Category Archives: Conferences and UG Meetings

Kalamazoo X 2017 Recap

Holy shit.

Another amazing Kalamazoo X. This year was even more special because I was honored to be asked to speak. To be honest, speaking at Kalamazoo X was on my bucket list, but I never thought it would happen. It’s like the pinnacle of my speaking career. Doing a technical talk is easy. Doing live demos is easy. Being this vulnerable and open with a room full of people, some of which you work with, or have known for years, but never opened up like this? It’s fucking hard.

I was a nervous wreck leading up to it – is this too much? Am I going to regret this? Are people going to look at me differently, or treat me differently?

It went really well, actually. As usual, all talks leading up to mine fit mine perfectly, and all after did the same. Somehow we always get a theme or three running through all of the talks unintentionally. Yes, it’s always by accident – Mike isn’t that good of a planner.

My live tweets are compiled here: https://storify.com/g33klady/kalamazoo-x-2017. I always get a lot of encouragement from people for live-tweeting – both those that aren’t able to make it, and from those that have hearing difficulties. It’s my way of note taking, so I’m glad that it helps others!

CodeMash 2017 Recaps

Another CodeMash here and gone. I got in around 450 tweets this year – seemed like I didn’t attend as many sessions.

Here are the recaps (via Storify) for the sessions I attended!

Precompilers (Tues and Wed)

Storify: https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2017-days-1-and-2-precompilers

Day 3 Sessions (Thursday)

Storify: https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2017-day-3

Day 4 Sessions (Friday)

  • Mashing Up QA and Security with Craig Stuntz
  • (I was going to attend Over-Achiever, Under-Believer: How to Match Your Confidence to Your Competence with Maureen Zappala but a few minutes in I realized it was a re-versioning of the first talk in my recap from last year: https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2016-day-4)
  • Getting Started in Functional Programming with F# with Reid Evans
  • Leading Hackers and Hacking Leaders with Jonathan Popham

Storify: https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2017-day-4

CAST 2016 Recaps

CAST 2016 was held in Vancouver, BC. This was my first time to Vancouver, but I love the Pacific Northwest, so I was pretty sure I was going to love it there. Spoiler alert: I loved it in Vancouver!

I’m so happy I got to attend CAST this year, after missing last year due to project work. Since I first attended in 2014, I knew that CAST was a can’t-miss conference for me for as long as it runs. Putting the “confer” back in “conference” is the style that really appeals to me – as an audience, we’re not just talked at; we engage in active discussion. Everyone is part of the conversation.

This year, I feel like I learned things about myself as a person and as a professional, as well as some solid takeaways to implement at work. Some of the best takeaways came from side conversations, which is true to the spirit of CAST!


On the first day of CAST, I attended two tutorials:

Here’s the link to the Storify for day 1: https://storify.com/g33klady/cast-2016


On the second day of CAST, I attended the following sessions:

  • Opening Keynote: Automation, Software Design, and the Human Factor with Nicholas Carr
  • Babble & Dabble: Creating Bonds Across Disciplines with Katrina Clokie and Carol Brands
  • Afternoon Keynote: Test Management Revisited with Anne-Marie Charrett
  • Cooperating to Exercise Judgment and Skill: Requirements with Julie Lebo
  • How King Uses AI in Testing with Alexander Andelkovic

Here’s the link to the Storify for day 2: https://storify.com/g33klady/cast-2016-day-2


On the third and last day of CAST, I attended the following sessions:

  • Opening Keynote: Neuro-Diversity & Software Development with Sallyann Freudenberg
  • Alpha Testing as a Catalyst For Organizational Change with Steven Woody
  • How Do I Reach The Congregation When I’m Preaching To The Choir with Erik Davis and Rob Bowyer
  • It’s Certainly Uncertain – Fostering Healthy Uncertainty on Software Projects with Fiona Charles

Here’s the link to the Storify of day 3: https://storify.com/g33klady/cast-2016-day-3


Of course I did some sightseeing in Vancouver! Here’s a collection of some of those posts:

https://storify.com/g33klady/aside-from-cast-in-vancouver-bc

Kalamazoo X 2016 Recap

Basically, Kalamazoo X 2016 was fucking intense. I’m still processing, I may have more to write later, but I had to at least Storify and get out some thoughts before the initial bits went away: https://storify.com/g33klady/kalamazoo-x-2016-tweet-recap

I’m proud to help make sure KalX happens, and I hope to help make it happen every year. I need this conference – it speaks to me differently each year, it gives me what I need to hear and feel. I think I heard someone say it’s like the Room of Requirement of conferences.

One note – I feel like we need to rebrand it. It’s not “soft skills” as people know it. I don’t know what to call it, though.

