The Value Of A Conference

Posted: April 29, 2014 in Test Events, Testing Skills & Education

“A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
– Oscar Wilde

As far as I know*, Let’s Test Oz will be the first multi-day Australian conference dedicated to software testing. For three days in September, testers from around the globe will congregate to breathe the alpine air, break bread and talk testing.

As soon as the conference was announced, it was my intention to get there. I’ve never been to a major conference for industry professionals (“Tasting Let’s Test” last year was more a teaser, and I don’t think Comic-Con counts), and the fact it was on local shores was a big attraction. However, due to some “interesting” financial circumstances over the past couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the conference, the expense it incurs and the potential value I may or may not get from attending.

For those not fortunate to have their employer cover the cost, it appears reasonably priced – a little more than some of its international brethren in the States or Europe, and a little less than others. Flights from Brisbane to Sydney aren’t that much in today’s ultra-competitive world of air travel, but you also have the usual expenses that make up a trip away from home, such as meals. And that’s not to mention the time off work, and possibly away from family.

But where is the value for such expenditure (AKA “what’s in it for me”)? It could be argued that spending thousands to essentially hear a bunch of people speak and hang out with like-mindeds is a waste of money. After all, there are plenty of conference-related videos on YouTube that you can watch without spending a cent** – see the excellent CAST series for an example. And with Skype, email, Twitter and every other online communication tool under the sun, you’re never more than a couple of clicks and keystrokes away from being in touch with a global community. Not to mention local meetups (as below) can often provide that “in-person” experience, if you’re that way inclined.

So, there you go – easy ways to obtain all the benefits of a conference with a tiny fraction of the cost. The End.

But… there are a few intangibles that, depending on your priorities and values, might stack up against those concrete costs.

Motivation: Conferences, seminars and the like can be major injections to your motivation. Mingling with others, hearing talks about new or unfamiliar ideas can all be sparks that re-kindle the fire for our work. This brief burst is often quickly worn away by the return to the daily grind, but if directed properly, may provide a benefit that lingers long after the conference has ended.

New & Old: New concepts and ideas swirl around conferences, while time-worn themes also surface in new and strange forms. Any of these may have the potential to revolutionise (or at the very least, improve) testing back home. That said, passively taking it in at the conference won’t necessarily help – actively seeking details, discussing it with others, and making it your own probably will.

Note: some of these ideas may not only be new, but confrontational. The ideas may directly challenge what you do or how you work. They may help you to indirectly question your own habits, or those of your team. I expect this would usually be a beneficial thing.

Community: No, not the airy fairy “Yay testing!” kind of mingling or networking (though if I don’t get at least one high-five and a general murmur of “Hell, yeah” in the breakfast room after shouting “Testing rocks”, I’ll be disappointed), but the kinds of hall-way conversations or back-room discussions that can result in friendships, professional associations, and new sources of testing inspiration and encouragement.

The recently started Brisbane Tester Meetups (organised by Scott Griffiths and supported by SoftEd) helped shape my views on what a conference might deliver. Beyond the practical presentation on automation from Alister Scott, the chatting and conversation before and after the inaugural meetup was perhaps the high-point of the night. While the two events are on a completely different scale, the similar thread of those benefits runs through both.

So come September, I’ll fly down for a fascinating three days. If you happen to spot me stalking the corridors, feel free to say “Hi” (or even better, “I totally support your position on the general superiority that software testing has over other career choices and how you were able to succinctly sum that up in the breakfast room this morning”).***

* Happy to be corrected on this.
** Yes, I know you still pay for the internet connection & hardware to watch said videos, but I’m trying to make a point, so please, work with me.
*** I’ll be wearing a Geelong Cats cap. If it so happens that this AFL team has been knocked out of finals in recent times, please refrain from bringing this up in conversation.

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Comments
  1. aussietester says:

    Hi Dean, excellent piece – in fact I’ve got a draft on the same subject sitting on my iPad!! Just one comment worth noting: I was co-Chair on a series of 3-day Testing conferences (called AsiaSTAR) that ran in Oz from 2001 to 2004. It was run in conjunction with the folks who run EuroSTAR. We had 3 Keynotes and 45 other speakers and took the Conference to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. We finished in 2004 due to a loss of funding and support from Europe 😦
    I would definitely be attending Let’s Test if it were not for the fact that it conflicts with a trip to England for my brother’s 60th. I’m sure you’ll get a great deal of value (both tangible and intangible from the Conference). Enjoy!!

    • Thanks for your comment Colin,

      AsiaSTAR was before my time as a tester, which would explain why I hadn’t heard of it. It’s a shame it didn’t last as I think this region is crying out for something like this (the one-day ANZTB conference hardly does us justice). Hopefully Let’s Test Oz is better supported in the long run, it will be interesting to see how the inaugural event pans out from a financial/attendance/support point of view.

      Enjoy the trip to England, maybe I’ll see you at Let’s Test Oz 2.0!

  2. […] The Value Of A Conference Written by: Dean Mackenzie […]

  3. Hi Dean, this post is a great example of a thinking tester in action: not taking anything for granted, asking questions and challenging the answers. I’m so glad (after a very well debated argument) you decided to go, I too believe in the power of networking with like minded testers – and Lets Test Oz will be full of them. Can’t wait to talk test to the tunes of AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” 🙂

    • Thanks Ale, but I can’t really claim credit – it was an external event that triggered this debate. But yes, talking shop with others on the same page is probably the number one thing I’m looking forward to (next to the insanely fantastic speaker lineup).

  4. Let’s Test Oz will be AWESOME… but I guess I’m slightly biased.

    Well said though Dean, presenting two sides of a possible debate. I think a clear advantage in attending is that you can shape the conversations (and the talks at Let’s Test Oz) to suit your needs and wants. No can do on a YouTube clip. This is especially the case for Let’s Test Oz as we’ll be ensuring that the sessions are interactive so that all can be involved.

    Also, we’re all equal. There is no VIP room or session where only the speakers are invited… this means that you get valuable time with these people to discuss things are particularly important to you and your working environment. This means that taking back actions to the daily grind is far more achievable!

    Ok, sales pitch over… 😉

    • You’re selling the dream, Mr. Greenlees! Agree that the interactivity is another big benefit (yet another advantage to Let’s Test), and one I hadn’t thought of.

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