First impressions of #OZWST from an OZWST first-timer #SydTest

The purpose of this post is to give insight about what OZWST is. A secondary purpose is to entice those talented people in our field who are yet to speak up to do so.

What is OZWST?

OZWST is a peer conference on Software Testing. This year it was held in Brisbane.

What is a peer conference?

My understanding of a peer conference is that it is an interactive conference. There are many different peer conferences in software testing and each of them are run differently. OZWST was run with a content manager (James Bach), a facilitator (Richard Robinson) as well as an Organiser (David Greenlees). Each attendee was to prepare an experience report that was in line with the theme of the conference (for this conference, the theme was Product Risk). After the report was delivered, the reporter would field all questions and comments until there were no more. Each presentation and questions was expected to take around two hours (20 minute report, 1.5-2 hours questions and discussion).

The Organiser was responsible for organising the logistics of the event. They include, but are not limited to, organising the Content Owner, organising the Facilitator, organising the attendees, organising the venue and organising the catering.

The Content Manager was responsible for initially reviewing the experience reports to make sure they were on theme and on topic and asking post report questions to make sure all the value had been extracted from the reported experience as well as clarifying any inconsistencies or grey areas.

The Facilitator was responsible for collecting and organising question threads and making sure order was kept among some passionate and enthusiastic discussions.

What was my experience?

In a word: “inspiration.” This entire conference got me very fired up about testing. I can’t wait to try and implement at least a quarter of the things I have learned. I don’t know where to start (this will be the subject of the next post as I consolidate my thoughts and the new ideas).

I can guarantee you this, I was not able to catch all the gems that came up during the conference. Some of the value was not completely in my face. It was a process of my brain hooking onto something and then either noting it down for later use or following that mental thread to a conclusion or to a question I could ask the conference. In the process of following the mental thread, I may have missed some good stuff.

Also, because I was feeling so much anxiety about doing my first conference presentation, most of Sigge Birgisson’s report went over my head and I was not able to absorb it. However, we got to talk a bit about it one the flight to and from Brisbane which was great for me.

Anne-Marie Charrett’s experience report stood out in my mind as the most relevant to me. One of the points was that stood out to me actually came out of a discussion thread from her report. I have paraphrased it here:

“Sometimes you need to understand the risks in order to direct your testing. Sometimes you need to explore in order to understand the risks.”

That is, there needs to be a balance of risk inspired testing and also thinking outside the known heuristics and observing what happens. I think these are how baby heuristics are made (surfaced).

Was it a weekend of experience reports only?

On this weekend, all of Saturday was spent doing experience reports. The experience reports on Day 1 were: Sigge, Joey (me), Dean Mackenzie and Anne-Marie.

Sunday was a bit of a mixed bag. On Sunday we had a slight change of pace. We did a Product Risk analysis exercise facilitated by James where the group tried to create a list of risks from a very broad specification. We then compared the list of risks surfaced when we got a small amount of new information. The discussion was very enlightening as we looked at new techniques of using assumptions as a scaffolding to identify new risks and also geometric heuristics.

We then had an experience report from Mags Dineen followed by a series of lightning talks. Lightning talks are a five minute presentation on any topic. Each presentation is followed by a strict five minute question time.

We had lightning talks from myself, Angela Baird, Kim Engel, Dean and James. Rita Manning finished off with a lightning talk without a strict time limit that developed into an experience report.

Final Thoughts

I feel like the format. When mixed with good facilitation, it is conducive to bringing hidden value to the surface. I found that knowing that I would be relentlessly questioned on my content made me really think through the content of my report in a rigorous way I probably would not have done otherwise. I feel like I will be a much better communicator of Product Risk the next time I am required to do so because I participated in the conference.

It was a very satisfying weekend of testing brain exercise.

Once again, thanks to the OZWST attendees for lending me their brains. In no particular order: David Greenlees, James Bach, Rich Robinson, Sigge Birgisson, Mags Dineen, Anne Marie Charret, Angela Baird, Rita Manning, Kim Engel and Dean Mackenzie.

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