TestCraftCamp 2021 Virtual Edition
One year into the pandemic I spent yet another day in front of a computer screen to virtually connect with fellow computering humans who care about software quality at the TestCraftCamp.
After all, the tester community aligns very closely with the software crafters community, so I feel very much at home in both of them:
Before I dive into the sessions I have attended and what I've learned, I'd like to share the set-up that was used for this conference, because this is a now proven combination of tools and it works really well.
The two main tools in use are a real-time whiteboard (in this case miro, but I have seen Mural to work equally well). One whiteboard is used for all content of the conference, from the introduction, to the marketplace, the schedule and the feedback. This means everyone can easily navigate around the virtual venue.
Each slot in the marketplace links to a section on the whiteboard for taking notes during the session.
Miro supports many different styles of taking notes, like Post-its, plain text, or even mind maps.
Zoom was used for face-to-face communication, and all the break out rooms were clearly labeled (with name and color) so it was easy to find the right room to switch to. It also supports remote controlling a presenters computer, which we used extensively during ensemble testing session, where the entire group tests a program.
The tools in use have clearly evolved over the last year, but so did the attendees. Interacting with everyone using them felt much more natural compared to a year ago and this led to a very noticeable level of interactivity and tangible levels of energy.
It felt great to be around people who embrace these digital tools and try to make the best out of it.
Remote conferences make for different sessions
Especially Irja's session on ensemble testing was designed with all participants being remote in mind and it would not have happened like this at a physical conference ... there we typically try to stay away from screens, or have only one person sit in front of a screen while everybody else watches. This leads to a different experience compared to having everybody being remote.
The omni-presence of a digital whiteboard also leads to much better note-taking, because everyone is logged in, and on the board, there is much less hesitation to add notes, or correct and improves the notes of others. The result is not necessary usable standalone; having a recording would improve the experience for those who were not present during the session. This is one of the main advantages of a remote conference, recordings are basically free, however I see the issue that not everyone wants themselves (or their children who happen to walk in the room) to be recorded.
Sessions I attended
I've tried to summarize some of the learnings from the sessions I've attended on Twitter, and if you are interested to learn more about what happened at the conference, check out the hashtag #TCC2021. Writing up good session summaries on Twitter while in parallel attending a great session is not that easy ... so I'll try to give a summary here as well.
Quality for AI systems
This session was a very interesting discussion around the challenges that AI brings with a focus on testing and ensuring it's quality. We collected many interesting aspects and I'd consider this my preferred style of session: you get way too much input to handle, but it gives you a direction towards further research ... which brings more confusion, obviously. This is a topic we will most likely revisit at future events.
It also revolved around testing strategies for black box systems, and those that make highly complex, expert decision, and how the development and proliferation of these systems could lead to the availability of (new) experts being influenced by their existence, which could lead to some professions not getting developed further.
Spicing up your relationship with your projects
This was a wild and fun session. A tester was wondering what they could be doing differently when testing their software, because they felt a little bit stuck. We spent 45 minutes brainstorming a huge list of ideas and techniques that would add additional elements to their test strategy or even the way the product is co-designed with customers and users. Again, this session also lived off the good use of the available tools and the fact that everyone felt included and safe to contribute to their ideas mostly because of the amazing session host.
The outcome then resulted also in the last session I've attended in which we ensemble-tested the app, which was pure joy to see a group of testers poking wildly at a production app and finding at least 50 problems, and running into network errors, bad recommendations, performance and usability issues.
End-to-End BDD tools
I joined the session which was initially proposed by Pascal Dufour where he wanted to have a look at NoCodeBDD. I wanted to talk about end-to-end testing tools that others are using so for me this was a great match. Besides NoCodeBDD, which we only managed to get to run on one machine, and the widely known end-to-end testing frameworks that drive web browsers (Selenium, Cypress, and Playwright), there weren't much other tools, that take the low-code approach I use. Most teams work with high-level BDD scenarios written in domain-specific language and implement step definitions.
Nevertheless this discussion was great to get feedback on the advantages of this approach and hear about concerns against too much low-level language in feature files.
I've mentioned this earlier, Irja facilitated a great session where we tried to figure out what a software does (which we didn't really), and find bugs (which we did). For me it was great to see how enabling a group of people to poke at the same piece of software makes testing much more fun but is at the same time very effective. Taking turns in being the driver, the navigator and observer also gives everyone enough time to complete notes. The output of testing like this is much more complete as if individual tests would have given it a look individually.
I guess for me one of the main takeaways was about the power of timeboxed group collaboration. This worked so well in this event, not only because the technology is now working reliably, but also because the event created a safe and welcoming space, where every opinion is heard and everyone is invited to contribute and ask any kind of question. This is an event format that more teams and companies can also use for internal events ... who knows what you might discover?!