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CAST2011 (The Conference for the Association of Software Testing) was amazing this year. Having that many massive testing brains in the one place for three days though, I wonder how it could have been anything but.

What I love about CAST is that there is a very collegial feel to the event. It feels like a safe place to air new thoughts and ideas (or old ones) and discuss them – even have them shot down, in an environment that promotes and supports learning and cooperation.

There were a number of firsts for me personally. I hadn’t presented at CAST before. My presentation went well, I thought. I had a much fuller room than I was expecting. People seemed to find it interesting and useful and there were a lot of good questions asked. It wasn’t perfect. The room’s air con was LOUD, so the set of speakers I brought to play a snippet of video were woefully inadequate. Along the same lines, I wasn’t using the mic to speak and a few people let me know I could have projected a little more. Strange. I don’t have a problem projecting in the dojo. Probably because I’m barking instructions at people. Presenting to a room of testers is a little different it seems. Something for me to work on, then.

Louise Perold and I entered the CAST testing competition – a 4 hour event to test the abilities and skills of the testers that entered. Louise and I walked back to the hotel lamenting what else we could have done if we’d just had a little longer. We had some awesome competition. People that I know by reputation if not personally and all of them excellent testers. When on the following day James Bach announced we’d won the award for best tester/programmer relations we were happy. That was something we thought we had done well. When he went on to tell us we’d won the overall competition, we were stunned and delighted in equal parts. Louise and I will blog more about this at some point soon.

Lastly, I got chatting to Michael Bolton about my thoughts on test framing and how I thought it related to audience framing (I have another post coming on this topic too). He invited me to present my point of view at his tutorial on Test Framing, which I did. I was grateful for the opportunity and a number of people said they got something out of it, so that was something else I was happy about.

The thing I love most about CAST is the interaction between people. Because I’m somewhat geographically challenged, I get to one testing conference per year. I choose CAST because of the people who attend. Because they challenge me and make me think and remind me of the power of diversity and having skilled, free-thinking people working together.

I was super happy to spend time with the Usual Suspects (the people I generally hang out with at CAST) – Henrik Andersson, Chris Blain, Tim Coulter, Carsten Feilberg, Johan Jonasson, and Lou Perold. I also met and got to know a bunch of other cool people (most of them Swedes – it was a real invasion on their part) Robert Bergqvist, Maria Kedomo, Mattius Gustavsson, Sigge Birgisson.

As always seems to happen, there were a great number of people I would love to have spent more time with. I met in person a number of people I’d only previously interacted with online. There are a number of people that I’d met before, but haven’t spent nearly as much time chatting to as I’d like and a few I wanted to meet, but didn’t get to. If I try and name everyone, I will undoubtedly forget someone. Suffice it to say there were a massive number of testers I’d have loved to spend more time with. I suspect that number will only be bigger this time next year.

I didn’t get to see all of the presentations I wanted to see. Some of them were captured on video (the emerging topics tracks and lightning talks among them, I believe). I plan on taking my camera next year to capture stuff I can’t make it to. If you didn’t make it to cast, I highly recommend you check them out.

The organizers are to be commended. Jon and James Bach were the most conspicuous of the organizers, but Paul Holland and his crew of facilitators and all the volunteers who ran around doing stuff behind the scenes are to be commended on a job well done. Volunteers are the unsung heroes of events like this. When things go well, you tend not to notice them. Without them though, this event would be near impossible.

There are a few improvements that could be made. I’d like to echo some of Michael Hunter’s sentiments. A lot of people are okay with a high-carb diet. I’m not one of them.

The distance between hotels made meeting people who weren’t at my hotel kinda difficult (though we managed to find pubs here and there that did the job).

As far as content goes, I got new ideas from the vast majority of the talks I attended. I must admit to being a little disappointed by the debate between James Bach and Doug Hoffman. I was hoping the format would be more of a formal debate arguing for and against a specific statement, but it turned out to be more of an argument/discussion with the interjections and interplay that tend to go hand-in-hand. I also thought Doug was more gentle with James than he deserved. I think this sort of event has potential. I’d like to see a change to a formal debating format, but having a relevant topic debated by some heavyweights in the industry would be very interesting.

I could create a list of questions and great quotes as Michael Hunter has done, but I think those people tweeting to the #CAST2011 hashtag took care of that most effectively (try searching on it). I’m glad they did, because I barely had time to tweet a thing for the whole event.

I’m hoping very much that I’ll be able to attend (and perhaps even present) at next year’s CAST, but that depends on a number of variables that are somewhat beyond my control. If you are considering attending next year, I recommend that you do in the strongest terms possible.

4 thoughts on “CAST2011

  1. I feel that formal debates aren’t real debates. Doug and I actually debated, right in front of you, and the Open Season allowed anyone to jump in if they had a point to make.

    Hi James,

    I suspected you might feel that a formal debate was restrictive or somehow not useful (since that was not the format you chose to use). I disagree. I guess it depends on how you define ‘real’. I think there is value in a formal debate structure, though not necessarily to the people arguing. I wanted to hear each of you argue your side without interruption so I could take my own notes. I wanted time to think about the arguments you were putting forth. Instead, the back-and-forth was somewhat frenetic and while I agree that it was closer to a ‘real’ argument, it is not the debate I was hoping to see.

    That’s not to say that it was not informative or entertaining. I found it to be both. I’m not sure how useful to advancing the debate the device of ‘arguing the extremes’ was in the first part. Personally I felt that we know what the extremes are. We’ve heard them before and no one who takes an arbitrarily contrarian position is going to yield ground to the other (yes I know that’s ironic, given that I’m making a case for a formal debating structure). What I think would have been more useful is if you’d discarded that device and debated each other as you did from that point on, you’d have realized much sooner that you were talking past each other, not debating the statement. That was possibly a function of the debate statement being fuzzy also – ‘Are testing schools a good idea?’ (a question) as opposed to something like ‘Labelling specific people as members of specific schools is not helpful in advancing the craft of testing’.

  2. Great wrap-up Ben. I’ve got my fingers crossed I get to present in the future. I forgot the best part is connecting with those who heard your talk and want to keep the discussion going because they got something of real value out of it. Teaching is fun.

    To your point James, the debate suffered because of the format – I didn’t like that it was a fairly open discussion and then there was a forced shift in the middle to attempt to come together. It should be a pure battle of rhetoric! Let the best argument win, rather than force the sides to come together.

    I’d love to debate you in such a format next year 🙂

  3. Hi Ben – I really enjoyed your presentation. Yours was one of a few great reminders at CAST of the importance of well-developed commnication skills for testers.

    Say, any chance you can share the link to that Jonesy clip? Shame the room didn’t accomodate the sound better.

    [BK] – Hey Jeremy. Glad you liked the presentation. Yeah, one thing I didn’t do in my preparation was account for the accoustics. Guess I’ll have to bring bigger speakers next time, just in case 😛 I know you posted a follow-up link to the CAST proceedings (thanks for that btw). Here’s the link to Jonsey’s test report for those that don’t feel like digging.

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