My Manchester Adventures: A TestBash Speaker’s Experience Report

By Hilary Weaver-Robb

This year has been a roller coaster for me, to be sure. One of the high points was being accepted to speak at Test.bash(); Manchester, Ministry of Testing’s first targeted automation conference, and being asked to give a workshop beforehand. Test.bash(); was part of TestBash Manchester; a week-long software testing event made up of some training days, a workshop day, two conference days and an unconference day.

I was excited to speak at TestBash event for the first time. I'd attended TestBashes in Philadelphia as a volunteer but hadn't really gotten to experience TestBash fully before. I was also looking forward to meeting many folks in the MoT community I only knew from the internet (Twitter and Slack mostly) for real, and seeing community friends I had met before.

I had never been outside of the Americas and was very excited to finally get to see the UK! This trip was going to be particularly great as my husband was able to come along, and it was to be just a few weeks before our anniversary so we decided we’d extend our visit for a few days to enjoy it without plans!

TestBash Manchester Arrived: My Anxiety Kicked In

I arrived in Manchester and while I was excited to meet the community, I have social anxiety and was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of all of the social events around TestBash - there were meetups every night, as well as a speaker’s dinner. Thankfully this is an AMAZING community, during all of the TestBash Manchester socials, even when I felt uncomfortable for a minute or two, or anxious, it went away quickly as someone would walk up and start chatting. I met so many wonderful new people, and became fast friends with several. And finally getting to know some in person rather than just online - fantastic! This community, man. I love it so much. It makes me tear up a bit how wonderful and welcoming it is. I couldn't ask for better!

Wednesday morning, the workshop day, came and I walked over to the venue, The Lowry, for check-in and breakfast. As a TestBash speaker, I was able to attend any of the workshops. And even though my workshop was in the afternoon, and normally I would feel anxious about it, I decided to distract myself with one of the amazing offerings! I went to Angie Jones’ workshop on code smells. There were lots of great takeaways, even for someone that thinks they know what they’re doing (like me ;)). I always felt like I shouldn’t put Asserts outside of the tests themselves, but Angie made a great argument for having a separate method in some cases, especially if you have multiple tests doing the same thing. And her knack for making even kind of dry content very interesting kept us all engaged for the entire morning.

Workshop Time: Will It Go As Planned?

Afterward, I ate lunch quickly and got set up for my workshop. I was anxious about it, like any talk or workshop. Will everything go to plan? Will people get it? Will they struggle? I hadn’t given the workshop before, so it was a big question mark. I hoped the prizes I brought for people that found bugs would help round out any rough edges.

The workshop was called “Have Some Cake With Your Frosting: Testing Both The UI and API Layers”. It went through what APIs are, testing them with Postman, how to find what to test with the API, and finding how the UI uses the API. The workshop seemed to go over well - many bugs were found and all of the prizes were won.

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TestBash: Conference Day Take One

I also got to attend the first conference, TestBash, all day on Thursday, which was awesome. I love the format of TestBash being a single track - every talk is keynote quality. All of the audience is hearing/seeing the same talk, so our hallway conversations and meetups are more meaningful, I think. We all have seen the same thing, but we all have different experiences and can share that with each other. I absolutely love the focus on growing testers. I got some great takeaways, as well, which I can apply when I get back to work.

I absolutely loved so many of the talks, and I live-tweeted many of my takeaways. It’s hard to point to just one or two takeaways, but if I had to, I would say for sure Alex Schladebeck and Huib Schoots talk “Jedi Mind Tricks For Testers” had several. And not just ones to take back to work, but for regular life too! For instance, Alex spoke about how we have a lot of negative things to say or believe about ourselves. She suggested, “if we are going to believe something that’s fiction, it may as well be nice”. I’ve been struggling with negative self-talk for years, and this really hit home. I also learned that Dorothy Graham is an amazing singer (you REALLY had to be there, it was epic)!