I witnessed some people on their phones playing games, and initially I was like “ugh, wtf”. But after talking with one of those people, I realized – this shit is too intense. They’re trying to detach! I now have some empathy for those folks, but I feel like if they come in thinking “I’m going to learn to be better in meetings!” and we throw KalX at them, we might make some people lose their shit…

 

 

BestConferenceEver = KalamazooX

KalamazooX is the “non-technical conference for technical people”. It really is the best conference I’ve ever attended, and I go every year since the first one I went to – no exceptions. The best part about this conference, is that it’s SO FREAKIN’ CHEAP for the value! At $75 for standard registration, $35 for students, even with travel and hotel, you’ll end up paying way less than any other conference’s cheapest tickets.

This is my “official” blurb about KalamazooX – how I feel about this amazing conference, from last year:

I’ve only attended 5 or 6 different conferences in my career, but the feeling and motivation I get after KalamazooX is incomparable. The single track, back-to-back talks are intense and life-changing. I’ve meditated and made gratitude lists, been inspired to speak at conferences, laughed, thought deeply about my life, cried – all during KalamazooX. The X conference is definitely one I will never miss – it’s always first on my calendar with time blocked off to go. I can learn the latest technologies and best practices at any other tech conference or online. What makes KalamazooX different is the work we’re putting into ourselves – it doesn’t only change our professional lives but our personal lives as well, all in one amazing conference. I always leave the X conference a different person than who I was when I walked in.

This year, 2016 KalamazooX will be held at the Fetzer Center on the WMU Campus in Kalamazoo, MI, on Saturday, April 30. There’s an amazing list of speakers, like every year – Christina Aldan, Kate Catlin, Ed Finkler, Leon Gersing, Jay Harris, Cory House, Lauren Scott, and Alan Stevens.

Do yourself a favor, and sign up for KalamazooX! It will absolutely change your life!

CodeMash 2016

CodeMash 2016 was awesome, as per usual. This year, I think we had a much larger turnout of testers than before. We even had some testing related open spaces!

I wasn’t able to go to all of the sessions I wanted to, but I live-tweeted the ones I did attend! I ended CodeMash with about 400 tweets, according to the rough count I got from Twitter (top is day 1 of CodeMash, before I started tweeting, bottom is after my final CodeMash tweet on Friday):

collage_20160110014717456

codeMash2016-somanytweets.PNG

The big screens in the main hall where my face was far too often (tweet)

Here’s the Storify of the Precompilers I attended, which were

https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2016-precompilers

On Thursday, I attended the following sessions (which are in the Storify link below them):

  • Is your API leaking? Breaking APIs to increase security with Joe Kuemerle

  • A whole team approach to testing with Jon Kruger
  • Accessibility of the modern web with Brian Greene
  • Growing a Testing Whole Quality Team The Hard Way with Jim Holmes
  • Open Space – tester lean coffee
  • How do we solve for XX? with Kate Catlin

  • Jam Session!

https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2016-day-3

On Friday, I attended the following sessions (which are in the Storify link below them):

  • Oppose Your Impostor! How to Be Freed From Feeling Like a Fraud with Marueen Zappala
  • How to Stop Hating your Test Suite with Justin Searls
  • Automation in Testing, Go Beyond Test Automation with Richard Bradshaw
  • My God, it’s Full of Tests with Kyle Lewis
  • Open Space – testing discussions
  • Secrets of Success in the Style of Glee with Jennifer Marsman

https://storify.com/g33klady/codemash-2016-day-4

KalamazooX 2015 recap

I put together my tweets and thoughts of KalamazooX 2015 on Storify here: https://storify.com/g33klady/kalamazoox-2015-recap

Introversion, social anxiety, and conferences

Just a warning that this is gonna get pretty honest and open about my introversion and depression. I’ve touched a bit on my social anxiety before, but not like this.

I’m an introvert. To some of you who’s only experience with me is on Twitter, this may come as a surprise. According to Meyers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ. Even if you think Meyers-Briggs is bullshit, some of it still applies.
Yes, I’ve been trying to work on myself more lately by speaking at conferences and running a user group. But that doesn’t change how much social situations give me anxiety and sometimes depression.

As an introvert, I find it terribly draining to be at a conference. Just attending the sessions, walking the halls in between, makes me feel brain dead and useless at the end of the day. And if I’m attending alone, any of the social stuff I’ll usually skip – I just can’t deal with it. Lately I’ve been attending with my fiance, so with him as my social crutch I’ll attend these social events. Yeah, I know plenty of people at the conference but I always feel so awkward and alone, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people that seem to be doing just fine.
If alone, and someone reaches out to a group I belong to asking if anyone wants to hang out, I’ll usually ignore it – surely they can’t mean me, too. If I am asked directly to hang out etc., I’ll reluctantly accept unless I’m too overwhelmed with social interactions already. I have once or twice initiated these kinds of social sessions at conferences or when I’m hanging out in someone else’s city. Not usually, though – that introduces a lot of stress.
Usually if I have a drink or two in me, I’ll loosen up a bit. But it’s the getting to the bar and getting that drink that’s often the problem.

