The FAST approach for TestBash, our software testing conference

It takes a village to create a conference

Hello there! I'm Rosie Sherry, the founder and the new-old CEO at Ministry of Testing. With the news of bringing TestBash Brighton back to Brighton, I'd like to share the ideas and reasoning behind the four different roles our community can apply for at TestBash Brighton.

When I started Ministry of Testing I had a really strong pull and motivation to do things differently. Back then, I couldn't always explain why it felt so important. These days, I am better able to pinpoint and explain these things a bit better.

There are two main aspects that I work on daily. One is to remove hierarchy and barriers that clearly exist in this world in so many forms. Then there is the aspect of re-thinking and re-designing what we actually value and want to see in the world. Both of these apply to being community-led as an organisation.

I've personally found a real sense of drive, connection, change and learning opportunities by adopting a community-led way of approaching the world. “Community-led” has been a bit of buzzword throughout COVID, but people should know we've been that way since day one. 

It still feels wild that I've ended up doing this for software testers. It's a true privilege! 

Applying community thinking to conferences

I've always believed conferences should remove barriers. In my earlier days, I attended conferences that inspired me and others that did the opposite. All experiences influenced me in making decisions about what I dreamt TestBash could be.

With TestBash, one barrier we initially removed was not having keynotes. This also meant we made the decision to offer all speakers the same deal—to have all their expenses covered. Keynotes and differing fees creates hierarchy in all kinds of ways. Some of the best talks we've had over the years were by new speakers—and it's not necessarily because they were better speakers; it was mostly always because the community identified with them and backed them up with incredible community vibes.

We can also think from the perspective of the new speaker, if anyone needs a big audience cheering them on, it is the newer speaker, not the one who has done it many times. The answer, for us, is to level out the potential experience for everyone.

There's also the consideration that new speakers or volunteers are the ones who will more likely struggle to find the budget or approval to attend a conference. We want to level out the experience and opportunities for everyone by treating, rewarding and valuing all the contributions equally.

F.A.S.T - The Four Contributing Roles at TestBash Brighton

With this thinking in mind and without writing a full-blown essay, I'd like to explain the reasoning behind the ability to submit for four different types of conference roles.

For TestBash Brighton you can contribute to the conference by applying for one (or more) of these four roles:

  1. The Facilitator: Create and facilitate a group activity
  2. The Ambassador: Advocate for TestBash through curation (reviewing sessions) and creating community connection before, during or after the event.
  3. The Speaker: Present a 20-30 minute talk
  4. The Teacher: Host a 99-minute workshop

Traditionally conferences place a huge emphasis on speakers, especially keynote speakers. Of course, speakers are important, and we also highly value them. The problem is that it takes more than speakers to make a good event. We highly value anyone who takes the time to show up or contribute.

What's an event without attendees? Nothing.

What's an event without guides and supporting roles? Confusing and unwelcoming.

What's an event without diversity of opportunities to connect and learn? This is what starts to make events inaccessible.

We want to change this by appreciating all the people that we believe contribute to making an awesome event experience and we're doing this by valuing and treating all contributors the same.

At previous TestBashes, for example, our volunteers made a massive difference to the whole experience. Previously, we had given them free entry in return for support. This time around we are turning that into a specific role that we compensate the same as we would to a speaker or a workshop host. (Every contributor gets free entry and travel costs covered).

The same applies to The Facilitator role. The more informal activities, ideas and creativity that people bring are so important for helping us connect and belong.

We love and value our speakers! But also, there is so much to give in different ways. A great example is that I have personally never gotten up on the big stage to do a talk. It's not my thing, but I can still create an impact in a way that feels right for me.

We want to find more Rosies! More Simons! More Jespers! More Kristofs! More Gems! More Emmas! More Mirzas! More Trishas! We all have something to give and we are here to help you discover that.

At Ministry of Testing we embrace change, diversity and experimentation. We will tweak this as we see success or failure with our approach, but our belief is that this will lead to the most welcoming software testing conference on earth.