Missed Opportunity

I want to say I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry that I didn’t research better. I’m sorry I didn’t trust a group of people I knew would pull it off. I’m sorry that I didn’t try to drag any of you within driving distance with me.

A few weeks ago, I went to a testing conference in Columbus, OH. The conference is QA or the Highway. There were over 280 attendees (only 20 no-shows due to the weather). This is only the second iteration of this conference (the first was back in 2010), and the first time it was in a full day format. There were four tracks, two keynotes, ample time between sessions for an unofficial “hallway track” and no forced vendor sessions.

Joe Ours was the conference organizer, speaker, and opening keynote speaker (when Keith Klain had to back out last-minute… yeah he originally had Keith as his opener). There were a number of great speakers as well. Though I didn’t get to see it, I heard Raj Subramarian’s (a Cleveland local) talk on Mobile Web Testing went over really well. David Hoppe did a talk on Disintegration Testing that I missed since it was at the same time as my talk on how I (try to) motivate testers (that I did in a kilt). JeanAnn Harrison did a talk on Mobile Software Test Automation with so much information in it she had to skip over slides to fit as much into her one hour block. I also really enjoyed Hilary Weaver’s  talk on getting along with your developers “I don’t like you. He doesn’t like you either!”. It was funny, informative, and she managed to keep it within her own PG-13 rating. Matt Heusser did the closing keynote titled “Cool new ideas… and some old ones, too”. Most of the presentations are available here. Since I used Prezi and it doesn’t play nice with SlideShare, my presentation is available here.

The single coolest thing about this conference was it’s location. I don’t mean the building, I mean the fact that it took place in Ohio. This conference was a little over two hours south of Hyland. Every attendee got a real conference name badge and a conference branded backpack. I’m not all about the gifts, but it shows a level of maturity that I would not have expected for such a new conference. Put on in Columbus. By a guy who basically decided he wanted a good, local conference in the Midwest.

Next year, I will be promoting this conference heavily; including asking for Hyland presenters to represent (come on, it’s not that scary). We were out done by companies like Progressive and Nationwide who sent groups. More people attended from the Kitchener-Waterloo Software Quality Association (Waterloo, Ontario) than we had from Hyland. I won’t let that happen again.

Twitter for Testers

It’s only in the past year that I discovered the benefits of Twitter beyond knowing what random celebrities are doing when they’re drunk. Technically, I set up my Twitter account years ago, only to use it to follow some radio show for a now unknown purpose. My account sat dormant until last summer. That’s when I went to CAST 2012. Over the past year, I’ve learned a fair amount about using Twitter to further my connections in the community and aid in my professional development.

Let’s start at the beginning…

 

Should you be on Twitter?

I feel silly writing this since if you are reading my blog, and you are, I would imagine the vast majority of you found it via Twitter. But, just in case you didn’t, here you go.

The short answer? Yes.

For the long answer, see the remainder of this post.

 

I see Twitter as the primary means of communication between a large number of professional testers, test managers, leaders and those looking to join our ranks. Though many discussions and debates happen elsewhere, Twitter is the easiest place to find information /about/ them.

The Pros

Networking – If you aren’t trying to build a professional network, You can probably close the tab on this post and move on. I spent many years not caring about having a network. The only purpose I saw was for trying to find a job. After attending CAST, I saw the real value in building a professional network. You gain easy access to so many people and resources and ideas that you can’t get to as easily anywhere else.

Camaraderie – Similar to what /normal/ people do with Twitter, you can build friendships with others. If you do this with the people in your network, it helps to build even stronger relationships. Personally, the vast majority of the people I follow are either testers, test leaders, or thinkers of some flavor that I feel are beneficial for me to follow. Finding interesting people and following them is one thing, but communicating with them makes things like meetups and conferences all the better since you can know people before walk through the door.

Access – The vast majority of people in the testing community that I have found on Twitter are accessible. I don’t mean the post-a-blog-entry-once-a-month-then-enter-radio-silence type, I mean the you-can-send-them-a-question-and-they-answer-it type. You can have conversations (or whatever you call the back-and-forth of Twitter) with “big name” testers. The kind of testers whose names appear on books. The kind of testers that run full day tutorials, or multi-day training programs. Where else can you get that? Oh sure, you can go to each of their blogs, and post comments on relevant entries and wait for them to get to reviewing and responding. OR, you could send them something on Twitter and watch the magic happen.

