October 24, 2016

Why I Don't Like Testing Conferences

The painting: "The Witches’ Cove" by Jan Mandijn

The best book about software testing has following introduction: "This book is about software development as we've experienced it." ("Lessons Learned in Software Testing" by Cem Kaner, James Bach, Bret Pettichord). Because you can't talk about testing without the context of the general development itself.

I like conferences – they are usually very inspiring, motivating and sometimes challenging. Visiting testing conferences gives a lot of ideas how to do my job better, but almost always that means improving some processes at the project. And it's almost impossible to change some steady process if more than 10 (or even 5) people are involved in it. To change the process you need to convince all team members that it brings benefits to the project or product. And to convince team members you need to retell the story you heard on the conference (which usually is as long as the conference talk or even longer with all the preparations you need to do) and to be talented speaker (usually inspiring speakers at the conference are good at speach), which in major cases is not true. So, wouldn't it be better that all (or maybe the key ones) team members just visited the conference all together to hear the same talk from experienced speaker and be inspired all at a time?

Majority of the people in the audience is having some ideas during the talk, they are very inspired and willing to do some changes in their project, they came back to work and start to talk about these changes with developers or project managers and then... they get couple of arguments why it won't work in this specific project. And this person, who visited the conference, is not so skillfull as the speaker to pitch other team members. So everyone thinks he is a boring tester who constantly offers some silly ideas.

This is not just impractical, this is harmfull. It brings discord between programmers and testers (and analytics, but programmers vs tester is the most popular confrontation). Programmers doesn't understand why testers suggest to do their life harder, because they haven't heard the same speach. For example, the idea to involve testers into the development as early as possible may seem to be silly if you hear that from one junior tester who visited some conference ("he doesn't understand anything at the early stage and I don't have time to explain it" – may say some programmer). But the same idea from the experienced speaker on the stage is not so silly anymore (at least you need to have a proper argument to argue with it).

I'd like to have conferences about software development generally, where all roles can participate. Surely, there should be specific conferences for testers and programmers, where speakers may talk about how to automate tests, which tools can be used, how to do security or performance testing. However questions like why we need automation, why we need security, at what stage of the project we need to thing about security, how ofter we need to release updates in production should be convered in general conferences, because these are the problems where all team members are involved. The problem is that I don't know any widely spread good conference about software development generally - all good conferences are role specific.

After all, all team members have one common goal – to create a product (good teams have goal to create a qualitative product). Both testers and developers works for the same goal, but visiting different conferences they start to see the same goal from two different perspectives.


  1. I can understand your frustration and I've experienced the same things, coming back from conferences, brimming with new ideas and eager to share. I don't think we can change the organization the second we get back, but I don't think it's worthless to go to conferences as a junior "insert role here" or learn about processes or understand how you can advance your roles on a team or be more open to other ideas and other roles. That's personal development.

    Maybe you won't use it where you are at, but who knows, you might eventually be the Senior "whatever" and then the idea is suddenly valid and you've had time to study it, become more knowledgeable about it and maybe have other advocates on your team also get the idea, tech or practice you've known about for a while.

    Change is not the rapid paced thing we sometimes want. Especially if it's not our idea to start the change. We have to be willing and able to let the idea "infect" other people. Let people become exposed to it and get comfortable with it. I think any conference that lets you learn new things and then you are excited enough to talk about it when you get back to your org or team is a good thing. Will changes happen over night? Probably not. Will you knowing something about a new idea or process help you later in your career when someone asks if you have heard about it? I would like to say yes, definitely. Especially if your organization comes back around to this idea later and then realized they already have someone on staff that knows something and suddenly, you are the specialist. It happens all the time.

    Also, I've been to developer conferences and tester conferences. I think no matter what role you are in, you can learn from any of them. I think it even surprises developers to have testers in the room. It surprises developers to have a tester interested in the latest trends like ReactJS or whatever, because they are so used to the old mindset of testers not caring about the tech. I care. I might not get bits and pieces, but I know enough to know what something looks like and grasp concepts.

    It's good to be focused on your projects and your team and understand that your team might not be ready for an idea you are interested in. However, you should think of yourself too. Strive for balance between the place you work for and the career you want. They should intersect and it's really good when it does, but don't let your job or team stop you from learning or growing your skills. Don't let your team discourage you when they don't accept or want to implement an idea. It's their loss when that happens. And if they don't understand then, they will when you find a new place where your ideas are accepted.

    1. Thank You for the comment! I fully agree with You - conference is very good place to learn and to grow (also to socialize and make relations in the field), but I would like to make changes in the project more easily. So called "real changes" is only one of the properties of the conference, and not the best one.

      Especially it is relevant if your visit to the conference is paid by the work. That's one of the reasons why many workplaces doesn't want to send their employees to the conferences (or send only "the best" ones) - because it's almost impossible to get some benefits from such visits for the employer, all the benefits are going to the employee.