“The most fun conference I’ve ever attended” Agile Testing Days 2015 review

“The most fun conference I’ve ever attended” was just one of many similar evaluations I heard at Agile Testing Days 2015. The organisers certainly put a lot in to making it entertaining. The first night Wild West party, complete with magician, was great fun, and the rest of the three days was filled with generous amounts of food and drink, and social activities like the Agile Games night. There was even an escape room challenge, which was very well attended.

Agile TD reminds me more of an annual get together of a distributed community of agile testers, rather than a (more conventional) conference of attendees coming to hear the expert speakers. For the speakers, it was certainly more like a reunion, with in-house jokes like “Table Twooooo” (shrieked at high volume regularly at the speakers’ pre-conference dinner!) adding to that shared sense of ATD community.

The atmosphere created was “we’re here to have fun together, share our experiences and learn from others (including, but not exclusively, from the speakers at the front)”. The opening keynote was probably the best example of this, with Alex Schladebeck & Huib Schoots using the metaphor of music as a way of sharing some simple points on agile testing. 600 people singing a round of a folk song accompanied by Kazoo, violin and trombone, is a great way to start any conference.

That said, I was generally disappointed with the rest of the keynotes. It was great to see Dr Sue Black championing women in tech, but the vast bulk of her talk was a ‘history of the campaign to save Bletchley Park. As laudable as that was, the emphasis on saving a bit of the UK’s heritage because it “helped us win the War” (at a European conference in Berlin) was terribly parochial. Bryan Beecham’s talk on the ‘Human Refactoring Experiment’ used the analogy of code refactoring to deliver a lecture on exercise and diet, under the pretext that being fit and healthy makes you a better tester. That may be true, but hardly newsworthy. Ironically, this talk did at least mention software development, unlike most of the other keynotes.

There were a few keynotes broadly on the topic of changing the world of work, which I found quite superficial (they could have been delivered at just about any conference), but they did seem to have some resonance with the ATD audience (who presumably felt they were hard-pressed testers with no power to change their situation). Olaf Lewitz’s talk on the last day was probably the best of the bunch, notably lacking the excessive ego of some of the other speakers. The latter seemed to be simply competing to show how anarchic they were by making a point of swearing abundantly. My problem is that it all came over as a bit of a rallying cry for revolution in the workplace (which I’m all in favour of), but with no real practical application. I would have preferred to have heard about success stories, not simply “be provoked”. Saying “I’m from the future so you won’t get it” is simply patronising and untrue (many of us are already working in innovative new ways that don’t resemble the straw-man Taylorist-type environments being attacked).

At the start of the conference, Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory performed a short skit, in keeping with the Wild West theme, about prospectors looking for gold. The conclusion was an exhortation to look out for the “golden nuggets” in the conference. There were plenty of opportunities throughout the conference to find such nuggets to take away, in addition to the keynote presentations. There were plenty of workshops every day on a wide range of topics and of course there was plenty of opportunity to talk to other attendees, something that ATD really encourages.

Overall, my impression was that ATD was great for testers across Europe (and further afield) to compare notes and have a good laugh together. For many of the delegates I met, and from observing Twitter, this seems to be good enough. However, for those who were hoping to hear new, cutting edge ideas in the field of agile testing, I think they may have been frustrated at how much debris they had to sift through to find any golden nuggets.