A First-Timers Guide to CAST (from a soon to be second-timer)

Today @bennet_nj asked if I had any advice for a first time CAST attendee. After trying to condense this all down into Tweetable size pieces, I decided it better covered here. Please feel free to add your own items, or question mine, in the comments.

Here’s what I came up with based on my attendance of CAST, for the first time, last year.

  • Review the schedule information for sessions ahead of time (that means before you get there).
    • This will give you an idea of what topics are covered and which speakers are attending.
    • Come up with a rough list of what session you want to attend.
    • BUT, be prepared to switch at the last-minute. You are bound to bump into someone you know, or end up in a conversation that sways you towards a talk you originally weren’t interested in.
    • If possible, bring friends (I am) so you can cover more sessions that one human could.
  • There is a lot going on; if you don’t like a session early on, move to another one, or to a lightning talk, or to a side conversation, or to a game, or … It happens, and the speakers are OK with it.
  • Try to get to, or better yet present at, the lightning talks.
  • Go to the keynotes.
    • The topics are good, but the facilitated discussion at the end is awesome.
  • “Big name” testers are people too. They will likely talk to you, play tester games with you, share their scotch or get frustrated that you are not drinking their beer. (all true for me last year)
  • Go to all of the events you can.
  • Sign up for a tutorial.
  • Attend sessions/lightning talks all day.
  • Eat with the attendees, conversations are bound to flourish. This includes dinners off site. Find some testers, introduce yourself, and go out with them.
  • All of the “networking” events are good places to meet people you only know online. They also let you spend time with people whose names you see on books.
  • Find out where informal things are going on and go to them.
  • There are pre and post CAST events, look into them and go if they sound interesting.
  • Despite what the schedule says, there will always be games at night. Somewhere. Find them.
    • You can get Set yourself and start now, this is the go to game for many.
    • Zendo also pops up, but requires some investment. Better to wait and try it out at CAST with those who already have it.
    • Don’t try and prep for anything else, that ruins the experience.
  • Confer between sessions!
    • There’s a reason the breaks are so big.
  • If the ongoing discussion in an already ended session interests you, follow it to it’s offline location and continue.
  • You will get cards (K-Cards) to allow for facilitated participation at the end of each talk and keynote, USE THEM.
  • If something bothers you, bring it up to the AST people running the show.
    • They too are just people and will talk to you, and rectify things that are wrong.

What else can you think of? What did I miss? I look forward to your additions below.

 

Three Phases of Testing Experience

This is a quick replay of a response I gave to a new employee about what it meant to be a tester. Posting here as it’s far easier than tweeting.

Phase 1: DO testing – Someone tells you what to do, you do that thing, observe the results and report them back. You are effectively a machine and could be replaced with a script.

Phase 2: THINK about how you do testing – Someone may tell you what to do, but you think about the request, the system you are to test, the possible inferred requirements, etc. THEN you test. Congratulations, you are a thinking, human tester. Despite claims of the potential ROI, it would be difficult, if not impossible to automate you out of a job.

Phase 3: Think about how you think about testing – You study and bring understanding of multiple disciplines to testing software. This could include things like programming theory, tools, interpersonal communication and group dynamics, economics, social sciences, psychology, sociology, UX design, an understanding of oracles derived from prior experiences (you know how other things work, so you can relate what you are testing to them and compare), vertical specific knowledge (this is how things are expected to work in the back office of a bank, etc).

Two Step Addendum

Does ‘Give a shit, Prove it‘ mean you personally have to take ownership of, and single handedly complete the thing for which you are giving a shit?

Great question, thanks for asking. My short answer is no. My long answer follows.

You can absolutely care enough about something that you DO something to make it happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to work in solitude.

It also doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stay with it until it’s done.

Here’s an example.

I was on a committee focused on managing a specific process. Over time, we found ourselves spending an ever-increasing amount of time discussing the limitations of the current system in which the process lived. Eventually I got fed up enough with the ‘going nowhereness’ of these discussions that I took ownership of the project to migrate to a new system (build a new system to be more correct). Did I have the skills to build this system on my own? Absolutely not. So we found a team of people to work on the project under my direction.

