Tuesday 25 October 2016

TestBash Manchester 2016


Last week was awesome! Why? Because it was time for TestBash again, but this time in my hometown of Manchester! I was really looking forward to seeing familiar faces again, meeting new ones and learning a ton about testing again, especially in very familiar surroundings (my current workplace is barely 10 minutes walk away from the main conference!).

Pre-TestBash meetup

If you’ve never been to a TestBash before, one of the best parts of it is the socialising before and after. Usually there is a meetup hosted on meetup.com by Software Testing Club on the night before the main conference day. This is your opportunity to meet fellow attendees, speakers and even say hi to the organisers Rosie and Richard. I fully recommend that you attend this and meet people you’ve never spoken to before, we’re a friendly bunch and have plenty of stories to share!
At Manchester, one of the major sponsors, RentalCars, hosted the meetup in their very impressive offices in the centre of Manchester. I’m definitely a little bit jealous of their very unique beach-themed cafeteria!

Main Conference day

The next day was the main conference day at the Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays, I was unfortunately a little late and just missed out on getting involved with one of the Lean Coffee sessions but in the end it was ok because I could meet the rest of my team from work (who had fortunately been given budget to come along too!).
The talks for this TestBash definitely had a common theme which I would summarise as “psychology and learning”. The first five talks definitely followed a theme of psychology, starting with James Bach’s talk on critical and social distance.

The talks
I was really looking forward to James’ talk partly because his previous talks inspired me to start this blog and get more involved with the community to begin with, but also because the topic is close to my heart as my career has been driven by it. When I started as a games tester, I was effectively working as an offshore QA with pretty poor and slow communication channels with developers. Since then I’ve been driven to reduce social distance and prove that I can maintain critical distance even if I become very intimate with the software I test. James’ talk pretty much covered this and provided some useful language and framing to explain it. As always I learn so much from observing James’ style of talking too!

Following on from James were two talks from opposite ends of conversations - Iain Bright on the psychology of asking questions and Stephen Mounsey on listening. I took plenty of notes for these talks because I know I’d like to improve in both of these areas. I was actually on a little bit of a personal mission try and hold back my excitement and listen carefully to other testers during the event because I’ve felt I’ve talked too much before. Trying to carefully think about the questions you want to ask, and why you’re asking them was the main takeaway I took from Iain’s talk and Stephen’s made me aware of how often I’m thinking about people’s words (and my own response) rather than actually listening to what they have to say before they’re finished. Personally there was plenty of food for thought here that I’d like to try and slow down and keep in mind in future.

Speaking of slowing down and keeping in mind, I loved Kim Knup’s talk on positivity! I think every tester out there has felt they are negative to some degree, simply due to the nature of reporting problems. I definitely catch myself complaining a lot when things aren’t going great so I’m going to try and take onboard her ideas such as making notes of 3 positive things each day, to try and train my brain to look out for them. I’ve already started trying to high-5 people in the office to put a smile on my face haha.

Just before lunch, Duncan Nisbet gave a talk on “shifting left” called “Testers be more Salmon!”. I was looking forward to this as I know Duncan from NWEWT and from the Liverpool Tester Gathering. The topic itself is something that I’ve also been trying to encourage at work and my colleague Greg Farrow has written about it before on this blog. Essentially the idea is to test earlier, asking questions about requirements, testability and gathering information to both save time and catch bugs when it’s cheapest to do so. Duncan made the great point too that shared documentation doesn’t mean shared understanding, simply because something is documented, it doesn’t mean everyone understands it the same way.

I feel the afternoon talks had a theme running through about learning, starting with Helena Jeret-Mäe and Joep Schuurkes’ talk on “the 4 hour tester experiment”. This was a little bit of an explanation of an experiment they’d like to try based on Tim Ferriss’ 4 hour chef book. The idea is to try and see if you can train a tester in 4 hours, focusing on just the basics. I’d definitely encourage you to have a go at this challenge on their website fourhourtester.net. They talked a little about their opinion that testing isn’t something you can just teach, that it is much better to learn through practice and I fully agree with this, especially the analogy about learning to drive a car!

Following Helena and Joep was Mark Winteringham’s talk on the deadly sins of acceptance criteria. To be honest, I was looking forward to Mark speaking because he gave a great talk at the Liverpool Tester Gathering on testing APIs but I think I’m a little bored of hearing about the pitfalls of BDD now (Behaviour Driven Development). That’s not to take anything away from Mark’s talk, he shared some pretty familiar examples on what not to do and had a great way with humour in his talks. But the negativity around BDD or acceptance scenarios feels like the negativity I’ve encountered around Microservices and I’d like to hear some well-thought out, positive experience reports. It feels like all of the balanced or thoughtful talks tend to be quite negative really and I don’t really see a great deal of value in using BDD over more straight-forward approaches such as TDD (Test Driven Development) and just trying to encourage collaboration without the reliance on process to force it. I want to really emphasise that Mark gave a great talk though and I’m sure others who actively use BDD took a lot away from it! I don’t mean to imply here that Mark’s talk wasn’t well-thought out or negative about BDD, just my own feelings on the subject make me want hear more on the benefits.

