Impressions from Agile Testing Days 2015 – Part 1

Hi there!

This is my first blogpost ever about anything related to software. I got this crazy idea to start a blog at Agile Testing Days in Potsdam a week ago which makes it just natural that the first post will be about this event.

I have no idea how long I will be inspired to blog so I don’t know if or when more posts will follow.

Well, let’s get to the point – Agile Testing Days 2015! I will divide my story into certain topics instead of going through it in chronologic order.

About Agile Testing Days

It was the 7th edition of Agile Testing Days, and for me it was the third visit, the second as a speaker. Last year I had a consensus talk and this year it was the first time I was included in the main program. The location is lovely Potsdam, Germany, a 30-minute trip by train or car from Berlin.

The conference is run over three days, Tuesday-Thursday, with one-day tutorials on Monday.

To put it simple, this is just THE conference if you are into agile testing (or just agile or testing). And it’s also much more than a conference. The organizers, José, Madeleine and Uwe and the rest, create the perfect setting and the amazing people attending do the rest to create the including atmosphere that is so unique for ATD. Everybody is just so down to earth and willing to both learn and share, and the fact that most people stays at the conference hotel makes it very easy to meet new people. More on that later.

Two persons who really should be mentioned too is Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory (congratulations Janet to a well deserved MIATPP-award!) who have been part of this conference for most of the years. They help setting the frame and spirit for the conference at the start and wrap it up nicely in the end. They also run the very popular Lean Coffee sessions in the mornings. Even if they are icons in our community they express such a genuine and humble will to learn new things and are so generous with sharing their knowledge and insights, and by that they inspire us all to do the same.

My goals

Before the conference, i set the following goals:

  • Be inspired by the great keynote-lineup.
  • Catch up on Exploratory testing hoping to get new insights. Ever since I attended Michael Bolton’s RST-course in 2008 I have called myself an exploratory- and context-driven tester, and since then practiced it with great passion, read books and articles, watched presentations and done some coaching/mentoring as well. But I always do want to learn more about it.
  • Attend interesting workshops. The last two years I didn’t attend any workshops, just listened to presentations, but this time there were so many workshops that looked interesting and some of them were even scheduled at the same time so I had to make some tough choices.
  • Meet a lot of people to have good conversations with, both people I’ve met before and new acquaintances.
  • Participate in at least one Lean Coffee (failed with this one)
  • Try hard to make my own talk the best I can, so that maybe at least someone could have some use from it, and for myself to learn. One of the main reasons I do speak at conferences is that I learn a lot every time.


There are more keynotes at Agile Testing Days than most other conferences, 3 per day. This year it started off with a very unconventional but great keynote by Alex Schladebeck and Huib Schoots about parallells between music and testing. With passion and energy they soon had the whole audience singing along and blowing “kazoos” (some kind of plastic whistles). A great start to the conference indeed!

As for most of the other keynotes there was some kind of common theme – how everybody can change the world with courage, passion and hard work and that change starts with you. Selena Delesie talked about leadership and how everyone can change their surroundings. She told her story in such a warm, humble and personal, even private, manner that is hard to resist, a real demonstration of the power of vulnerability!

The same with Dr Sue Black – wow, what a story! I am a sucker for good storytelling and this was exactly that! Her topic “If I can do it, so can you” was fitting with the humble way she presented it, but hey Dr Black – You are one of a kind!

South Africans Sam Laing and Karen Greaves talked about how testers need to grow and be more useful in an agile environment. That everybody can make an impact, and even start a movement!

Mike Sutton painted a future where organizations are holacratic (flat and self-organizing) and asked us what we bring to the table to make this future happen, and he did it in his personal, very humourous, way.

Olaf Lewitz had the closing keynote and told us to be the change we want, how courage and trust can accomplish great things, and about making choices wisely.

Tom Roden and Ben Williams keynote was about how portfolio management from finances could be used in agile deliveries by making a testable chain of decisions. This is in fact an interesting but complicated topic which I think would be much more understandable in for example a workshop, at least for me it was a bit hard to take in and understand from a keynote.

Bryan Beecham finally had a talk on human refactoring, interesting and well presented, but for me it didn’t contain any new insights, but then again I am a nerd when it comes to that topic.

My choice of tracks

As mentioned I wanted to get new insights on Exploratory testing, so I picked three sessions on this topic that looked promising, and I wasn’t disappointed. Both Maaret Pyhäjärvi and Maaike Brinkhof gave talks of the kind that I like best, true experience reports with real-world stories but also with a higher level of insights to share, giving the audience specific tips that can be useful. Maaret showed how good principles, applied pragmatically on different contexts, helped her see clearly what she could influence in the different cases. I really agree on the importance of pragmatism, there are too many examples where people with great knowledge are too militant about their ideals. Maaike talked about how they got the entire team involved in exploratory testing and she shared some very important and insightful learnings as well, e. g. the importance of debriefing immediately and the risk of decrease in enthusiasm when things had been going for a while. Ilari Henrik Aegerter talked about the happy marriage between context-driven testing and agile which also was interesting but maybe didn’t give me that much new.

As for the workshops, I had a really hard time choosing which ones to attend. On one day, I picked the Change dojo with the “Happy change agents” Fanny Pittack and Alex Schwartz, a really cool duo from Berlin that I met already last year. The change dojo was an interesting experience where we with simple experiments explored, among other things, how we react to change and the value of feedback and trust. It also showed how different people reacted differently to certain situations.

The other workshop I attended was about the three amigos principle with Stephan Kämper and George Dinwiddie. I have been trying hard with BDD/Specification by example for many years while many of the participants were quite new to the concept, but that also made the discussions a bit more interesting and gave some new insights. One problem with a workshop like this is that it gets less effective with too many attendees. Now there were around 60 people (I guess an ideal number for this kind of workshop would have been around 20) which makes it a bit slower, but I understand it is hard to predict how many will show up. Great setup anyway by George and Stephan!

What I didn’t do

On a conference like ATD with so many interesting things going on at the same time, it was of course impossible to do everything I wanted to. Among the things that I sadly missed were:

  • Lean Coffee. The first two days I was just too late to sign up before the list was full (you sign up on a list the day before). And the third day I had my own talk a couple of hours later and felt I needed the time to make final preparations.
  • Consensus and Lightning talks. The past two years I listened to a lot of the consensus talks (I was speaking there myself last year) and they were really good. And the Lightning talks were new on this year’s program, it’s always interesting to hear new voices from our great community, and from what I heard from the people attending them, they rocked big time! Great also that the “Speak easy”-program helped mentoring new speakers, they do a fantastic job making voices heard that otherwise would have been unheard.
  • The Expo. The previous visits I did spend a lot of time in the breaks talking to the exhibitors, but this year it was just on a few occasions I stopped by there. Time were flying anyway with all good meetings with people. It was however great to meet the nice guys from QualityMinds in Gothenburg.
  • The escape room – a newcomer this year. Never found time to do it, but I heard from others that it was a lot of fun.
  • The anything build lab – I could spend hours there, but now it was just a few (ok, a little more than a few) short stops every now and then.
  • Open space – I love open spaces, too bad it was at the same time as the workshops
  • And of course a bunch of other good talks and workshops that were run in parallel, but you can’t have it all, sadly.

That’s it for now. In part 2 I will continue with activities outside the day program (like Agile Games night and other social activities which I think are what makes this the most awesome conference) and a little about my own talk.

Cheers for now! /Göran