I ran this project team for months, relatively successfully in my eyes. After some time, it may have been close to a year I don’t remember exactly, I realized that the manager of the employees working on my project would be a better fit to run the project. He had better connections to the other teams involved in the eventual implementation, he had visibility to the non-project work assigned to the employees working on my project, and he had knowledge of the infrastructure involved in running the soon-to-be system.

So I handed it off.

Did I fail? Did I do something wrong? Should I have never touched the project if I wasn’t the right person to see it to the end? I say no, no and no, respectively. At the point in time where I realized I was not the best person to see the project to completion, I did feel a bit defeated. But with hindsight, I can see that I helped get the ball rolling. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t know that the project would have even started by the time I handed it off if I hadn’t gotten frustrated and started it. Because of that realization, I feel I did something good for the company.

Two Easy Steps to Success!

I’m tired of whiners.

I hear people complaining about the way “things” are. They come and vent about how they don’t like something, and then… silence. They just stop talking just when the story SHOULD get good. They don’t have a “and this is what I want to do about it” portion of the story, let alone a “this is what I AM GOING TO DO about it” part. Why is that? Can’t they see that if you don’t try to fix the problem you have, it’s not going to go away on it’s own?

I’m also tired of people half-assing things. If you don’t like where you are, then get yourself to where you want to be. Sounds simple, right? Why would you continue to go somewhere, either to a job you don’t love, or to a company you don’t like day after day?

For the first group, stop complaining. If you actually cared, you would do something about it. For the second group, if you’ve decided you actually want to make the place you’re in better, I came up with a simple two step system that will lead you to success in almost anything.

Step 1: Give a shit

Step 2: Prove it

Now, before anyone gets on my case about how simple these steps are in theory and how hard they are in practice, all I have to say is, I know. If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear.

These steps must be used together. If you give a shit about something without proving it, you accomplish nothing, change nothing, and only end up annoying yourself. If you don’t give a shit about what you are doing, you have nothing to prove and therefore will likely give up shortly after trying.

Wanting to be good at something, or wanting to change something along gets you nowhere. It affects no change. If you actually want to change something, you need to want it so bad that you DO something about it. In essence, you need to give a shit, and prove that you give a shit to yourself, or others.

But Erik, that still sounds ridiculously oversimplified, this can’t actually work, right? Do you have some examples? Why yes, Erik pretending to speak as a reader, I do.

Fed up with the way testing certifications are pushed on testers and organizations with wild claims of ROI and other garbage? Keith was, and he did something about it.

Think adults should fucking be allowed to talk like adults sometimes? Ilari sure did (and he proved it too).

Want to help disadvantaged people learn skills that can get them a decent job with a future, oh, and maybe turn a few of them into kick ass testers too? Done. (If you’re reading this Keith, Joe or Paul, keep me in the loop about Columbus)

Feel opportunities for testers in your area are lacking? Are you going to prove you care, or just sit there?  How about founding something like this, or coordinating something like this, or planting seeds for things like peer conferences in your area?

Looking for ways outside of the existing, accepted training systems to help raise the skill level of testers in a meaningful way? Matt did, and he proved it.

Are you working as a consultant somewhere and feel you need a desire to influence things outside the scope of your role? Do you sit there and ignore it, or do you do what Pete did and reach out to outsiders who can freely share their perspectives and ideas (because they aren’t on the clock) and possibly help sway things in the right direction?

Do you think kids, especially those with special needs could be represented better at the administrative level? What do you do, sit in your classroom (give a shit) and continue to get annoyed, or do go through administrative training (prove it) so you can get yourself into a role where you can affect change? Sorry no links for this one, but trust me, it happened.

