ER of attending my first virtual testing conference, Tribal Qonf (27 & 28 June 2020)

I spotted some promotion on Twitter for a new testing conference in India, Tribal Qonf, and the virtual nature of it (thanks to COVID-19) plus the impressive speaker line-up (including James Bach and Michael Bolton) spurred my interest. Looking into it further, the pricing was incredibly low so I decided to register for it (for around AU$30 at the time I registered).

Although the weekend scheduling of the conference and Indian timezone wasn’t ideal, the conference promised to provide all content via recordings so I didn’t tune into any of the presentations “live”, waiting instead the ten days or so for recordings to be made available. I then watched most of the presentations from the two-day event over a period of a few days.

The first presentation I watched was the opening talk from day 1 by James Bach, titled “Weaving Testing: Thread by Thread” This was a fascinating talk and it was great to see such a detailed analysis of what actually happens during good testing by skilled practitioners, especially compared to the mythology we’ve generally been conditioned with about what makes for ‘proper’ testing.

Next up, I opted for Pradeep Soundararajan‘s talk on “The Business Value of Testing”. I’ve unfortunately never managed to catch Pradeep presenting in person, but this virtual presentation displayed the passion I expected from him. It was also engaging and refreshingly honest about the challenges we face in terms of recognizing how different stakeholders view the “value” of what we provide as testers.

My next choice was “Adopting a simplified Risk-Based Testing Approach” by Nishi Grover Garg, in which she outlined the basics of the approach, very much in the style of practitioners like Rex Black. The approach was presented very clearly here and I liked the way Nishi contextualized the risk-based testing approach to her startup environment.

A nicely-crafted story came next thanks to Ajay Balamurugadas and his talk “Lessons from 14 Years of Software Testing Career”. He detailed his learnings from each of his testing jobs and offered practical suggestions for areas to focus on at different levels of experience in testing. This presentation reminded me very much of my “A Day In The Life Of A Test Architect” talk which I gave at STARWest in 2016 and again at CAST in 2017.

Rounding out the talks for day 1, I somewhat hesitantly tuned into the ‘expert panel’ on “Testing after 2020”. I’ve become a little jaded about panel sessions but I really enjoyed this one featuring Aprajita Mathur, Ashok Thiruvengadam, Rahul Verma and Pradeep Soundararajan. The panelists responses to the various questions were refreshingly down to earth and practical. I was particularly pleased to see the considered, reasonable and sensible discussions around AI/ML in testing, providing welcome relief from the usual Kool Aid drinkers around these topics in the industry at the moment. A shout out to Lalit Bhamare too for his skillful moderation of this panel session which was a significant factor in its success for me.

I kicked off my “day 2” viewing with the first talk from that day, viz. , Ashock Thiruvengadam with “Be in a Flow. Test Brilliantly” This was something a little different in terms of topic for a testing conference (which is always good to see), focusing on introducing the idea of “flow”. I was reminded of the importance of uninterrupted sessions when performing exploratory testing while listening to this talk.

Next, I opted for Mike Talks with “The Hard Lessons Learned in Test Automation”, in which he shared some interesting stories of lessons learned resulting from his chats with testers over coffee in his home city of Wellington (New Zealand). It was unsurprising to me that his chats resulted in a few very common themes, all of which were familiar territory from my various conversations about automation with testers from all over the world over the last twenty-odd years. It seems we have a long way to go in terms of learning these hard lessons, despite them being covered ad nauseam in blogs, articles, books and conference talks.

My next choice was “A Quick Recipe for Test Strategy” from Brijesh Deb and I immediately liked his take on the topic. He defined a test strategy simply as a “set of ideas that guide test design” and made it clear that we shouldn’t conflate this with a hefty “one size fits all” document of some sort. I also liked his focus on driving test strategy by asking questions, with not just a shout out to James Bach‘s Heuristic Test Strategy Model but also an example of using it in practice.

The penultimate talk I watched was “Who Are Your Stakeholders?” with Anna Royzman. We often hear the term “stakeholders” used in testing (and software development more generally) but rarely do we seem to agree on what this term means in the context of our projects. Anna gave a good introduction on how to identify different types of stakeholders and what kinds of information these different stakeholders might be looking for.

I concluded my binge watching of the conference talks with the closing session from the event, in the shape of a “Fireside Chat with Michael Bolton” with questions coming from Ajay Balamurugadas. I loved Michael’s answer to Ajay’s question “what has changed in testing from 1994 to 2020?”, “not enough!” This was a fun fifty minute session and a perfect way to wrap up the conference.

Obviously, “attending” a virtual conference is a completely different experience to an in-person event. I chose not to watch all of the presentation recordings but did watch most of them and the quality was high. I didn’t watch the recordings back-to-back either, rather spreading out my viewing across a few days alongside my usual work commitments. I also didn’t contribute to the conference’s Slack channels as the event had been over for two weeks or so by the time I got to the recordings.

I personally missed the in-person aspects that make traditional conferences so valuable, but it might not be the case that we have to choose one over the other as we move forward. I wonder if we’re entering a new era for conferences, driven by changes forced upon us by COVID-19. There are enormous accessibility benefits of the virtual model, thanks to lower pricing and the removal of the need to travel and spend time away from home & family. Such virtual events also open up opportunities for new voices who might be unable or unwilling to travel to a “normal” event, or are too uncomfortable to address a physical audience.

The selection of topics on offer during this event was good and the talks were of a high standard. It appeared to be well organized too, so thanks to Lalit and the Test Tribe crew for putting on a worthwhile testing event during these difficult times! I enjoyed the experience of this virtual conference and I am now considering attending other virtual testing conferences through 2020 before – maybe! – more normal service resumes in 2021…

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