Discourse and Debate – So many (in my mind) great discussions and debates either take place on Twitter, start on Twitter and move elsewhere, or get mentioned on Twitter that it seems foolish to me that more people aren’t playing along.

Learning – Oh the learning. If you are not on Twitter, how do you learn about any of the following?

  • New or existing meetups in your area
  • New or existing testing organizations
  • Events being put on for testers in your area
  • Conferences (big and small)
  • LeanCoffee/Beer/Wings
  • Public training opportunities
  • Blog posts
  • E-books (or the paper kind)
  • Petitions that further the ideal that testers should have brains?

It is possible to learn about many of these things without using Twitter, but I think it is much more difficult. 

The Cons

Time – Yeah so… sometimes you have to get work done. If you are the type who dives headlong into rabbit holes when you see something shiny and new, be careful with the Twitter. My recommendation would be to set your refresh rate to something high (like an hour or two), or if you have the willpower (anyone who follows me can tell I don’t), only look at it during a time you allot each day.

Bitching/Complaining/Shouting – Sometimes, people get poked a little too hard, or had an especially bad day, or in general are not good at debate so they resort to bitching, complaining, shouting, personal attacks, etc. I just ignore those when they pop up. If they bother you, or if you see one person doing it a lot, it’s super easy to unfollow them.

The Format – 140 characters is not a lot. When people try to convey a lot of information, or when a conversation grows beyond four or five people, Twitter falls part. Don’t use it for dissertations. That’s not the point. If you want to write a lot, start a blog. It would have taken three tweets just to get this paragraph out.

Conclusions

Do your own math, but I would highly recommend anyone interested in developing their professional network, advancing their skills, meeting new people and engaging in thought-provoking debates (especially with regards to testing and test leadership) get on Twitter. Decide for yourself, but I say you should do it. Come on. Join already. No one will make fun of you for waiting until 2013 to join Twitter. Seriously.

 

Next up, I will post my own X Testers to Follow on Twitter list, where X is a yet undefined quantity. I have a feeling I will go beyond Matt’s two-year old 29 count, but I have to start assembling it to see how far I end up going. Oh, and I am mentioning it here so people will pester me to finally do it.

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 3 – I Schedule Something!

Hi out there. How have you all been? I’ve been busy (which is true, and even if it wasn’t is better than me saying I was sitting on my ass all this time doing nothing). I thought I would give a quick update to the series.

Since my last post (wow, that was awhile ago… sorry for anybody that’s been waiting around for this), I have managed to accomplish a few things related to my meetup. Let’s see, at the end of March I went up to the MMTMD (Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down) near Lansing Michigan. I aspire to have a group as cool as this some day. For being the FIRST event ever for this new organization, Hilary had close to 40 people show. It was a 3+ hour-long event with multiple lightning talks, a main speaker (hi Matt), lunch and a testing game/exercise. I honestly thought this group had existed for some time, based on how smoothly things appeared to go.

I ended up giving a 6 minute ‘lightening talk’ on why I wanted to start my own meetup in Cleveland. Since I still had a bit of laryngitis, I did my talk via technology. I had typed up my talk in EverNote, sent it to Pocket, and then used the default text to speech British voice to read it via my phone + speakers. It was interesting. I made a few people chuckle, in what seemed like appropriate places. Phil seemed to think it was hilarious, but I couldn’t tell if it was my talk, or the over-the-top computer British accent.

I’m not going to do a huge write-up of the event as others already have (and did so far better than me) here (hey look, it’s my yellow shirt!) and here. If you are anywhere close to Lansing, MI, I highly recommend you attend the next event. Don’t see a next event on the calendar yet? Let Hilary know.

Previously, I had been trying to follow some advice given to me by Jeff “Cheezy” Morgan. He suggested I try to build an online community, to get people talking and connecting and THEN try to take it to a meetup format. Well, I’m either too impatient (maybe) or not that good at building a burgeoning online forum for testing discussions in the NE Ohio region (uh… yeah) so shortly before MMTMD, I decided to just start. I booked my first meeting for NOTiCE on April 17th. There will be coffee (sponsored with no strings!), and some talking… about… testing … Crap, I need a topic for this thing.

