Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ETC 2017 - the Good, and that which can be improved

(No Hebrew for this, it's quite long as it is, and the main audience for this post are the Organizers of ETC, none of whom speaks Hebrew to the best of my knowledge)

At first, I thought of naming this post "ETC - the good, the bad and the ugly", only there was nothing ugly there, and the things that weren't as good, are still far better than "bad". ETC was an extremely good experience.

This is my list of things that I liked and liked less in the conference, since the organizers did go quite far to collect feedback and understand what worked and what didn't, I want to try and help by pointing out the things I remember and provide some detailed explanation that will hopefully be more useful than a cryptic title on a sticky note, and help in getting the "why" as well as the "what".
So, without further ado - the list.

Things I missed, or think they can be improved
(I'm starting with this since I believe people tend to remember the last thing they read, and the conference as a whole was very good)

  • Conference slack channel - In my first night before the conference started, I wanted to find people to catch a dinner, but didn't have a way to know who will be attending ETC, and who is already here. I managed to find a tweet that was connected to a name I could reach through the testers.io slack channel (I don't have a tweeter account). Having a public place to shout "hi, does anyone want to meet?" is very useful, and not everyone on the conference will overcome the discomfort barrier of contacting a specific person they don't yet know. Publishing a general message on a designated board is a bit easier.
    In addition, while last year there wasn't enough discussion on the slack channel, there was enough to inspire me and prepare a subject for the open space (this year, I prepared something the day before, since I knew how it worked, but didn't have any sort of heads up this year).
    Plus, it was a very good place for administration messages.
    While in the conference, I don't really need a digital sphere for discussion, since I'm having a lot of interesting discussions face-to-face. Having a closed, define area where I can contact conference members.
    "But there was a twitter hashtag", one might say - Well, it's completely different. Twitter is a public identity one either have or they don't, and slack is a private account that is created for a single purpose.Only other channel members can see this account, and the purpose of it is narrower. My testers.io slack channel, which is fairly wide purposed, is not used to upload cat pictures or show up a new car\shirt\haircut. It revolves around testing. Using twitter as a communication channel excludes me from the discussion.
  • Video recording the talks - The talks at the conference were mostly great. At times, it was hard to choose which talk do I prefer.  Having the ability to watch the talk later is a good way to catch up.Yes, I've heard (some of) the reasons for not having the talks, or some of them, recorded, and they are important,  but I think in this case some sort of compromise can be done to enable video recording, at least of some of the talks. My reasoning for recording the talks are: 
    • Since "the rule of two feet" was recommended, I found myself at one point leaving a talk which I liked, and joining a talk I liked a lot. I'm happy with my choice, but I now feel two gaps - I am curious about how did the talk I left continued, and wonder what great ideas I missed in the talk I joined. Knowing that there is no video increased the price tag of leaving a talk and reduce the return on joining one in the middle.
    • Talks recordings are the best conference promotion there is. So far, I've attended two conferences - ETC (twice) and CAST. The reason I was determined to go to CAST is that in 2015 I was watching CAST live and saw this. I've seen some CAST talks in the past which made me think "it could be nice to be there", but when I saw this talk it shifted to "I must be there". On the other hand, when I watched STARwest live (or was it STAReast?) I knew that I don't want to go there. Testbash talks I've seen have made me want to do two things: Join the dojo once I have time, just to watch the talks, and hopefully in the future attend it. 
    •  Feedback to the speakers - I don't have a lot of experience in public speaking. The little I have from a local meetup taught me I rather have a video to see my mistakes and learn from them. Yep, it's not always fun watching myself on stage, but it is useful. 
    • Sharing - Some of the talks are "ok, nice", but some of them are "I must show it to..." I've shared Linda Rising's keynote from last year with at least 7 people, and referred people to the talks of Emma Keaveny, Abby Bangser and Franziska Sauerwein (which I did not even attend at the time), as well as to Anne-Marie Charrett's keynote of that year. 
    • Re-visiting talks and ideas - Some talks left such a great impression on me I just had to watch them again. It's either to be able to refine my revelations from the talk, revisit some ideas in order to be able to pass them on back at home or just re-living the experience. There are at least four talks I want to watch again from this conference.
  • Matching talks to their description \ title - When I first looked at the schedule this year, I was thinking "Really? those don't look very interesting, I have at most one option per time slot that is interesting, and sometimes not even that". During the conference while hearing about some of the talks (from the speakers beforehand or from participants afterwards) this image was completely untrue - Most of the talks were more than simply good. I just didn't see that while reading. Not sure how to do that - Nordic testing days ask for some expected takeaways from the speaker. It might help.
    Another issue I experienced was relating to the meta-tagging (testing \ craftsmanship \ automation \ other). I walked into a talk I expected to be about automation (I even dragged someone with me), and the talk was about something completely different. It was a decent experience report, but a complete mismatch for me. 
  • Full talks description printout - I'm a bit torn about this. I don't really like the idea of using more paper than is necessary, and most of the time, the description is not read, but there were times where reading the description of the next talk could have been useful. Yes, it's online, but opening a browser on my phone and trying to read stuff from there takes a long time. and just didn't occur to me at the time. Maybe a board somewhere with the descriptions printed once on a big page, or maybe I should just learn to use my phone.  
  • Speed meet - It was great to see the experiments that were done to create a more communicative conference. I think this experiment has failed - the short time didn't really enable meeting the people or even determining whether or not I want to talk with them further. Out of the people I met, there was one whose face I could remember (and we actually talked a bit at later events, which I don't know whether I should attribute it to the speed meet, or to the fact that we hanged out a bit with a 3rd common person). Even if I attribute the single success to the speed meet, one out of six or seven isn't a good way to spend my time in such a conference where every other activity (that is not a talk), including a coffee break, is making me meet more people and have more meaningful discussions with them.  
  • Questions - There was a deliberate decision not to allow time for questions, with decent reasoning behind it. I was missing this part. Last year, coming up to the speaker with questions meant we were late for the next talks almost constantly. This year, most talks had time for one or less questions. Comparing this with CAST, where the discussion is structured (with K cards), I really felt the questions time was a good way to spend my time. 
  • Only one slot of workshops - Yes, having "we didn't have enough" is a good sign. Yet, I find the workshops a refreshing point in a day. Having one each day last year was great, and having the same number of workshops in a single slot meant that there wasn't any at the 2nd day, and that choosing between them was more difficult. 
  • Conference day starts late - Ok, it's not very late, it's a very reasonable time. Another thing I liked in CAST and I think can be adopted was having a lean coffee session at 7:00 (or something of the sort). Yes, it's a bit difficult to get up this early after an interesting night, so not many people will come, but I really liked it there. I thought about trying to have people gather around, only finding a way to publicize this was a bit difficult (blimey, did I just say slack again?). In retrospect, I probably should have just posted a sticky note or shouted at main hall. It's a great way to start a conference day. 

