CAST 2013 – Arguing, Learning and Software Testing

I’ve been to STAR conferences and other testing conferences but I’ve never experienced a conference quite like AST CAST2013. The funny part of the whole experience is that it didn’t feel like a conference at all -- it was more like a gathering of friends. The attendees were testers and thought-leaders whose works I follow, and have interacted with through Twitter and other social media networks.   Through this conference, I finally had the chance to meet them.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous at first to meet the AST crew, since I felt my reputation was at stake. Would I say something wrong? Would they not accept me into their testing community? Did I have something to prove? This was not entirely the case, but I never let my guard down.

From the minute I sat down in Rob Sabourin’s tutorial about High-Powered Visual Test Design on the first day, I knew this was a place I could be comfortable and learn from the best.  We participated in a project where we placed black tape on sheets of paper and tested a Lego robot's ability to follow lines with different angles, gaps, surfaces and boundaries -- all the while advocating our test cases.

[caption id="attachment_14128" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Testing whether the Lego robot follows lines with different angles, gaps, surfaces and boundaries. Testing if the Lego robot follows lines with different angles, gaps, surfaces and boundaries.[/caption]

Instead of being nervous, I was having fun and interacting with people who I could see eye-to-eye with. Sure, there were arguments, or concepts I didn’t completely agree with, but that’s what makes us all unique – we all have our own perspective.

On the first night I was already making friends and hitting the Madison, WI bars with them. We laughed, we cried, even played some Agile games, got fired multiple times by our needy VP and finished a project 3 iterations too late. (Hey, at least we were creative and finished.)

My favorite session was called What is Good Evidence by Griffin Jones. Never having worked in a regulated industry as a software tester, I always struggled with the concept of regulations and standards set by federal agencies. Mr. Jones did a great job of stating the challenges and how testing teams in a regulated industry can protect themselves from being barred or even sued for inadequate testing procedures. His presentation included explaining the differences between records and testimonies, what defines a clear testing objective, and even how to effectively communicate auditors.

As for keynotes, how can you beat a presentation by Jon Bach, strictly about arguing? I hated arguing but somehow he convinced me that it’s a powerful skill. We need testers arguing their points; who else will fight for us and the importance of the testing process? We do have a responsibility as testers to advocate our tests and argue our viewpoints, with the proper research beforehand. While not every development team has a testing team, the word needs to get out that testers are necessary.

Then we had the Lightning Talks. Anyone at the event was able to sign up and present a topic of their choosing. From how to deal with project managers, to the telling of new concepts like focusing and defocusing your testing to refresh your exploratory testing, the lightning talks never seemed to disappoint.

Overall, CAST2013 was an event that every serious software tester should attend every year. With so many creative minds, thought-leaders in the testing realm and genius at every corner, every attendee will walk away with new perspectives to enhance their software testing. But the best part is the warm and welcoming AST community. I know I’ll be attending every year possible.

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