There really is a difference to CAST

I just got back (alive) from CAST2009 in Colorado Springs, where I did a presentation on Testing Intelligence.
It was my first CAST and thus I wanted to share some of my observations and comments.

My presentation itself went pretty well (I think) and many people agreed with the TI approach, no surprises there.  But the real value for me came from the people who initially thought the method was not doable (or even realistic!) for their workplaces since it involved to many changes and education of their management on this new approach.

Reviewing the subject together with them I got to understand that the best approach for deploying TI on large organizations is to do it gradually and from within, based on a slowly-progressing plan that would allow the organization to learn and adapt to it, enhancing the chances for success in these environments.

The Testing Intelligence paper and the presentation I gave are posted on the CAST2009 site.
If you get to read them and have any comments, please make sure to send them to me.

I also wanted to talk about my CAST experience.
I have been in many conferences in the past (both as a presenter and an organizer) and so I can point to some stuff that really made a difference on the impact and the value I got from CAST. I invite the people organizing these types of conferences in the future to contact the CAST Team and try to learn from them.

1. Achieving real constructive criticism via facilitated sessions.
The methodology at CAST is that each session (from the largest keynote to the shortest presentation) are divided into 2 parts:
The frontal presentation – where the presenter talks about his subject.
and
The open season – where the audience asks questions, bring forward comments, and even refute the whole argument based on their experience and points of view.

The open season is made possible due to the active moderation of a “trained facilitator” who is constantly making sure the session is kept alive and on a positive and constructive note.

As a presenter, it is a bit scary at first.
Only after you understand that the audience doesn’t want to take you down but wants to help you out, can you participate from the interaction and even enjoy it.

2. Real eye-level interactions between all the participants (and I mean all the participants!!)
It doesn’t really matter if you are a junior tester or a published expert, it always felt right to approach a person and talk to him or to take part in an open discussion (with cups of coffee or bottles of beer!).

Some of the biggest names in the world of testing took part in the conference (Caner, Bach, Weinberg, etc) and at no time did you feel that any of them showed nothing but the most sincere sympathy (or at least respect!) for everyone else.
I don’t know if it was the blend of informal activities or simply the attitude of the organizers, but it was amazing.

3. The feeling of a peer-organized conference.
Again, this was a “feeling” more than something concrete, but at no time did you sensed any hidden agendas or sponsor oriented activities that made you feel someone was trying to sell something.

I don’t think I saw a single person in the conference that was not related in one way or another with the art of testing or at least teaching testing, and this made a whole lot of difference.
A conference from testers, by testers and to testers… what a refreshing idea 🙂

There were also the regular things you get from any “large” conference: a constant brainstorm of amazing ideas, camaraderie and genuine will to share and learn, and the chance to expand your circle of friends and colleagues.

One last thing to mention about this CAST was the fact that it was a relatively small conference, apparently affected by the “current economic crisis” that made an important number of people not to come to the conference.
I don’t know if this affected the conference itself, or if it actually helped to create an environment of a close and connected family of testing professionals that would not have been achieved by a group twice as big.

In any case I wanted to give my sincere thanks to the CAST Organization Committee who invited me to participate and allowed me to take part in the event.  Having had the experience of organizing similar events I can appreciate their work and performance.

I would start thanking by specific names but this will only make me leave out some people out, so as I already thanked each of you on the last day of the conference I wanted to thank you again as a group, for the great work and for the successful conference you allowed me to participate in.

I hope to see you all again in CAST2010!

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3 Responses to There really is a difference to CAST

  1. Jay Philips July 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    I attended your session, which was very good. In order to make any type of change (big or small) in any organization is in baby steps.

    I also thought that the conference as a whole was very well organized. It was nice being able to discuss topics that impact each of us in some shape or form. I really liked the fact that everyone was able to discuss how the items impacted them and how they were able to resolve it.

    I hope to see everyone at CAST 2010.

  2. Michael Bolton July 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm #

    It was great to meet you at the conference, Joel… and a pity we didn’t get more time to chat.

    I don’t know if this affected the conference itself, or if it actually helped to create an environment of a close and connected family of testing professionals that would not have been achieved by a group twice as big.

    My experience with larger CASTs (2007, 2008) is that the camaraderie and learning both keep pace with the size of the group; everything scales up. This was a goal from the outset; the idea was to see if a full-sized conference could keep up with the kind of educational interchange that happens at the LAWST-style conferences, which are limited to about 24 people at the upper limits. Happily, the facilitated approach, the blurry lines between presenters and participants, and the focus on experience reports and experiential learning seem to support it.

    Hope to see you again next year!

    —Michael B.

  3. Joel Montvelisky July 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    Jay & Michael, thanks for the comments!

    As I mentioned in the blog, it was amazing the way we could share and learn, while “forgetting” that sometimes you were discussing real complex issues with people you usually read about… simply amazing & definitely not trivial to achieve.

    I think that baby-steps is good, but sometimes we need to know to what area of the process we need to apply it, for TI it will be on the part of educating the organization around the change in mindset it needs to undertake.

    Michael, regarding getting more time to chat, I absolutely agree.
    I guess this means that I will need to start checking where will CAST be next year, and hope that it will be a bit closer to Tel Aviv (unless you are planning a visit around these areas sometime soon)
    🙂

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