Want me to keep going? OK

Did you just wake up as a tester or test manager with years of “experience” only to find you really don’t know jack crap about testing? OK, don’t hate on yourself too much, it happens. The real question is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to sit there and feel sorry for yourself, or are you going to prove that you give a shit? Here is what I did when I found myself in this place (all since August 2012):

  • Attended CAST 2012

  • Started following key people (now over 400) in the testing industry on Twitter

  • Got Matt Heusser and Pete Walen to come onsite to do training/consulting

  • Started running tester games at work

  • Started facilitated tester discussions at work

  • Gave a lightning talk* at the first ever MMTMD

*I didn’t actually speak per se, but my thoughts were eloquently conveyed thanks to the Android text-to-speech British chap.

  • Started a tester meetup

  • Put together a team to compete in the NRGGlobal tester competition run by Matt Heusser

  • Convinced Paul Holland to bring RST to Cleveland so I (and others in my area) could attend

  • Registered for BBST Foundations this fall

  • Accepted to speak at CAST 2013

  • Registered for CAST 2013

  • Signed up for TestRetreat

  • Promised participation in the AST Leadership SIG TLC event the day after CAST 2013

  • Bugged various members of the Miagi-Do school until one agreed to challenge me at TestRetreat

  • Oh, and I almost forgot, I started a blog

I don’t mean to brag with this list. I am not trying to sound like I am better than anyone but myself.  A year and a half ago, none of these things were even on my radar, let alone things I was thinking of doing “someday”. This is my attempt to show that over the past year, I started to give a shit about my career and education and the growth and opportunities for those around me.

So what is my point with all of this? I have a few. The idea of my two step process has been floating around in my head for a while. The more I thought about it, the more I needed to get it out for my own sanity. I also hope that somewhere in all of this rambling, one person finds something that makes them want to get up and DO something. Oh, and if you are that person, it doesn’t count unless you actually do the thing you want to do.

Finding the Next Generation of Testers

I’ve been thinking for some time (where some time = on and off for the past few years) that trying to find new testers is far more difficult than it should be. I’ve been in a number of discussion threads in the past few months to make me feel comfortable saying I am not alone in this thought.

The biggest issue I see is that no one outside of tech companies knows what software testing is.  There are no real programs offered for software testing in colleges or universities in my region, or much of the rest of the US for that matter (except for FIT of course). Before anyone jumps on the fact that I am talking about testing degrees, let me get my point out. Many (if not most) high school graduates in the US are still pushed into post secondary education. Like it or not, that’s where many possible candidates go and learn about the world and the jobs it has to offer. Have you talked to Computer Science majors in your area lately? Do they know what testing is? Do they know it is a profession? An intentional career choice? Not in Cleveland. What about MIS? Surely they hit testing with the broad brush that is MIS? Not around here.

So what do we do about this? Some people have suggested trying to work with local schools to start programs (maybe not degrees to start) that could eventually lead to testing degrees. This would reach the “I don’t know what I want to do” students and possibly convince some of them to get into testing right out of school. Some people have suggested reaching out to schools to get professors of certain majors (CS, MIS, CIS, Accounting, Psychology, Philosophy,??) to advertise local tester meetups as extra credit (or something) for their students. This could reach students already heading in a different direction and possibly convince them to look into testing once they graduate.

I see merit in both approaches, they just both require a lot of leg work.

Another idea that came up recently (and hasn’t come to fruition yet) is to start younger. I happen to work for a large technology company in the Cleveland area (if you know the East and West side tech “giants” in Cleveland, I am on the West side). As such, we get asked by local schools to put on various technology events for middle and high school students. We started bringing students into our office and having them shadow testers or developers for a few hours to give them a basic understanding of what we do. We have also done talks and presentations, but those are less impactful in my eyes. After thinking about these for a while, our HR team had the idea to put together a team of people from several tech positions with the company that could travel out to schools to discuss technology jobs. For the Testing portion, we had the idea of using games to help show the kids how much fun it can be to think like a tester, without having to set them all up to test software. Specifically, we discussed Art Show and “the dice game” (though that could ruin part of the RST market in Cleveland in a few years) and possibly Zendo for High School.