As I write this I have 15 members in the group (I stopped counting myself once I got over ten), and six attendees lined up for the first meeting (counting me), even without a topic set! I am really excited for this group to get going. At this point, all I need to do is pick a topic to discuss, and continue tweeting about this thing.

I am also hoping in the very near future that I will be announcing something awesome for me second meetup (I know, I know, I haven’t even managed to get one done and I am already on to the second). All I can say now is, if it works out, it will be super awesome. Really. It’s that exciting.

So, my next post will be a recap of my first event, and anything I can think of.

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 2 – I Finally Get Moving

Part two in my series on creating a meetup is going to cover everything in the past week (since the first post).

I actually wrote the first post immediately after attending Matt Hutchinson’s group in Columbus.  Matt gave me so many things to think about, and lessons he learned from starting his own group, that I found it fitting that I attend his group first.

Matt’s group focuses exclusively on testing, but any one interested in the topic is welcome to attend.  Matt comes up with topics for each session and posts them on the group’s site ahead of time.  From what I can tell from attending one session, Matt’s focus is on the discussion.  He has a minimal number of slides, used to show a brief agenda and to cover introductions, and uses the projector the rest of the time to display sites and information relevant to the topic at hand. Matt’s role is to facilitate the discussion, not run it.  He jumps into the conversation when he has something to add, or when it starts to fizzle out.  The meeting I attended dealt with mobile testing, a topic Matt freely admitted he knew little about.  Despite having little prior knowledge, Matt researched the topic and came prepared with a variety of sites covering information on tools and information that he peppered throughout the discussion.  He has a core group of regular attendees, and a rotating group outside of that.  There were 17 of us (if I remember correctly), and for it being the first meeting in a new location that did not seem like a bad turnout to me.

If you are in or around the Columbus OH area and you are looking for a tester meetup, I highly recommend you hit up the Software QA & Testing Meetup.

Two days later, I met with Jeff ‘Cheezy’ Morgan on the Leandog boat.  I had though about talking to someone at Leandog about the meetup for some time.  When I started fishing for info on Twitter and mentioned I was in the Cleveland area, I received a (small) barrage of messages from Michael Bolton telling me I needed to talk to Leandog. (I listened eventually, see?)  Jeff told me about the various groups that they already run or host, and I explained what I was looking for in a group.  He gave me some great advice on recruiters, sponsorship and location.  Jeff is also the person who got me to just go ahead and post my meetup site now (more on that in a second).  I felt very lucky to get the chance to meet with Jeff (it feels weird to me to call a man cheezy unless he asks me to).  Once I get to the point of setting up my first meeting, I may have to hit him up again about possibly hosting it.  The boat is in a pretty central spot for pretty much anyone around Cleveland.

So I made a page.  I renamed the thing two or three times wavered on some stupid ones, and got a gem of a name (with a handy acronym) from Michael Bolton: Northern Ohio Testers in Collaborative Engagement, or NOTiCE for short.  Cool huh?  Well, I like it, so …

Luckily I got a notice that meetup.com was going to send info about my group out to 73 members of the “community” on Sunday, the day after I finalized the name, and ordered some sweet networking cards (e.g., business cards for use at networking events to promote NOTiCE, this blog, and… oh, they have my Twitter handle too.

So here I am.  The company hosting the site for my group supposedly sent info to some number of people, I posted my first official tweet about it (and already got some MI and NY love!), and I am plotting and scheming about how to get the word out, and make people interested in joining the group.

Based on my readership thus far, most of you reading this right now are in some far off land (like Sweden, New Zealand, Romania, or Canada), or nowhere near Ohio.  BUT, if you happen to be one of the few who are near Cleveland, and you have an interest in meeting other testers here and discussing testing with them, please take a look at my meetup page. Let me know what topic ideas you have, let me know if you have interest in helping me run this crazy thing, or just let me know you would want to show up to >0 meetings.

