Making the most of a conference

Posted on Posted in Software Testing, Training / Conferences

Someone has rightly said – conferences are what you make of them. It is possible to hear completely different accounts of what people experienced at the same conference. It could be great learning experience for some and complete waste of time for others.

Going to a conference is a huge commitment in terms of time, cost and efforts. I am an independent consultant so do not have to give a business case or take permission – but still I do need to justify this investment of time and money to myself.

My primary objective to go to the conferences is – to learn more. I learn by attending sessions, and I learn by talking to people between the sessions. It’s always nice to share problems, solutions, constraints to understand what works in a given context and why. It’s also nice to challenge (with the intention to learn more or clarify) and be challenged by so many smart folks around you.

In this post, I will share the strategy I follow to ensure that my objective of learning more is achieved. By the way, if you want to see me practice this in person – join me at Agile Testing Days in Berlin where I am speaking.

I have divided my strategy into four main sections.

Things I do before going to any conference

I like to plan my visit. Before attending the conference, I have a good look at the sessions/schedule. My inclination is often towards things I have not tried and used. Who is talking about something which I do not know or have not done already? I also like attending case studies because often problems and solutions presented in case studies are unique and they help me understand problems, constraints, and solutions from a new project. I also like sessions which are around innovations – innovative ideas and solutions excite me the most.

Usually, the list of sessions I want to attend in the conference is always prepared ahead of time, and I rarely waste time in thinking about which session I should attend during the conference.

But like all the plans, this list changes and I let it change. If someone I trust recommends a session or if I talk to the presenter and understand enough about the topic – I change my plans instantly. Also, if I am in the middle of a conversation and if the conversation is adding value now – I stay and do not attend the session.

So I make the plan, but I let it take shape as needed.

Things I do during the session at a conference

I like to take notes. Depending on the attention required by the session – I choose between Twitter (I am on @testinggeek BTW if we are not already connected) and mind map as my note taking tools. If a session is thought provoking and challenging – I use a mind map to ensure that I do not lose focus. On the other hand, if the session requires less attention, I use twitter with the appropriate hashtag to learn, share and discuss at the same time.

I am also vocal and do not keep my questions to myself. I believe that stupid questions are only those questions which are never asked. However, I respect the format and only interrupt if it is okay. I also ensure that I thank the speaker for the session if I liked it – to show my gratitude for the new insight and to create an opportunity to learn more on the subject.

Also, as a speaker I am not offended if someone leaves my session – there can be many reasons for people to leave the session and none of them would be personal. So if I am attending a session and if I feel that I am not learning anything new – I leave without guilt. Of course, I ensure that speaker and other attendees are not disturbed. I typically sit near gates/around aisle to make sure that there is no or minimum disturbance in case I need to leave the session.

Things I do between the sessions of a conference

In my opinion, this is where the conference can become average or great. Talking to other testers, buddies and speakers about testing, the context in which they work, challenges they face and ways in which they solve them is amazing. I normally use following questions to start a conversation and to learn from the experience of other fellow practitioners.

  • Where do you work?
  • What does your company do?
  • What sort of products do you typically test?
  • How do you approach testing?
  • What’s your view of certification/automation?
  • What do you think about the progress of software testing profession?
  • What was the most challenging defect you found?
  • How would you test…?
  • Testing jokes
  • Which session did you like?
  • Anything you learned here which can be implemented immediately?

I try and meet different people and do not look for familiar faces. It’s a good idea to have lunch or breakfast with different people every day. I never used to carry a business card but surprise – many people ask for it. So always carry one, ask for one and give yours.

I also make a point to visit booths to see new products, to try my hands on the new tools and to get an idea of how tools are progressing and the direction in which service industry is heading.

By the way, if you are coming to Agile Testing Days and if we meet during breaks – I will talk about random test generator and TestSpicer – you have been warned 🙂

Things I do after the conference

Many people are an extremely good live blogger – unfortunately, I am not one of them. So usually I take a week or two to summarize my learning in a blog post. I also try to drop an email to everyone who has exchanged card with me to ensure that communication channel is open.

If I have seen interesting products in the booth or have brochures, I normally throw them in the bin but always after going to their website and going through them quickly. You never know they might be useful either now or in future. It’s good to know what sort of tools are available and models in which services can be used.

Last, but not the least I proudly wear T-shirt and carry goodies from the conferences with me – to have a conversation with the folks around me about my experience – In the hope that they will go to the conferences I am not able to and share similar tales with me.

So these are some of the things I do when I attend conferences. What do you do? How do you approach conference? Let us discuss.

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