The Future Of TestBash
Richard Bradshaw
4th August 2021

Summary: The future of TestBash is an event that blends the online and physical worlds that remains accessible to everyone. It’s a TestBash that caters to more of the community by maximising the true power of community, its people.

What is TestBash? TestBash is the conference brand of the Ministry of Testing.

When is the next TestBash? The next physical TestBash will be TestBash Brighton, commencing on the week of the 21st March.

We very much look forward to the return of TestBash to Brighton. We understand a lot could change between now and then as we push ahead and hope it happens. We’re also incredibly comfortable that if it doesn’t go ahead, that it is OK. We now know we can bring value online and it was exactly this realisation that triggered a lot of thought about the future of TestBash.

TestBash In Its Current Forms

Physical TestBash events have been very successful over the last ten years, with the format remaining relatively unchanged. We had seven TestBash events alone in 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to move online, which was new territory for us. We acted very quickly as the need to experiment and learn about our new venue was imperative and we kicked off our online journey with TestBash Home

TestBash Home was a huge success and received great praise from the community, so we followed that with some location-based TestBashes, themed weeks, and another TestBash Home. Each event brought value to the community, insight for us, and cemented the fact that we can do online well, really well.

The Parts of Online Events That Work Well

So how can that happen when other events have struggled to bring the same level of engagement to the online space? The first part of this question was easy to answer, the MoT team is incredible. We put our all into doing something well. We invested a lot of time thinking about the event from the attendee perspective, trialing different hosting solutions, streaming solutions, and rapidly learning about our new online context.

The second part of this answer is you. The Ministry of Testing community. People. Our community is like no other. You all brought yourselves to the online space, as attendees, as speakers, as sponsors. You all remained open, kind, approachable. You generated and led conversations. You were present. You made these online events successful.

We observed a few important things that were possible due to TestBash being online. The opportunity to talk at TestBash was now available to everyone, no matter where you live. The same for attendees, with the ability to drop in and out of the event as required. 

The Parts of Online Events That Don’t Work Well

This is all very positive, but what hasn’t worked so well online? The main observation I made was connections due to a lack of hallway track. We tried a few things online, but they didn’t compare at all to real life. No conversations at lunch in the queue to get food, at the bar, or bumping into a face you recognise as you navigate the venue. Those awesome breakout conversations where the group keeps getting bigger and bigger as more people start to listen in. Also, interactive teaching just isn’t the same online. It's much better than two years ago, but the ability to shadow someone, work with them, and break out the back of a napkin is much more fluid face-to-face.

Physical conferences need to capitalise on the fact that we have all these awesome people in one place, and utilise the physical space for all its good. I’m not convinced the current TestBash format achieves this anymore. A TestBash was nine hours long, of which six hours were spent sitting in complete silence listening to talks. The other time was spent on breaks and lunch where you had to squeeze in some networking while trying to get some drinks, food, and a visit to the toilet!

The Opportunity for Blending Online and Physical

So, what do we do now? Just stop the online events and return to physical only like it was before? I think that would be a huge waste of all the expertise we’ve built up and reduce the reach that TestBash now has. And also, I don’t believe it’s maximising the physical space. What about a hybrid event? We could stream the event live as it’s happening. But in my opinion, this doesn’t work, we had this ability pre-covid and few conferences used it then, you end up with two events going on at the same time, not one event, which means twice the effort and a lacklustre experience for those online.

After much thinking, questioning, and reflection after sharing Rackets with the community about this idea (part 1, part 2), I’ve concluded we’ll experiment with a flipped and blended TestBash. I believe we’ve created a format that is unique, progressive and will bring value to everyone whether they attend online or both online and physically. We also believe that now is the right time to try something new. Brighton is the right place to do it and while we are nervous about changing TestBash, we are excited to see what is going to happen.

Flipped and Blended - What Does This Mean?

Inspiration for this idea came from the education space and some of the experiments we’ve run over the last few years with our Essentials training. In education there’s the concept of a ‘flipped classroom’ – a type of blended learning. Blended learning is an approach where teachers combine online and classroom methods.

At traditional conferences we hear the talk for the first time, and then have breaks throughout the day to talk to the speakers and other attendees about its content. Some attendees and speakers carry on the conversation online via Slack, The Club, and social media platforms such as Twitter. Having highlighted the physical space as the best place for conversations, it doesn’t really leave much time to discuss the talks and the themes of those talks. This is what we are flipping with our new TestBash format.

The Online Bit

For TestBash Brighton 2022, we’ll host an online event where all the talks will be played, followed by a physical event focused on interaction and conversations. The online event will take place two weeks prior to the physical event. The talks will also be available to watch on-demand in those two weeks. Thus utilising the online space for what it is good for, watching content on-demand, and also opening up these fantastic talks to the global community for them to come together. This will give those attending the physical conference time to digest the content, maybe run some experiments, before being able to discuss it all with the speakers and other attendees at the physical event.