From here I will be attempting to gather support (or least get people to know the thing exists), probably tweeting the heck out of the page and my new #NOTiCE hashtag (I know, I know it’s not really new since hashtags are case-insensitive when searched, but it looks cool), and I still have the MMTMD session on 03/23/13 where I’m talking about starting a meetup and/or running Zendo with Phil, Matt, Pete, Hilary and others.

I plan one or two more posts in this series, at a minimum.  One to cover the today -> hosting a meeting part, and one to sum up all of my recommendations for anyone else wanting to start their own group.

I want to thank everyone who has offered me guidance, advice, information and ideas thus far.  I know I haven’t named you all, and short of mining Twitter for the past few months, I won’t be able to, but please know that I appreciated whatever it was you gave me.

Hey!  I am now the proud organizer of a group with 2, count ’em 2 members! Yeah, one is still me, and I work with the guy who just joined, but nonetheless, I am not the only one here!

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 1 – The Story So Far

Somewhere around October of 2012, I got an idea in my head. More correctly, Matt Hutchinson and Michael Bolton got an idea stuck in my head. I had been searching for a tester meetup in the Cleveland area, and was having a tough time finding one. I had read tweets from testers all over the world, talking about their local tester meetups, or gatherings or whatever each group called them and wanted one near me. These were groups of testers, getting together to talk about testing. This sounded awesome to me, and I was sad I hadn’t heard about the local group. Sure, we have NOSQAA, which I attend, but I wanted something different in addition to what NOSQAA provides.

So I searched.

And searched.

Eventually, I accepted that there was nothing in Cleveland, so I spread my net further. I eventually found Matt Hutchinson’s Software QA and Testing Meetup in Columbus (if you’re in central Ohio, I highly recommend you go… more on that later). Matt first floated the idea of me starting my own group. The Twitter thread that followed planted a seed (see what I did there?) that has been growing ever since. I peppered Matt with questions on and off for a while, eventually asking him for more detailed input in mid-December. This is what I received from Matt on New Year’s Eve:

Things to think about:

What is the purpose of the group?

  • Looking to build a community of testers together?
  • Do you want to mentor others?
  • Is the group for any tester of any level? Other job functions welcome?
  • Focus on networking?
  • Focus on structured presentations?
  • Workshop formats?
  • Focus on specific technologies?

What topics are you interested in having?

Where do you want to hold meetings?

  • Physical meetings?
  • Virtually?

How often do you want to meet?

How would you like the meeting format to go? Same format for every meeting?

Food or no food?

Dues for the group?

Register as a non-profit?

How do you intend to get the word out and market the group?

Based on style of meeting, how many attendees can you support?

Are you interested in larger meetings or smaller meeting where everyone has a voice?

How will you handle logistics and manage your attendees? RSVP? Email lists?

My experiences:

  • I had a really hard time getting the word out for my group several years ago. I decided to restart the group back in 2012. Social media has made a big impact in this area.
  • I decided to gauge interest first my sending out emails/messages/Tweets first. I held online meetings/open forums where folks could stop in and tell me what they might be interested in learning about. That served as a way for me to get topic out initially. This also gave me time to find a location while still getting people engaged early.
  • Here is how I get the word out for my meetings: Twitter, LinkedIn Posts, LinkedIn Groups, forum postings mainly. Also, once people started attending, I asked them to spread the word. This year I will start an email campaign via LinkedIn targeting QA Managers to let them know that my group is meeting. My most successful way of getting the word out has been through the use of meetup.com. I also use that service as the vehicle for handling my reservations and members. It’s cheap and I use it as tax write-off.
  • I try to get the word out at the beginning of the month on what the topic will be for the end of the month
  • I decided early that I wasn’t worried about the numbers and that took off pressure. If I could get a small group of core attendees coming, I was happy. As long as everyone involved is getting something out of it, I am happy.
  • Meetings started out really small at first, maybe 2-3 people. Average attendance now is about 10-15. I expect this to continue to trend upward as I continue to network. I have not put a ton of time in advertising the group.

I wanted to use 2012 as a test to see what works and doesn’t work. Higher attendance may actually have a detriment to what my goal is.

