2011: A CAST Odyssey

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!
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5 responses to “2011: A CAST Odyssey”

  1. Maaret says:

    Alex – our team, our report. I would not have gone in the contest without you and Tamara. Testing for me is not a competitive sport, especially against other testers. I compete with myself, and enjoy the strech a nice team can give me. This was not my first CAST with a competition, but I never thought of participating before.

  2. Two clarifying comments:

    1) My computer worked just fine. It was the data display that didn’t work. (In reality, it was the system of my computer and the data display that didn’t work, but then it was the system of Paul Holland’s computer and the data display that didn’t work, too. So we suspect the data display as the common element here.)

    2) For those who are familiar with football but not with CAST protocols, cards do not penalties or a misdemeanors of some kind. The cards evolved at peer conferences on which CAST is modeled. Their purpose is to help the facilitator to direct traffic during the “open season” discussion rhat follows every presentation or experience report. A green card means, “I want speak, starting a new thread of conversation.” Yellow means “I want to speak on the current thread.” Red means “I absolutely desperately need to say something right now because I think it’s urgent, and if I don’t get to talk, I can’t take responsibility for what happens.” Red cards indicate energy and urgency for some matter, which might be positive or negative—and if someone over-uses the red card, the facilitator takes it away. In this way, people get a chance to speak to a particular line of discussion as long as there’s energy for it, which allows for deeper examination of the issues at hand.

    Thanks for a good experience report, Alex.

    —Michael B.

  3. Alex says:

    @Maaret – you’re right, it was our team at the end, but it was you who convinced both me and Tamara to participare :). But the report was yours, and your should be proud of it :D.

    @MichaelB – thank you for the clarification regarding the Red Cards. I thought that the K-Cards link I provided was enough, but it’s even better to have this explained in the post.

  4. Hi Alex – It was greating meeting you at CAST; I enjoyed our hallway chats. Hopefully I’ll “see” you in the BBST Instructor’s course!

    I had to comment here because I had the exact same perception of Doug (I had him for Foundations in February), and same revelation at CAST. It makes me wonder how many others in those classes (or elsewhere online) are very different in person.

  5. Alex says:

    Hi Jeremy, it was great meeting you at CAST!

    I like your question :). I know at least another person that felt the same when she had him as an instructor. Unfortunately she didn’t have the chance to meet him in person…

    If you find others, please let me know :).

    Alex