The TestBash San Francisco Experience: A First Timer’s Report

By Elizabeth Hurley

I first heard about the Ministry of Testing (MoT) and their software testing conference TestBash around the same time in 2015. I was looking to further expand my knowledge of testing methods and approaches and found MoT. I then learned what a diverse group of experts and practitioners were involved with the MoT community of practice and wanted to participate so I became a member. I read about TestBash in the US and was intrigued. It was unlike any software testing conference I had attended before: 1 track, 1 room, all attendees together. What could that be like? But unfortunately for me, TestBash US was on the other side of the country in Philadelphia, PA. Considering my circumstances, I decided not to attend and remained curious about the experience.

I continued reading articles, posts, and messages on MoT’s Dojo and Club. I also watched recorded talks from various TestBashes across the world. I was impressed by the caliber of the speakers, the quality of the presentations, and thoughtful subject matter. The 99-second talks were particularly good for a quick bite and thought on topics. TestBash US remained on the East Coast through 2017 and I was hopeful for the conference to move to the West Coast to give me the opportunity to attend.

The Best In Test Are Coming West!

One day, whilst reading my email, there was an email with the subject "The Best In Test Are Coming West", it contained a granted wish: the announcement that TestBash would be in San Francisco in 2018! I immediately decided I was going. I had waited long enough and would get to experience all the energy, excitement, learning, and community of TestBash myself. I eagerly awaited every detail and began to make arrangements.

As the Early Bird registration deadline was fast approaching, my contract job was unexpectedly cut short. I had read about the MoT Scholarship and decided to submit an application. It was quick and easy, having only to write up a short description of my need and request. Soon I got the good news back that I had been selected to receive a scholarship to attend TestBash SF. This made me feel more secure in being able to attend and benefit from the conference material and professional networking. Excitedly, I looked forward to the fall and those two conference days!

Day 1: Feeling Like I Belong and Positive Vibes

With anticipation and nervous energy, I walked towards the Cowell Theater in the Fort Mason Center on 11/8/18, Day 1 of TestBash SF. It was a clear autumn day in San Francisco and the background of the Bay was a relaxed, gorgeous setting for the conference. When I walked into the venue, I was greeted and quickly checked in with the no-fuss registration process. Before me were tables full of brightly colored conference swag with the recognizably friendly MoT logo and the adorable TestBash SF logo. I picked out a notebook, tote bag, stickers and other goodies in my favorite primary shades of orange and pink, created a simple colorful name tag. Then walked into the theater lobby area to see a fully loaded breakfast table and small groups of people standing and spontaneously discussing testing topics.

I paused and reflected that this was a gathering of diverse individuals who took various routes to a testing career and all valued learning, immersing themselves in a community, and took time out to participate in this conference. From that moment, I knew I was in the right place. As I met more attendees and organizers, I was inspired by each person’s unique background and experience and a variety of employment. I was also struck by each person’s commitment to being an excellent tester and their continuous learning.

The program started with a hearty and warm welcome by our friendly local host, Jake Bower. Elisabeth Hendrickson, our first speaker, took the stage. Her opening talk, “Influence> Authority and Other Leadership Principles”, set the theme of the day for me: Positivity. Her message of creating agency by leading by example at any level in the organization resonated with me. Be kind not just nice (Radical candor) is a motto I have tried to adopt. I was thrilled to be in the room and listening to Elisabeth’s wisdom.

The day continued with high-quality presentations, a relaxed tempo, and a full agenda. I took copious notes, picked up names of experts and books to check out, and soaked it all in. Here are some of my takeaways from some of the talks:

  • “Going Undercover in the Mob” by Jasmin Smith
    I was reminded of my experience with Extreme Programming early in my career. It was refreshing to hear about developers and testers sitting together to complement their skills, learn from each other, and create a supportive work culture. I noted the name of Maaret Pyhäjärvi @maaretp, a testing expert in this area.
  • “Tester at the Table and the Tester in my Head” by Adrian Dunston
    Not only was this a fascinating talk about the benefits of working with testers from a developer’s perspective, but the accompanying slides were also visually stunning. Adrian’s humor supported his message of how testers can be catalysts for positive change and improvements. Software is about people.
  • “Extra! Extra! Automation Declared Software!” by Paul Grizzaffi
    Automated test scripts need the same development considerations as any other programming project. QA is not responsible for quality; we are responsible for creating a culture of quality.
  • “Creating a Culture of Quality Assurance” by Angela Riggs
    No single team, tool, process, or person can guarantee quality. There needs to be a commitment from all groups, management, and advocates. A successful work culture supports everyone. Quality happens over the entire software lifecycle.
  • “The Power of Models” by Dan Ashby and Richard Bradshaw
    This was like listening in to experts discussing ideas over pints at the pub. No wonder Dan has a podcast, “Testing in the Pub”. Models are structured forms of what we think. They visual represent our thoughts and can be fallible. As a tester, our first instinct is to critique. Instead, give positive feedback. Models aren’t right or wrong; they are useful. Dan & Richard challenged us to draw our notes, create a model and post it to the Club (I have yet to do it.) Although I was inspired to sketch a couple of ideas in my notebook.

Entertainment Feud and Food

The talks wrapped up for the day but we weren’t done yet. Our next activity “TestBash Family Feud” was a chance to show off our accumulated knowledge of the testing field. With a lively host, challenging questions, smart contestants and audience participation, it was the perfect way to take a break and have fun.

The final event was the Food Truck party. Oh wow! What an enjoyable way to end a long and stimulating day. There were food trucks parked outside the theater serving delicious food and drinks (all included with the cost of TestBash). With the beautiful San Francisco Bay lit by moonlight, it was the relaxing backdrop to share ideas, meet new community members, and discuss our first day at TestBash. As I left with my head full of ideas and new approaches, I was ready to rest and absorb everything I heard and saw.

Day 2: An Innovative and Disruptive Day

On Day 2, I headed to the Cowell Theater with an idea of what to expect. I jumped into a Lean Coffee chat about the shortage of qualified testers and what experience college students or entry-level professionals need to start a career successfully. All across the room were other groups discussing different issues. The conversations continued as we entered the theater for the start of the day’s programs.

To me, all of the day’s talks fell into the theme of Innovation and Disruption. Again I’ll share some of my thoughts and key takeaways from the presentations:

Testers don’t break products – just the illusions people have about them.” - Maaret Pyhäjärvi

  • “Manual Regression Testing Manifesto” by Brian Connolly
    This talk made me want to stand up and shout “Testers Unite!” My long-held beliefs were challenged (for the second time in one day!) about how testers provide value to organizations. It was an uplifting message about how much we can add to overall quality, strategy, and process.

The day’s program ended with the 99-second talks. There were many interesting ideas and stories shared. I wanted to hear more about everything.

With all these ideas filling my mind, I went to the Post-TestBash Social. This was the time to chat with speakers, delve deeper, and connect. With plenty of food and drink, again included in the cost, the atmosphere was lively. This was certainly ending on a high note.

Continuing To Be Part Of The Community

Big thank you to the Ministry of Testing staff and volunteers for organizing this conference! Everything about it was superb. These two days were some of the most thought-provoking and inspiring of my career. I continue to read articles, attend webinars, and post on the forums. I look forward to attending another TestBash and continue learning with this community.

Author Bio

Elizabeth Hurley is an experienced quality engineer and technical trainer. Across her career, she has tested enterprise hardware and software and consumer apps for large tech companies and small digital agencies. She has created and delivered training programs for software suites, emerging technologies, and leadership development.