at Belgium Testing Days. He talked through the emotions he has experienced in Testing and presented us with the Plutchick Emotional Model:

Plutchik-wheel-2

Using this model i’ve been able to start to identify the different emotions i’ve experienced when Checking or Testing.

At some point in time i’ve experienced all of these different emotions in both activities however there are certain emotions i feel more regularly between the two:

Emotions in Checking Emotions in Testing
Fear “That i wont be able to code the solution”

Apprehension “I’m not sure how to do this”

Ecstasy “I’ve finally cracked it! This coding is easy!”

Boredom “Fixing checks, AGAIN!”

Amazement “It worked!”

Trust “I trust that the team have tried to do their best”

Anger “Why doesn’t it work?!?!”

Joy “We’ve built a really great application’

Annoyance “We had this problem two days ago!”

Anticipation “There must be some problems somewhere”

As well as Plutchicks model i encountered this interesting research paper:

“What Emotions Do Novices Experience During their First Computer Programming Learning Session?” – http://pnigel.com/papers/bosch-csl1-aied13.pdf

Some of the findings resonated with the emotions i’ve experienced writing code for Checks.

“flow/engaged (23%), confusion (22%), frustration (14%), and boredom (12%) were the major emotions students experienced, while curiosity, happiness, anxiety, surprise, anger, disgust, fear, and sadness were comparatively rare.”

When doing Checking i also usually suffer from confusion, frustration, boredom and flow. This is in contrast to Testing where i often feel the emotions of curiosity, happiness, surprise and anger.

Lets dig a little deeper into these differences……

Feeling Engaged and “In the Flow”

Flow was originally coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who said creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives.

“When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” He is the architect of the notion of “flow” — the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.

http://psygrammer.com/2011/02/10/the-flow-programming-in-ecstasy/

As the study found, Flow/Engaged was a prominent emotion found when programming. This is something i’ve experienced too. Quite often when i’m working on complex coding problems i’ll get into Programming Flow which also has a link to the emotion of Ecstasy.

With Testing, i don’t get that sense of Flow/Engaged, as profoundly. This worries me as Flow is defined as being “absorbed into your activity completely”. Upon reflection i’ve thought of a couple of competing emotions that may prevent me from getting Flow state in Testing. Firstly is being distracted which often happens when encountering a potential problem or a behaviour that interests me. Do i investigate? Do i Stop? Do i keep on my testing path? If the system under test is problematic the “distraction” is intensified. My creative thoughts can also be a distraction. I’m often overwhelmed with the number of potential ideas for Testing.

Confusion

Another interesting difference is the feeling of confusion when Checking compared to Testing. More worryingly there is evidence to suggest that confusion correlates to learning. If i’m not feeling confused regularly in my Testing then potentially my learning has stalled?

This video explores confusion in learning in more detail(Thanks to Llewellyn Falco for the tip):

Why are understanding our emotions important?

Emotions can be used as useful heuristics in everything we do in life. Michael Bolton says that:

Emotions and feelings are signals. Look into what they’re signalling.

http://www.developsense.com/presentations/2013-05-STAREast-EmotionsInSoftwareTesting.pdf

In my case i can look at the emotions i feel between Checking and Testing.

  • I can accept that because i’m on a learning curve i’m bound to be confused and frustrated when Checking.
  • I want to be more confused by Testing. I want to feel confusion in my Testing so that i can be confident my learning is continuing.
  • I want to feel happiness in my Checking knowing the quality and coverage of my code is improving.
  • I want to experience more flow state in my Testing to ensure my creativity is maximised.

How do you feel?

With the increasing emphasis on Testers, as Team Members having T-Shaped skill set, how do you feel?

Maybe like myself you are a Tester who is doing more coding of automated Checks? How do you feel compared to when you Test?

Or maybe you are a developer who has been asked to do some Exploratory Testing. How do you feel compared to when you code?

My Top 5 from Nordic Testing Days 2015 #NTD2015

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#1 Katrina Cloike Become someone who makes things happen

Why?

Katrina introduced a model she uses for introducing change called SPIN. This is definitely something i’ll be using back in the workplace!

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You can read more about the SPIN technique here: http://changingminds.org/books/book_reviews/spin.htm

#2 Adam HowardAgents of Testing: Earning your empowerment

Why?

Firstly, the graphics in Adam’s slides were awesome, below is an example. In addition to great slides, Adam also shared his journey from test case perfectionist, through to a context aware tester who has testing agency. CGuPmnHUcAEWqcj

If you are not familiar with the phrase Agent/Agency in this context you can read about it here(I had to do this aswell!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(philosophy)

#3 – Rob LambertWhy remaining relevant is so important

Why?

What i love about a lot of Robs blogs, talks and general thoughts are they apply to much more than our isolated testing context. This was also the case with his Keynote on Day 2. How to remain relevant as an Individual in the workplace. He framed this in the context of testing but his ideas apply to every person in a professional career. Here are the 10 behavious Rob thinks highly successful testers(or individuals) should have: CGt8xzOXEAEGyrz

You can read more about relevancy here: https://leanpub.com/remainingrelevant

#4 – Richard BradshawAutomation in testing

Why?

Richard has some great thoughts about automation and also has a great style of teaching. In this workshop he introduced the ideas of how to do great automation, what to avoid, what abstraction is and many other topics all using lego. We also worked in groups which helped meet some new people. If you are at a conference check out this workshop, its interactive and has some great learning points! Snip20150605_3

If you want to get into Richards mind he bares all on twitter @FriendlyTester

#5 – Lightning Talks

Why?

There is some great about short talks. At conferences it sometimes feels like information overload, an hour long talk and your eyes start to glaze over. On day 1 in the evening we had a lightening talk session. The talks were 5 Minutes long followed by a short group discussion. Some great topics came up. My favourite was Neil Studd: Whats wrong with 9 – 5 Testers?

Thanks to Richard Bradshaw for live stream via Periscope: https://www.periscope.tv

See you next year? Don’t forget your Gilet! 44348303_xxl This Gilet Joke will mean nothing to 99.9% of people who read this. You’ll have to come next year ad find out what it means 😉