Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Making the most of the conference experience


Since it is so close to the Eurostar conference in Amsterdam I thought I would post a conference related blog. #esconfs @esconfs -

I had planned to do this blog article a few weeks ago when I posted on twitter about the point of conferences is not all about the tracks but about the conferring. Many thanks to Rob Lambert The social tester for spurring me to complete this post together with his great A quick guide to Eurostar 2012

What?  You have not read it yet!!!  Then please stop reading this and go and do so…… (There Rob plug over with I expect the cheque to be in the post tomorrow or at least buy me a drink at Eurostar!)

This article is not going to be a “you should do this or should do that” and follows some of the messages that Rob states in his article. I remember my first conference (many, many years ago) and how it can be very intimidating.  It is even worse if you are little shy or a quiet type.

The best value you can get from a conference is not from the tracks or the keynotes but from talking to other people and conferring.  You soon learn that the problems you face in your day to day job are similar to others. This may help you to feel that you are not alone and that the issues you face are normal.  It is so easy within our profession to become insular and trapped in our own bubble.  Conferences gives you a great opportunity to see that the issues you experience are common and others are facing the same problems.  This is a great part of attending conferences to discuss these issues with others and sometimes you may discover solutions which could help you resolve the problems you are facing.

There are many ‘strong’ characters in the software testing community and some can appear to be very intimidating.  Try not to be scared and approach them, maybe just listen to begin with; this is what I did at my first few conferences and I felt too nervous or inferior to even think about taking part in the conversation.   It was at one conference when, what I would consider, a high profile figure within the testing community  asked for my thoughts about a topic I was listening to with a group of people.  So I said what I thought and the person took what I said and said this was a great example of the point being made.  This made me feel good and that I had something worthwhile to say.  This one encounter at this conference changed my whole perspective of the testing community and spurred me to start writing this testing blog.  So the conference can change you and encourage you in unexpected ways.  (Thanks Michael B – your encouragement has led to all of this from your keen observations)

At the conference lookout for non-conference social meets they are sometimes advertised on twitter.  You are not on twitter?  Please do join twitter it is a great way to interact with the whole testing community worldwide. I am @steveo1967 on twitter if you want to find me.  Others are word of mouth so it is important to socialise with people at a conferences.

Do not attend every single track at the conference doing so will exhaust you and place you under a lot of pressure.  Take some time out to reflect on  what you have attended maybe even write it up on a blog or as notes to follow up at work.  Even better take some time out to visit the expo or the great sights around the venue.  A conference is not about the number of tracks you attend or making sure you fill all your time with attending lectures.  I tried to do that for the first few conferences I attended and it did not work I had no time to reflect on what had been said and forgot so much useful information.

I have met many wonderful people at conferences and some of them have gone on to be close acquaintances that I have regular contact with even inviting them to my home.  All it takes is a little courage to try and get involved; this is so difficult to do for some but very much worth it.

I would say to that who are regulars at conferences if you spot someone on their own please try to approach them and introduce yourself. At the Eurostar conference this year there is a new concept called the community hub,  which is being hosted by Peter Morgan.  I recommend that you come along and practice doing a little socialising.

ENJOY YOURSELF – it seems strange to say that but I have seen so many people come to a conference with a unhappy face – they have come because they have been told to or feel like an outsider.  Make the most of the conference by taking part and becoming a part of the community.  The testing community can be intimidating for an outsider but if you take those first wobble steps to becoming a part of the community then it welcomes you with open arms and lots of support.

You never know you may meet someone at the conference who changes your life or at least makes you think in a different way.

In memory of Ola Hylten whom I first met at a Eurostar Conference