My goal for the group is to get people together and create an environment where everyone could have a voice. There are a couple of other groups that meet (and they are good), but I wanted a different format than what I was seeing. Most meetups I go to went something like this: network, presentation, 5 minutes of Q&A if lucky, and then people leave. I didn’t feel like people were always engaged and there was limitations to information sharing.

My format is a bit different. I send out in advance a list of questions/topic for a given month. I do an intro for the night, start off with a “meet and greet” for everyone in the room (name, experience, role, etc.), then we dive into the topic for the night. The entire night is an open forum – I try to act as a facilitator only and try to keep the flow of conversation going. I am trying to get everyone to speak and have a voice, ask questions, share experiences, etc. This format is also good as I don’t have extensive powerpoints, I can invite “exerts” in and they have little up front prep work, and as long as I have a good topic, the night will go well. I leave the networking to before the meeting time and about 20 minutes after the meeting. I am usually setting up/tearing down.

I want my group to be available for anyone interested in testing – testers, test managers, test directors, those wanting to get into testing, other business functions that had an interest. I try to stress that point.

I tried to pattern meetings off of the “local computer clubs” that I attended with my brother in the mid 80’s and 90’s.

  • Dreaded name tags really do work
  • Bringing someone to help with setup and also welcome people really does help. The sooner you can get people comfortable, the better.
  • Finding a location was easy for me. I am working through Tech Columbus and the Platform Lab. They gave me space. All I did was meet with the director, told him what I was interesting in doing, and he set me up. The only thing I have to do is give a 2 minute spiel on what the Platform Lab is. I found it interesting that once I started to get the word out, that larger consulting companies in the area were lining up offer to sponsor the meeting and provide a meeting location if I needed one. Perhaps you can engage in talking with consulting companies for free space or to rotate locations on a quarterly basis if you can’t do it at your place of employment. When I started this, I was 100% working at home independently or working at my client sites so this was critical for me.
  • I chose to start the group meeting monthly. I am leaning towards not having meetings in November of December due to lack of reliable attendance. I was surprised that the summer meetings did not have a drop off. I also find it that people want to meet more than once a month like the other meetings got together. More often people meeting, better relationships can be formed.
  • I found a consistent date helps. I am going with the last Tuesday of each month. This is good if you can use one single location.
  • Coming up with topics has been a challenge for me and will directly impact attendance. Hitting topics with popular buzzwords helps the most in this area. I would be curious to know what sort of topics you are interested in for your meeting.
  • No dues, no affiliations for me. I can keep things simple and unbiased.

Start small, start simple. Let the group help dictate and react as needed.

 

It took me some time to go through all of this in my mind, but it helped to fortify my resolve. I started asking people at work if they might attend something like this if it existed. Several said yes. I began asking on Twitter about other meetups and how they ran. I heard from Pete Walen, Matt Heusser and Phil Kirkham about GR Testers, and from Matt, Phil and Hilary about the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down. I heard from Tony Bruce about a group in London, and about the Leeds Tester Gathering. I received links to articles, and blog posts, and emails with information from other organizers, or about other organizers and how they did what they did.

Information and ideas kept pouring in. In January, I had the pleasure of working and meeting with Matt Heusser and Pete Walen for a quick, 3 day consulting/training stint (I was a participant, not a consultant). During that time, and the weeks after, we bounced ideas back and forth on Twitter, and others jumped in on the to the conversation.

I was now determined to start a group. I wanted a group that would represent the testers in the northern Ohio area. I wanted a group that would meet regularly, without dues, or networking hours or snacks (unless I could find a way to swing them… snacks are always a +) and talk about testing.

So I started doing something about it.

  • I registered to attend the February 27th session of the Software QA and Testing Meetup.
  • After some mild prodding from Michael Bolton, I reached out to several people at LeanDog and scheduled a meeting with them to get their insight into running meetups seeing as they run a number of the development focused meetups in the Cleveland area.
  • I registered for the March 23rd session of the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down.
  • I reached out to my marketing wonder of an Aunt for naming ideas.
  • I looked into meeting websites and personal business cards that I could use to share information about the yet-to-exist group. I thought about locations and possible sponsorship.

And so my journey begins.

I guess it’s a little late to back out now, eh?