Weekend Engagement


In "Growing Your Career in Tough Times," Fiona Charles writes about some of the free and low-cost things testers can do for professional development when money isn't available for courses and conferences. In this column, she describes two examples of the amazing things some testers get up to on the weekend to practice their craft, develop their skills and knowledge, and have a great deal of fun.

I just spent the weekend with eighteen other engaged testers. Yes, that's right—I said the weekend. There should have been twenty of us, but one had bronchitis and was forced to stay home. She was bitterly disappointed.

Toronto Workshop on Software Testing
This year, for the fifth time, my friend and colleague Michael Bolton and I co-hosted an annual peer conference called the Toronto Workshop on Software Testing (TWST). For two solid weekend days, we made presentations and held intense and lively facilitated discussions on our experiences with the topic "How to Coach/Train/Mentor Software Testers." Many of us dined together Friday and Saturday and talked about testing then, too.

It was a blast. As always, I was profoundly impressed by the depth and breadth of my colleagues' experience and the insight with which they present and discuss it.

Tired of the limitations of one-hour conference sessions, we started TWST in 2005, basing it on LAWST—the Los Altos Workshop on Software Testing—founded by Cem Kaner and Brian Lawrence, and itself based on a particular kind of academic conference. The model is simple. A small group of committed people gets together for both days of a weekend to explore in depth a single topic central to software testing. In previous years, we've discussed:

  • Testing and Agile
  • Test Modeling
  • Risk-based Testing
  • Deception and Self-Deception on Software Projects

Conference attendance is by invitation only, since we want to ensure a high level of participation and commitment. For the same reason, we keep the conference small, with a maximum of twenty participants in any session. TWST is free, although out-of-town participants pay for their own travel and accommodation. Each participant must come prepared to present informally and briefly on his or her experience with the topic.

There's no set agenda. As the "content owner," I ask for and review abstracts of each presentation beforehand. Then, during the conference, I dynamically order the presentations to pursue or contrast with themes emerging from the discussions. The session is facilitated by a single volunteer or by one of the participants in turn. We don't take formal minutes, although sometimes participants offer to share their notes.

Especially on the first day, we don't limit discussion after a presentation, only ending when participants have exhausted all the discussion threads. Consequently, although thirty minutes is the maximum allowance for each presentation, we rarely get through more than three presentations on Saturday. Typically, those initial presentations and discussions lay out most of the essential points on the session topic. On the second day, I work with the facilitator to timebox both presentations and discussions—often to fifteen minutes each. Near the end, we may move to even shorter lightning talks to ensure that everyone gets a chance to present.

Like LAWST workshops, TWST's purpose is twofold. Principally, we want to provide an intensive opportunity for experienced Canadian test practitioners who are both passionate and thoughtful about their work to get together and share their experiences and insights. Secondarily, we want to help move thinking about testing forward.

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