European Testing Conference 2019: My Highlights

João Rosa Proença
Me and the awesome speakers & organizers of the European Testing Conference (photo by MC Ramirez)

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the European Testing Conference 2019, in Valencia, Spain. I had already attended the previous edition that took place in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and I was so impressed that I knew I had to come back this year!

It’s definitely one of my must-go-to events in the testing community, so here are my highlights of the 2019 edition!

The most talked about speaker, who wasn’t even there…

Ever since I met Rob Meaney at Agile Testing Days 2018, I’ve been feeling so fortunate to be able to discuss ideas with such a valuable member of this community. Rob is one of those people that is pushing forward important topics such as whole-team-approach to quality, observability, and testability. His ability to create models and metaphors is so amazing that he ended up being one of the most quoted speakers at Euro Test Conference, even though he wasn’t even there!

Angie Jones delivered what I consider one of her best keynotes ever (sketchnote by Elisabet Hocke), where she got really honest about a moment in her career when her team failed at testing something, well… untestable. She went through Rob’s excellent “10 P’s of testability” to make her own assessment of the untestable system, showing us all how to use the same model to make our own evaluations of the teams, systems, and processes we face.

Then, Francisco Gortazar spoke about “Bringing production observability to your testing environment” (more on this talk below), where he quoted Rob’s “the shell” model that is great to understand how different test levels give us different insights: the impact of a problem vs the cause of the problem.

These are just two examples of how Rob’s work has become so influential and talked about in this community. To top it up, I even caught one very notable speaker of this year’s edition putting this post-it up on the wall during the conference’s retrospective:

Observability everywhere!

Going into this conference one of the main topics I was most eager to hear about and discuss was observability. As CI/CD and DevOps are becoming mainstream in this industry, observability is also something that many have started to discuss in the testing world.

The topic was actually covered in several ways throughout the conference. First, Sarah Wells presented in her keynote “Quality for ‘Cloud Natives’ — What changes when your systems are complex and distributed?” (sketchnote by Marianne Duijst) the notion of synthetic monitoring in production. In her context of very frequent releases into production at the Financial Times, she explained how acceptance testing, even when automated, was too costly and didn’t fit the process, so it was replaced by synthetic monitoring — monitoring the general health in production and combining it with the capacity to react really quickly.

We also had Francisco Gortazar speaking on how to bring observability to testing environments. This was a particularly interesting topic to me, which I intend to follow up on. His talk contained a lot of insights such as the “four analytic levels” when tests are failing, the concept of dynamic sampling (as proposed by Charity Majors) and the importance of keeping decommission plans for your data. He also introduced a new tool he has been involved in building called ElasTest, focused on end-to-end testing but also offering a key feature for analyzing and monitoring logs and metrics for test runs.

Finally, I was also really happy that Lisa Crispin proposed an Open Space session about observability at the end of the conference. A group of people formed up, including Lisa, Abby Bangser, Markus Tacker, Sarah Wells, Francisco Gortazar and others, and the resulting discussions were really insightful and showed me how important this subject is becoming in the community.

A special conference format

I’ve always shared with people I know that the European Testing Conference really makes an effort of putting attendees talking to each other. The conference format reflects that!

One very important part of that format is speed-meet.

Imagine this: on the first day of the conference, after the first keynote and a few talks, there’s this event where all the attendees are placed inside one room and told to form two lines. You stand on one line, face someone on the opposite line and pass them a previously prepared mind map of yourself: it should contain items about who you are, what you have to share and what you want to learn. After a few seconds of each one looking at the mind map of the other, of course, some areas of interest will start to pop up and you’ll want to ask questions, such as: “Hey! You’re interested in applying AI to test management? Tell me more!”. You have a conversation about those topics and after about 5 minutes, an alarm goes off and everyone takes a step to the left in their line, facing a new person on the opposite one and everything starts again. Here’s how it looks like, through the lens of Markus Tacker:

After an hour the moderators declare that speed meet has ended and you’ve basically just met around 10 people. Right afterward, it’s lunchtime at the conference lobby, so you have the chance to track back some of these new acquaintances to continue pending conversations!

It’s an amazing way of establishing new connections with people from the testing community. Personally, I’ve been really lucky to have been paired with a MIATPP award winner during speed-meet, in each of the Euro Testing Conf’s editions I’ve attended. Last year I got to speak with Lisa Crispin about her donkeys; this year it was Alex Schladebeck and aerial gymnastics! But speed meet also tells you a lot about yourself, namely the things that will spark the most interest in others. This time around I had an item about dogfooding in my mind map (which we’ve been applying for years in our software delivery process at OutSystems) and it was clearly the one most people asked me about.

Speed-meet is definitely one highlight for me, but there are other events during the conference that promote people connecting to each other. Another important one is the open space that happens on the second day, allowing you to propose a topic you want to discuss or share and set a small half-hour session in a specific location of the venue to have others join you. It’s essentially the “unconference” format which you can read about here.

… and what about those talks?!

The European Testing Conference is a great event and that also means that there is obviously really good content (besides the talks I’ve already mentioned here). Here are my highlights this year:

  • Branding Your Transformation (Martin Hynie) — This was actually a workshop. I was really impressed by the way Martin drove the session and there were a lot of insights on the topic of transformation (in this case, testing transformation in software development teams). The workshop was focused on testing in software development and I was able to retain two key learning points. T first was the importance of speaking a common “language” when driving change in others. The second was how we are hardwired to think differently about long-term events vs short-term — “If I tell you that you’ll go on a trip next year, you’ll think about all the cool things you’ll do! But if I tell you’re going next week, you’ll start worrying about all the arrangements you need to do to be able to go!”.
  • It does not run on my machine — Integration testing of a cloud-native application (Markus Tacker) — I had really great discussions with Markus throughout the conference so I was really looking forward to his talk. He works in an IoT context so his testing challenges are really interesting — he showed us how he found out that testing a complex system running in the cloud is much more than testing just code. The configurations that connect the different components must also be tested, so using infrastructure-as-code is essential in such a context. He also expressed some key ideas I agree with, namely how powerful the Gherkin syntax can be to express your end-to-end tests and also that this sort of tests should only cover happy paths (no substitutes for proper unit-testing).
  • Leaping back into the code via Remote Mobbing (Sal Freudenberg, sketchnote) — I’ve yet to experience proper mob programming, let alone remote mob programming, so I was really curious about this keynote from Sal Freudenberg. I really liked the story she had to tell about getting back into coding and then her enrollment in the Cucumber team, that holds mob programming sessions frequently. There were also some insights on how we all have our sensory differences and that our (common) open office plans don’t cater to that. She explained how she progressively evolved her working space at home, adapting it to her own needs so that she would participate in the mobbing sessions online more effectively. It all gave me a lot of thinking material as I’m also susceptible to my environment when working in an office environment.

So these were my highlights from the Europe Testing Conference 2019! If you’re interested in learning more about the testing world and connect with smart people, I definitely recommend you attend next year (I’ll certainly try to, once again).

João Rosa Proença

Written by

A portuguese software engineer, currently in the role of Quality Owner, but also a singer / songwriter when I get the chance!

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