Next was Huib Schoots with his talk on the “path to awesomeness” which was effectively a series of lists of great attributes for testers, areas to focus on to improve and generally just what he feels makes a great tester. Echoing the sentiments of Helena and Joep’s talk, he really emphasised the need to practice, practice, practice! One particular line he gave that I really liked was “testing is a psychological and social problem as well as a technical one”.

Gwen Diagram followed Huib with her talk on “Is live causing your test problems?”. If Duncan’s talk was about “shifting left”, then Gwen’s talk was about “shifting right” - she gave lots of great advice and ideas on how to “test in live” such as caring about and learning from your production logs and monitoring or using feature flags. Her talk was very on point for me after I recently attended a meetup on Microservices and I’ve very much got DevOps on my mind at the moment, so I was very appreciative when she came along to chat about it at the Open Space the next day too!

Finishing the day was Beren Van Daele with his experience report on trying to make testing visible on a project that he was a test consultant on. Any talk that includes a slide which reads “My Mistakes” is always going to be very valuable, it’s important to share our mistakes and how we learnt from them and Beren shared a lot! I loved his idea of taking the step of actually creating a physical wall of bugs (out of insect pictures) to get people to recognise the bugs that needed fixing.

Overall the talks were excellent, I made lots of notes and ended the day with the now familiar headache from trying to stuff so much into my brain. My colleagues seemed to enjoy and learn a lot too so all in all I was very happy.

99 second talks
So at the end of the conference, they usually have a section for 99 second talks open for anyone attending to stand up on stage and talk about anything they like. I intentionally decided not to do one this time because I wanted to focus on the main talks and not worry about what I was going to say later as I did in Brighton. I also wanted to save the topic I had in my head for the following day at the Open Space.
Those that did do one though, were great, especially a developer looking for a tester hug and Gem Hill’s on meditation and mindfulness. Not many people broke the 99 second limit though!

Post-conference meetup
So as with the pre-conference meetup, there’s usually a meetup after the conference at a nearby bar or pub. For Manchester this was Craftbrew which was barely 30 seconds walk away from the Lowry. Again, I fully recommend attending these as it gives you more time to chat to other attendees, especially as many only attend the conference day. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the day and were all bubbling with ideas from the talks.

Open Space

So for the first time TestBash held an “Open Space” day on the Saturday after the conference. This was held at LateRooms’ offices in the centre of Manchester (also very impressive offices that I’m jealous of, especially the number of great meeting rooms!). I had never been to one of these before and I was keen to try it out. If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a conference where there is no formal plan, all of the attendees come up with talks, workshops or discussions they’d like to offer and everyone arranges a multi-track schedule that makes sense. I had no idea what to expect before I went but I knew I would get something useful out of it, and it definitely did!


To give you an idea, some of the things that were on the schedule were a workshop on security testing using Dan Billing’s insecure app called Ticket Magpie, a workshop on OWASP’s ZAP tool and in-depth discussions on BDD, automation and how to help new testers.

As I said before, I had a topic in mind that I wanted to discuss more with people so I ran a discussion on “Testing in DevOps”. I explained my feelings on the topic and openly asked what people felt about it and where they felt testing was going. I got a lot of great notes, ideas and thoughts out of this discussion and I’ll definitely be writing up a post about it in future! I’m very keen to talk about it at a DevOps meetup in future too.

I really enjoyed the Open Space, it gave me further chances to meet and chat to people I hadn’t met before and I really enjoy having focused, in-depth discussions on topics in a very similar way to a peer conference. I treated as an opportunity to learn from very experienced peers and have some of my own ideas or opinions challenged and improved. Hopefully I provided the same for others! I think I actually enjoyed this more than the main conference day in many respects, I guess because it gave more time to discuss ideas and challenge them, as opposed to simply listening the whole time.

I’m absolutely looking at attending the next one at Brighton!


Once again, TestBash has been one of the best experiences of my life, I really mean that. I absolutely adore the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, I used to consider myself quite shy and I’ve found it so easy to meet and chat to so many people. In just a short space of time I make so many new friends and pick up so many new ideas to think about. I’ve never looked forward to educational or social events like this, even though I’ve spent most of my life in education! But if you’re only ever going to try one testing conference experience, then absolutely to go to TestBash and try it out. I hope to see you at one.
Many thanks again to Rosie Sherry, Richard Bradshaw and everyone who helped organise, sponsor or make TestBash Manchester happen.

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