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The Awesome Power Of Hosting Test.bash(); 2021

The Awesome Power Of Hosting Test.bash(); 2021

Callum shares his experience of hosting at last year's Test.Bash();

Last year was my first year stepping onto the stage (virtually) as a host at the Ministry of Testing’s Test.bash();. It was an absolutely awesome time that I can’t wait to do again. This is the story of how I (as well as one Testing Otter™) got involved and what it was like.

Showing My Interest And Getting the Call

I’m no stranger to Test.bash();. Like many others I stood up on stage to deliver a 99 second talk in 2018 and followed that up with delivering a talk alongside Elizabeth Finnes in 2019. At both events my exciting shirts and willingness to get up, get involved, and ask questions in front of a room full of people helped to set me out as someone who’d likely do Ministry of Testing (MoT) events. In 2020 I put myself forward to be a part of an exploratory testing panel and also to answer questions at the ask me anything.

Following these, I reached out to Richard the TestBoss to tell him to feel free to harness my general excited extroversion for the MoT as a host whenever was needed. Initially I was going to be the fabulous host of Test.bash(); X Edinburgh but unfortunately the global pandemic meant we couldn’t run that event. Then, like Nick Fury recruiting the Avengers, in September of 2021 I got the call from the TestBoss himself.

A picture of Richard Bradshaw with an eye patch on asking if anyone would be interested in hosting at Test.Bash

Fig 1. An artist’s depiction of Richard “The TestBoss Fury” Bradshaw recruiting me as a host.

Why Did I Want to Host?

Other than a crippling need to be the centre of attention? I wanted to host an MoT event as a way of being a part of the community and using my skills to help showcase others. In addition to the talks I’d done for the MoT, I’d spent 2020-2021 doing a lot of online talks, blogging, and being a kickass Dungeons And Dragons dungeon master. I’d already gotten my name out there as a speaker, and now I wanted to help lift up other voices and people.

I remember the awesome hosts who had introduced me at the events I’d spoken at (the esteemed Gwen Diagram and Vernon Richards) and how they made me feel like I was important and what I had to say was interesting. I wanted to be able to do the same thing for other people too: put a speaker at ease, let them see that they’re awesome, and assure them that what they’re about to present is going to be interesting to people.

Fun Host Fact 1: Gwen introduced my talk at Test.bash(); 2019 and called me Ryan.

Fun Host Fact 2: Vernon and I both lived in Leicester.

Let’s Prep Part 1: What Am I Doing?

My initial task was to work out what it was I was going to do as a host: what did it mean? I went about looking up what my hosting duties would entail and how to prepare.

  • Talking to the other hosts: I started by joining the MoT hosts Slack channel and picking the brains of Gwen for what she did to prepare. She advised that she looked up the speakers to create notes about them, which would drive some questions during hosting.
  • Watching the other hosts: I watched the recordings from other events. In particular I paid attention to what Vernon would say at the beginning of an MoT event. I found out that he’d usually have an interesting thing to say about the speaker or be able to call out other MoT content they’d been involved in.
  • Googling hosting: I googled “introducing speakers” and found a couple of good pointers: build up the speaker’s credibility, state what the talk is about, and explain why the talk is going to be interesting. This gave me a good framework to introduce each talk, especially since all the info I needed for that would be in the talk’s abstract.
  • Watching more hosts: I binged a lot of content to see how each host had a different style. The hosts of Test.bash(); Home were all bringing their authentic selves to the hosting role with interesting backgrounds and props… and that’s when it clicked that I could have fun and put my spin on things.

My Spin: Ramone The Testing Otter(™)

If you’ve followed me on Twitter or LinkedIn you’ll know that I use an otter as a mascot for testing. This is to add some fun to my testing and help build rapport with my teams. Hosting Test.bash(); was my chance to share Ramone the Testing Otter™ with a wider audience and would bring my personality to the front.

A picture of a stuff otter named Ramone

Fig 2. Ramone in the hosting chair. Ignore the shoulder to the left, that’s not there.

To prepare, I looked up otter puppets on Amazon. After he arrived in the mail, I practised a bit with using him on camera (which meant him popping up in some work calls). I also workshopped a couple of voices for him, but when it turned out I was terrible at doing an Antonio Banderas style voice I just settled on using my own voice.