I don’t exactly know where to go at this point. I am not all that pro-degree (I don’t feel they prove much about a person or their abilities in many majors), though I understand that the number of people who go to a college or university is too large to ignore. Sure, I hire people from all sorts of majors, even ones that didn’t complete a degree, it would just be much easier (maybe) if some of them came in with a background in testing. I admitted a long time ago that hiring testers is a difficult, time-consuming process. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t believe there is much, if any value in certifications (in testing that is) so no point in pushing for those in the area. Reaching out to kids is an awesome idea (and I plan to push for it to happen), it just means waiting several years to see if it worked at all.

What ideas do you have? How would you go find the next generation of testers? What new places can we look for testers?

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 4 – First. Event. Ever.

This evening, NOTiCE met for the first time ever.  We had a total of six attendees, which for having seven RSVP isn’t so bad. The topic for tonight was “Why did you become a tester, and what tests did/do you use to feel you are getting good at it”. Since I work with most of the people who came (all but Raj), my nervousness was low, though I was still paranoid that the topic would fizzle (no offense to Martin who helped me flesh it out, I am just like that when I put things together, especially if they impact others). We managed to get through introductions, and made it around the room covering each of our stories on how we got into testing and what testing was like for those of us in our second, third or fourth testing job.

I blinked and an hour was gone.

Then, instead of moving into the “what means do you use to know you are good at testing” we steered into a discussion, for the second hour on how we all learn and stay current on testing. Raj and I discussed the various people we follow on Twitter, the piles of blogs we read (Raj is much better at limiting his scope and using RSS feeds to know about updates… I need to set that up soon). We discussed books and courses and conferences.

In the end, we had no trouble using up the full two hours. At the end, we discussed the next meetup. I told them, based on the discussion I had with Martin, I had thought of taking the second meeting to discuss the use of safety language (Martin corrected my initial topic idea of “why you got into testing and how you know you are any good at it”, using safety language, and made into a teachable lesson for me and the group). After mentioning that to the group, Raj brought up the idea of a lean coffee style event (yeah, I told him Matt already suggested that). After discussing the pros and cons of that style, and the fact that everyone who attended tonight was engaged and participating, we decided to try it out.

So, I think I figured out how to let group members suggest topic ideas ahead of time on our meetup site.  This way, I can let the group participate in choosing topics, but if that doesn’t work, I will know walking in that I need a backup topic (helllllooooo safety language).

So what have I learned from this experiment:

Advertise externally as much as you can.

Sure, I had five coworkers there, and that was awesome, but I need more non-coworker peers in attendance. Yeah, OK so I know not everyone was available, but come on. I need to reach more people.

Unless told not to, advertise in-house!!

I took the approach of not wanting to inundate people info about my little group (words I use in my head), so I posted one message one time on our internal testing forum. Problems with this approach 1) not everyone in test reads the forum 2) I posted this maybe a month ago. The outcome of this? I have one person tell me TODAY that they just learned I made a meetup because they saw an ad for it on meetup.com. Awesome. What else? I happen to mention something about the group to an awesome (imho) tester and all around person I work with and they have no clue what I am talking about ?!?!

For the people I work with, prepare for emails soon.

Worry a little less.

Look, this is just like last year when I freaked myself out when I got myself involved in multiple presentations at our user conference.  I went from hating presenting, to successfully (words of others) presenting to rooms of over 120 people.  If I can do that, why can’t I talk to a handful of people about something I am passionate??

Buy supplies the day before.

At least for the next meeting, I already have markers and name tags.

Alright, it’s late, I had a great day talking testing with people who wanted to come out and do the same. I made a thing I am proud of, and now I can see that it can work. All I have to do is keep it going.

I Get Interrogated

OK, so interrogated might be a little strong. Phil Kirkham (you all follow Phil on Twitter, right?) asked me to participate in his “Five Questions” blog series, after I said how awesome the series is (see what happens when you speak up?)

You can read my responses, and the rest of the series, here.

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?