The Physical Bit

The physical event will be designed to encourage conversations, networking, and hands-on learning, framed by the talks we heard at the online event. The venue will be laid out to provide multiple spaces designed to accommodate and facilitate conversations and learning. For example, there will be: 

  • An area with three tables in it, which could be used for a mini-workshop, or a round table
  • An area like the UnExpo, where speakers and attendees can create their own stand to facilitate and encourage conversation
  • An area where folk can comfortably sit one-to-one and share experiences
  • Tables and stands with activities on them for attendees completely, some with an instructor present and others where you can just walk up and start testing and learning. 

The physical event will also have an Ask Me Anything session with each speaker on the theme/topics of their talk, giving them the ability to elaborate more on a topic. It will also encourage attendees to learn from the speakers. We are still working on all the space ideas, and we’ll be sure to share them when they are finalised.

A Working Example

It’s very early stages for this format and I’m confident the team and community will come up with numerous ways we can facilitate conversation, networking, and hands-on learning, but the important thing to grasp is the blending of the online and physical worlds to maximise what they are best suited for.

Here’s an example: I give a talk at the online event on how I was able to utilise my automation skills to provide value to my team outside of traditional ‘test automation'. I talked about how I wrote little bash scripts to do magic, data generators, and a JIRA image uploader. I explained how I spotted these opportunities and encouraged the team to support me in building them. Then at the physical event, I could run several activities on this topic. I might create a standalone challenge where I set a scenario/context and ask attendees to tell me what they would automate if they were in this context tomorrow. I might create a post-it wall where attendees could share the cool tools they’ve built. I could run a round table session on the future of test automation and where people think it’s heading. I could run a fishbowl session where people discuss how to get started with test automation.

What Does This Mean for Speakers?

Have a listen to what this means for speakers. 🎧

We’ll have two sets of speakers at the TestBash. The majority of them will be speakers who attend both the physical and online events, and then we’ll have a few speaking slots where they just provide the online talk. This approach makes talking at TestBash accessible to everyone and not just those who can travel to Brighton.

Speakers who attend just online will be expected to:

  • Provide a recording of their talk
  • Attend the online event for their talk
  • Partake in an online Ask Me Anything session on an agreed topic

These speakers will be offered a fee of £250.

The speakers who attend both events will be expected to:

  • Provide a recording of their talk
  • Attend the online event for their talk
  • Co-create a minimum of three hours of activities for the physical event, this will be done online with team MoT. Asynchronously or over scheduled calls
  • Deliver those activities at the physical event, spread over the two days, each no longer than 90 minutes.
  • Partake in an Ask Me Anything session on an agreed topic at the physical event, this will be 45-60mins long.

All these speakers will be offered a fee of £500 plus all their return travel and accommodation costs to Brighton.

The awesome Ministry of Testing team, especially Sarah Deery our LearningBoss, will work with you on your activities to make the process as easy as possible, given this format is new to us all.

As someone who has spoken at a lot of events, I think this is a great opportunity for a speaker to really engage with the community on topics you are passionate about, to go beyond just speaking, and start co-creating discussions and deep learning. I believe this approach will enable speakers to share more of their experiences, but also realise the opportunity to share greater knowledge as attendees engage with them and their activities, leading to future content and new talks.

Submit to Talk at TestBash Brighton 2022

The call for contribution is now open for TestBash Brighton and we are looking for the following proposal types:

  • Talks (you will present this online and not attend the physical event)

  • Talks + Activities (you’ll attend both online and physical events)

  • ½ Day Workshops. (It’s highly likely we’ll have these, but it’s not 100% yet as we are waiting to hear back from the venue at the time of writing this)

If you intend to submit a talk + activities proposal, you will need to include some rough ideas of activities you’d like to do, they do not need to be finalised, but some insight into your thinking will really help team MoT. Please, however, submit a complete talk proposal just like you would for all previous TestBashes, it’s just the activity section where you can be a bit vague.

All submissions will enter our anonymous review system, only your talk or workshop proposal will be visible, your activity ideas will not, it will be reviewed just as a regular talk.

πŸ—“ Deadline to submit: 5th September 2021

πŸ“ How? You can submit your talk via our new and improved proposal system

If you have any questions about talking at TestBash Brighton 2022, please post them here on The Club.

An Exciting Future

So, there it is, an exciting future for TestBash that combines the best of the online and physical spaces. I think this format is going to bring a lot of value to our industry. If you have any questions at all, please please post them here on The Club and I hope you’ll be a part of this experiment in some form.

Thanks,

Richard Bradshaw, BossBoss.