To make sure people were on board with the idea, I tweeted a video of Ramone, putting him forward as a Test.bash(); host. The responses looked positive so I was ready to go!

Fun Host Fact 3: Ramone the Testing Otter™ is an Asian short clawed otter.

Let’s Prep Part 2: Let The Stalking Commence!

My next task was to look up the details of the speakers that I’d be introducing in order to have something to say. I followed Gwen’s advice and looked up the speakers online in order to make some notes, which I did in the same way I would for exploratory test note taking (which meant mind maps). The aim of my stalking research was to find interesting things either to say about them or to find things to ask them about. 

I initially started by looking on LinkedIn to read any posts or blogs they’d made. From there I’d follow links to their personal blogs or Rackets. Finally, I looked at any previous talks they’d done.

Generally the shape of my notes covered the following:

  • Who is this person? Where do they work, what kind of tester are they, have they blogged before?
  • What’s great about this person? Any interesting personal facts, have they spoken about this topic before?
  • Have I had any personal experience with this person? Have I watched their content, do I follow them, have I spoken to them before?
  • What is this person’s talk about? What do I find interesting about the topic, why is it important to me and what will I learn from it?

This was easy when the speaker was an individual. When the talk was made by a person on behalf of an organisation or company, I focused instead on what the company blogged about or information about their products and services.

Let’s Prep Part 3: Prep Harder!

Now I had my notes about the speakers, I had my plan for a personal spin on hosting. But there were still a number of other things to prepare before the event.

Writing a script: I pulled all my notes together into a single Google doc that included additional information (an intro to me and the MoT things to say). I didn’t script this as I wanted to be able to talk organically, so it was more speaking topics as a bulleted list. This is the same way that I’d prepare for a Dungeons And Dragons game, with high level topics and notes rather than a full script. Included in these notes were questions to ask each of the speakers to help get them talking and ready to present. These questions were based on the research I’d done about them.

Advertising the event: Not only did I make some more videos on Twitter with Ramone the Testing Otter to promote Test.bash(); but I also was interviewed by the lovely Mark Winteringham for a “meet the hosts” segment where I said that I only wanted to host Test.bash(); to see him again (he kept that in the segment 💖).

A beuatiful picture of a handsome Callum and Mark Winteringham with a heart over them.... awwww

Fig 3. An artist's impression of MarCallum… CalluMark… What would our couple name be?

Backstage practice: I joined Richard a few days before the event so he could show me the tools and we could configure my microphone and camera. He went through a few extra bits to mention (like the MoT house rules) and how we could cue up music and polls. I thought nothing of the music cues… little did I know that this would become important later. I also got to meet the other new host, Laveena!

Fun Host fact 4: Laveena and I used to work together.

The Big Day!

The actual event was awesome! I felt like I really got into my flow of asking questions and got to have some real fun by asking polls, talking to the speakers in a natural way, and of course using Ramone to great effect.

Backstage at Test.bash(); is awesome because you get to hang out with the next speaker (and the TestBoss himself) and chat on a secret radio channel. This meant I was able to get the next speaker excited and help calm their nerves before they went on. As my camera was on, Richard was also able to see me practising using my Ramone puppet before the next section.

There was one panic where somebody’s internet dropped out and I had to make up the time with some improv. I did this by running a poll and talking to the audience who jokingly suggested that I sing a song, which led to needing a music cue after all. During the last talk I quickly threw together some lyrics and found a karaoke track so that I could finish my stint as a host with a song. It wasn’t planned at all but I think it came out great.

It was a great time — there was so much energy and excitement. Talking to the speakers was really delightful (plus I got some nice follow up thanks for building people up) and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year (hint hint). 

If anybody thinks that they might want to be involved in Test.bash(); or MoT events, I fully recommend hosting. It's awesome!

A picture of callum speaking with Sonali Das

Fig 4. It’s me hosting! Who doesn’t love a dinosaur themed shirt and a halloween background?

Callum Akehurst-Ryan
Callum Akehurst-Ryan
Principal Test Engineer
Throughout my 15+ year career I’ve had a variety of roles as a Test Engineer, Test Lead and Agile coach. As a result I have a well rounded approach to leadership in an Agile environment, both as part of test and the wider team. I specialise in full stack exploratory testing, embedding Agile testing into start-ups and quality reporting.
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