That night, I was nervous. I hadn’t practiced my talk for the next day in a while. After some time at the meetup and grabbing dinner, I holed up in my hotel room and went over my talk.  It’s great as a speaker to be able to change some things on the fly. Some conferences require your slides weeks in advance, but TestBash is always different. I made a few adjustments, adding a few points that I thought about as I went over it again. I didn’t feel very confident in my talk. But it was late, and I was tired, so I went to bed.

Test.bash(); Day: Was My Talk Technical Enough?

Friday morning came - time for Test.bash();. After the first couple of talks, which were all about automation, I started to worry. Was my talk technical enough? I have a slide in there at the beginning "this is not about learning how to code, but learning about the code". Was that enough for this audience? Would they feel like my talk was too simple?

I left the audience during the first break. I needed to review my talk again, maybe get some feedback from others. I voiced my concerns to a few folks and they assured me that it wouldn't be a problem - the audience was more mixed than just all coders, MoT wouldn't have accepted the talk if they didn't think it fit, etc. I decided to keep my talk as is, and make no apologies.

I started a bit shaky - I was nervous as usual before giving my talk. No matter how many times I speak at conferences, I still get nervous! But usually after a few minutes in, I hit my stride and the talk goes on ok. I think the fact that I know that any MoT audience will be supportive helped me through any nerves I still had.

And I think it went over well! The audience had several questions after, there were lots of tweets and folks speaking to me after about how much they liked it, and how they could apply it at work on Monday. One attendee, Wanda, did just that and shared her progress on Twitter. I was absolutely thrilled!

I'm also happy that my husband could be there to watch me speak. He has before, but it's been a while. To see how proud he is of me may have helped calm my nerves, too!

The meetup at the end was lovely - strolling through the Lowry art gallery, chatting with folks about my talk or workshop or just anything in general. It was a great end to the day.

The Open Space: Emotional Highs And Lows

Saturday was the Open Space which was awesome. Even though I cried a few times :P We talked about mental health, what to do when feeling stuck, and convincing people to try new things. I got a Tarot reading from Gem Hill, and generally just hung out and relaxed with "my people". It was awesome!

Afterward, my husband and I did a bit of exploring Manchester, as that was the first time I'd seen Manchester City Centre in the daytime! What an awesome place! I was a bit sad to leave Manchester the next day as we had a fabulous time. I feel like I made some good friends there as well, though most aren’t based in Manchester anyway ;)

#RestBash The Scenic Way

After TestBash was all said and done, we traveled on to Scotland for our mini-holiday. While we took in the sights (such as The Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel), all that had happened during TestBash started to settle in (especially on those lovely train rides). Everything I’d want to apply when I got back to work. Everything that can make me a better tester, and a better team member as well. Everything I can do to make my life in general better. And of course, ways I can improve my workshop and talk.

TestBash Community: The Complete Support

Being at TestBash as an attendee is amazing, of course. But being a speaker is a bit of a different level. It opens the door for people to come speak to you. It’s almost easier, having social anxiety as a speaker - I don’t have to worry about starting conversations! I just have to be open to folks walking up and starting conversations with me. Easy peasy!

This community, as I’ve said, is incredible. As an experienced speaker that often feels like a brand new speaker, I felt so supported. Not just by the Ministry of Testing “bosses”, but by the entire community. Everyone in this community wants everyone else to succeed. That feeling of utter support makes all the difference. So, I’m so excited to be also speaking at TestBash Brighton in 2019 - it’s such an honor and privilege to be able to share with this wonderful community!

Author Bio:

Hilary Weaver-Robb is a software quality architect at Detroit-based Quicken Loans. She is a mentor to her fellow testers, makes friends with developers, and helps teams level-up their quality processes, tools, and techniques. Hilary has always been passionate about improving the relationships between developers and testers, and evangelizes software testing as a rewarding, viable career. She runs the Motor City Software Testers user group, working to build a community of quality advocates. Hilary tweets (a lot) as @g33klady, and you can find tweet-by-tweet recaps of conferences she’s attended, as well as her thoughts and experiences in the testing world, at g33klady.com.