Now, some the good parts
  • The venue - What I really liked about the place was that all of the rooms were around the main hall. No corridors to hide people from each other, no need to run a long distance to get to a talk and immediatly after getting out of a room, I was in the middle of the activity, where all of the other participants were having a cup of coffee. 
  • All talks were great - Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit. There's a chance that there was a talk that wasn't as good, but the care that was put to choosing the speakers and subjects was clearly visible. During the 2nd conference day, I had a sequence of magnificient talks that started from the opening keynote and ended with the closing keynote. The only event that broke this series of great talks was the open space, because it was not a talk (it was great). I was, and still am, very impressed by the quality of the talks I've seen.
  • Aligning actions with declarations - The conference organizers are very clear in stating their intentions and areas of care - They want a conference where experts and practitioners meet and share information (and not salespeople pitching their product). The care a great deal about having a conference about testing that is welcoming for non-testers, and developers in particular. They care about their speakers and see them as partners, and they are here to change how conferences are by setting example.
    Each and every one of these claims is addressed with brave and well thought about actions. Inviting developers to speak at the conference is making room for developers in the audience, a strict filtering of the talks made sure that nothing that looks like a sales-pitch ever got near the conference, and the organizers involvement in the community enables them to target practitioners and ask them to come and speak. By speaking with each and every person who submitted a talk they made it easier for new speakers to submit a talk, paying for the flight and hotel for speakers, and doing so in advance is removing a great barrier from speakers who cannot afford to pay that money just to get to the conference. Creating scholarships to help speakers at other conferences is helping to diversify other conferences, and carry the ideas that come from this conference to other conferences. 
  • Choosing good causes - Aligning the actions behind the declarations is good only since the causes this conference stands for are good. They focus on values I can strongly relate to, and that are important to push forward. 
  • Everything was masterfully organized - This was true last year, this was true this year as well - as a participant I could not see any crisis that required the organizers attention - so even if there were, they were dealt with without creating a fuss in a very professional way. 
  • hoodies! Instead of a conference T-shirt, we got a hoodie. Much more useful, and suitable in many places where the T-shirt would be inappropriate. Next time - let's print the Logo on the front as well so that it will be seen even when carrying a backpack. 
  • Focus on conferring - this relates to standing behind your statements: The effort done to foster discussion and enabling people to meet and talk was very visible.
  • Showing care - All of the fuss that went into matching words to actions sums up to one thing  - The organizers care, and it shows. This sort of care makes me happy to pay the entrance fee for the conference, since by doing that I can support their causes just a tiny bit.
  • Speed meet - Yes, this was a good thing too. Even though I didn't like the event itself, I really admire the fact that experiments are being done. Some experiments fail, but the way to push forward and learn is by trying something that has uncertain results. 
  • Aligned timetable - All events that start together, end together. As a participant I like this a lot, since I don't have to weigh a long event against two shorter time-slots. Having to choose with a ratio of one-to-one is difficult enough. 
  • Conference party - Twice makes a tradition. It's a great way to meet and talk with people without having a cool event that is starting in five minutes, and it's an awesome way to help people who are more shy to actually meet others and have fun in the evening. Spending an evening together is by far better than finding dinner alone and going to sleep early. Having the party for the whole conference means that everyone is welcome, and no one gets pushed aside.
  • Breaks between talks - Initially, I thought there wasn't enough time between the talks, but then I looked again at the schedule - there was a very good break time after each talk, and it's only because I was having fun that the break time flew by. So great time, and great breaks. 
  • Collecting feedback - The retrospective by the end of each day, the cute app to mark satisfaction from the talks - The organizers are constantly trying to improve, and every participant can add something to that. I simply find this cool. 

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