Thoughts on the StarEast 2011 conference

I first attended StarEast in 1999. I remember the day-long tutorial I attended (by Rick Craig), and two track sessions - one by Cem Kaner on hiring testers, and one by James Whittaker on "Exploiting a Broken Design Process." I know I attended other sessions but I don't have active memories of them any more. I do remember the experience of attending the conference - one of surprise and excitement. Surprise at seeing so many other people in the testing community with similar questions and problems as myself, and excitement at the speakers with lots of great information and advice to give.

Fast forward to 2011 - I returned to StarEast, this time as a speaker. I suppose I didn't need to wait 12 years to return as a speaker. I didn't intentionally ignore the conference. I think I've been busy with other things and it just didn't come up - until last Fall when I received an invitation in my inbox to submit a proposal. I'm really glad I went.

Some things were familiar - the beautiful hotel, the Florida sunshine, the amazingly fresh orange juice, and the basic conference format. One thing that was different for me this time around was the number of people/speakers that I new who were also speaking at the conference. After having attended and spoken at several other conferences over the years, I guess I have gotten to know many of the popular speakers.

I was happy to see many more people speaking that I have never heard about before.  That tells me that the community is still growing after all this time and that there are still many more people sharing their knowledge to help enlighten future generations of testing leaders. That's awesome!

I was particularly surprised at the calibre of the Keynote speakers. I was genuinely inspired by every Keynote that I attended (I think I only missed one). (You can find the 2011 program online with details of the speakers and talks but I don't believe they were video recorded.) The Keynote presentations I attended were by: Andy Kaufman, Naomi Karten, and Julie Gardiner. The majority of my #StarEast tweets were from these keynotes.  Unfortunately, I missed the Keynote by Gojko Adzic (I heard it was good too), and I'm not including the "lightning" talks here although I did attend those and some were very good.

I was excited to hear that Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory, authors of Agile Testing, were attending the conference and am happy to have had the opportunity to meet them and speak with them! =)  Lisa even attended my track session and wrote up a nice summary about it on the Software Testing Club site.

I won't really say much about my session here. It went okay I guess. I haven't received the session feedback evaluations yet, but I can say that I was really happy when several people came up to me afterwards in the hallway to thank me for my talk. They said that they really enjoyed it. My favourite comment came from Nawwar, my track chair -- i.e. the person who introduces the speaker during the session. He went from asking me "who are you?" just before the session to "Wow. That was the best session I've seen during this whole conference!"  Nice. Thanks. =)

I had fun giving the talk - "Real-time Test Design for Exploratory Testing". Test Design is a topic that I am really passionate about and I can talk about for hours. Okay, days. ;-)  I think the main thing that I wasn't terribly crazy about my talk was the format. When I talk about Test Design, it is usually when I am teaching it. So I found it hard to just talk about it and not have an interactive session with the attendees to give them a chance to practice it. Don't get me wrong - I had some interaction in my session, but not the sit-in-front-of-a-computer-and-try-things-out kind of way.  If I give this talk again, I will try to find some way to make it more interactive. (I may need more glow-in-the-dark straws.)

Back to the conference.  I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a former employee - a tester on a team that I managed about a decade ago. Wow! Still in Testing after all this time. AND attending a conference too! Double rainbows! We've hooked another one! ;-)

I've worked with many testers over the last decade and I hear from so few of them. I am always happy to meet them again and know that they are still doing and learning about Testing. I am happy to know when I help testers get better at what they do - I get ecstatic when I find out that they continue to see Testing as a Profession and participate in conferences and networking events!

StarEast had a few more surprises for me. At the Vendor Expo I bumped into Rick Craig - the tutorial speaker from when I first attended StarEast in '99. I introduced myself and told him how I remembered him. He was both pleased and suddenly felt older. Ha ha. We had a good chat.

Continuing my stroll through the Expo, the vendors were vendors. I still think some of the tools are the wrong ones for testers (like, totally and completely without value) but I did see some interesting ones that might have potential in certain circumstances.

As an independent consultant, most vendors weren't interested in me. I don't represent some big company with deep pockets to shell out on their bloatware documentation tracking systems. Of all the vendors, only one stopped to talk to me and really understand what it was that I had difficulty with their tools. He was fascinated by my knowledge of Agile practices, how testers fit on Scrum teams, and why these tools don't help. He asked me for my card and said that he was interested in contacting me to see if I can help provide some feedback for a future generation of tools that might work better. I gave him my card. I'll be curious to see if he contacts me. =)  I love to help - just ask!

My final pleasant surprise, and ultimately the best reason for attending the StarEast conference, came between sessions and during the meal breaks. I made an effort to sit with people I didn't know and engage them in conversations. Mostly I was curious to know what they did and what brought them to the conference. I was blown away by the passion that many of these attendees have for Testing. Wow. Some described to me the problems they face at work, the inequalities from other development team members (both in status and in salary), and the barriers preventing them from doing more. And yet, here they were at the conference to "learn from the best", to find ways to provide more value, make life better for them, their teams and their organisations.

They were dripping with hope and enthusiasm and I must say that I was overwhelmed with joy on more than one occasion following a conversation like this. If I had nothing else nice to say about the StarEast conference and received no other benefit from attending, witnessing the passion of the attendees was enough to fill my heart with passion and drive to get out there and do more, teach more!

I have been exposed to a lot of negativity over the last decade in several of the companies I have worked at. It wears you down after a while. You begin to lose faith in yourself and in the [testing/quality/value] mission. Attending StarEast changed that for me and recharged my spirit in a way that I totally wasn't expecting.

I was asked if I planned to speak at StarEast again next year. I don't know. I hadn't planned on it. I might not in 2012. We'll see about the following year or maybe I will speak at one of the other SQE conferences - like Better Software, Agile Development Practices or maybe even StarWest (since I haven't been to the Pacific coast yet).

There is so much to do in this area, in my "local" part of the world. It seems I am gaining recognition everywhere but here and I need to do something about that. StarEast helped recharge me and I hope I enlightened or entertained some attendees of my track session on Test Design and Exploratory Testing. Time will tell if I had a lasting impression on anyone. I hope I did. That wasn't why I went, though, and I got so much more out of it than just the opportunity to share some of what I have learned over the years.

I'm glad I went.


  1. Hey Paul, I attended your session and enjoyed it. I look forward to putting your advice about real-time design into practice soon! Also, I like that you referenced double rainbows in your write up. :) Being in an environment of passionate testers definitely pumped me up for the work ahead. I definitely needed the recharge. Thanks for being part of that!

  2. Thank you for the note, Claire! I appreciate your letting me know. Please let me know if you ever have any questions, comments or feedback on the topic. All the best! =)