Last week I had the chance to be in Seattle for CAST2011 and I think it was definitely worth the effort to apply for a US visa, travel for 30 hours to get there, and another 30 to get back.
The conference was fully organized by volunteers, people that gave up their free time to make sure that the others enjoyed the conference.
Two days before the starting of the event everything was on time. Please read: “everything that the organizers had thought of”, as people still complained about different things :-). My favorite was “the absence of proteins for breakfast”, which I found extremely funny, as no-one seemed to be close to starvation, au contraire :-D. The organization committee, and especially Jon Bach, did their best to solve the “bugs raised”, and they even provided eggs for breakfast starting with the second day :-D.
This was a real face-to-face get-together. I like the internet, but I like more getting to know people in flesh and blood. (I was finally able to meet the man behind the email address or Twitter nickname I’d been following.) Besides, I think the internet can sometimes be very misleading. To give you one example, this spring when I took Bug Advocacy, I had Doug Hoffman as lead instructor. My image of Doug after the course was of a harsh and frightening man. After the first few hours I spent with him before the conference, I discovered a totally different person: caring and open to listening and helping others.
The conference was about human interaction and sharing experiences. Being built as a large peer conference, interesting discussions developed not only during breaks or on the hallways, but also during sessions and keynotes due to the open-season. I loved the idea of a facilitator taking care of who was to speak next and keeping discussions on the right track, and also the use of the colored k-cards both from a listener / member of the audience point of view and also from a speaker point of view.
The selected topics made me want to clone myself several times, and send each copy to a different session. Unfortunately that was not possible, so I had to make some tough choices. I liked Paul Holland’s session on “How to organize a peer conference”. What a good way to learn how to do that: experience CAST as a participant, and have someone like Paul, who has been involved in so many events of the kind, to come and talk about how it is to be on the other side, to be in the shoes of the organizer.
The keynotes were very interesting, and very well delivered. Even if Michael’s computer didn’t work, he was able to deliver a great speech, and also to beat the previous record of Red Cards shown during a talk :-). I definitely recommend watching the recordings on the AST website once they are uploaded.
Maaret Pyhäjärvi asked me to join her team for the testing contest. At first I thought I’d be too tired to take part in the contest, but then I agreed. Because we felt that the application was too buggy, and being exhausted after the first day of the conference, we lost our motivation after less than 3 hours. My takeaway from this exercise was Maaret’s report – she did a great job in presenting our testing story just by using a mind map. Unfortunately the bugs we found were not as interesting as the ones found by the other teams and we didn’t interact enough with the developer, so we didn’t win the contest, but her report was mentioned by James Bach at the awards handout.
For me CAST2011 was a conference made by people for people, with the purpose of building a testing community, and no commercial flavor.
I loved being there, and I plan to attend next year as well!