Recently, I attended CodeMash. I was the Testing track chair for the conference, and was excited to see what I had helped happen in that track. There were some great, and not-so-great, talks, lots of social situations, and generally hanging out with folks I know. All seemed great to the outside world, I’m sure. I did some hiding…

On the way home, I started to feel the dragging pull of depression. Not sadness that the conference was over and I’d miss my friends. Actual depression. My social anxiety was so overactive during the 4 days of the conference that it turned directly to depression.
I’m just now, a week later, feeling back to normal. I have depressive cycles once in a while, and this one had a definitive cause. I haven’t had such a lasting issue from a conference before… After each of the user group meetings I host, I have a day or so of feeling terribly drained and unable to function after; the time leading up to the meeting, especially the day of, is full of anxiety.

This won’t keep me from attending conferences in the future, of course, or hosting my user group. I just hope folks understand if I sit out the social meetups or just want to be alone in between sessions.

Are you an introvert or have social anxiety? How do you deal with conferences? User groups?

Why user groups and networking are important

Starting a user group is probably the biggest challenge I’ve taken upon myself in a long time. Getting sponsorship and paying for it, finding a place to have it and an amazing speaker – that’s been the easy part. The hard part is creating that community. Getting people to understand that a few hours after work each month are worth it. I understand people have families and other important things to take care of after work. What I don’t understand is when the priorities of all of those other things come before bettering yourself, furthering your career, and networking with like-minded people every.single.time. Do you think you’re the smartest person at work? LEAVE THAT COMPANY. If you don’t think there’s anything to learn… hell I don’t know what to tell you. I feel sorry for you, actually. There’s ALWAYS something to learn and ways to grow personally and professionally.

Michael Dell: Never Be The Smartest Person In The Room

Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room. In professional circles it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. And in life it’s called family, friends, and community. We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships. ~University of Texas, 2003

 

I’m not a model citizen when it comes to user groups and networking meetups – I don’t make the meetings every month without fail. Other things happen – I totally understand. But I keep up with folks on Twitter in between, and go every few months to .NET user groups (like MIGANG) and networking meeups (like IT in the D). And I’m starting a tester user group to get that part of my passion and career rounded out (Motor City Software Testers). There’s also online networking groups, like Software Testing Club, to keep me up to date and networky.

Why are user groups important?

So many reasons! You’re keeping up your knowledge about your industry. You’re meeting new people/catching up with old friends – all that you can share ideas with, or just bitch. You get free food and swag (usually). Maybe you’re getting some public speaking experience, and sharing your passion. You can’t go wrong! Maybe the speaker’s topic doesn’t apply to you – big deal! You still learn, you still broaden your horizons, you still meet new people or just socialize – you still get amazing opportunities to grow in your chosen field.

Also, going to the bar after with the group is the best. Socializing, sharing ideas over a drink, NETWORKING!

Why are networking groups important?

As the IT in the D guys say, if you start networking when you’re desperate for a job, it’s too late. You need to start building those relationships early, and keep them up. I got my first job in the software industry by going to a Women in Tech networking lunch. At that first lunch, just chatting with one of the ladies, she says “you’d be a great QA, just by your personality. We have an opening at my company…”. It doesn’t happen this way for everyone – I was very lucky to have found the career I love by going to one networking lunch. BUT! The important thing is that I didn’t stop going to those groups. I keep up with networking, I keep up with folks on twitter. That’s why I routinely get messages from respected people in the industry offering me a job – not just recruiters that found me on LinkedIn.

I don’t worry about losing my job (even though it’s very secure, there’s always the possibility) – I feel like I would be able to get into a new job very easily. Because of networking. Because of user groups. Because I’ve kept up those relationships.

Just go already!

THAT is why user groups and networking are important. It’s a small price to pay to spend time away from family and other things. But if your career is a priority – if being financially secure is a priority – it’s totally worth it.

 

On being a (not so newbie) speaker

A few months ago, I received an email from someone that attended my very first conference talk, at QA or the Highway in February. They were from $Company, and lead a QA team there. They thought that my talk would be great for their team to hear, and asked that I come to speak to the team. Instant freakout! That was my first time speaking at a conference! Holy shit!

I replied that I was interested for sure, and we set a day and time. I got my talk ready, by making a few changes from the conference, updating a few points and adding some things.

I also started setting up a drinkup for the time I would be there, to catch up with testers in the Columbus area. That turned out to be an excellent decision. And Mr. Keith Klain introduced me to the Per Scholas folks in Columbus, and asked that I stop by and speak to them as well – a casual conversation about being a tester and just being a IT professional. And that he’d pay for the drinks! Bonus!

So now I was on a mini speaking tour. Time for the Imposter Syndrome to kick in…

I drove down on Father’s Day, checked in to the hotel, and went to the bar. The original one we chose was closed, so we moved on to another – we’re testers, we adapt well to adverse situations!

Now for the conversation at the bar. I met up with Damian Synadinos and Diana Wendruff – two awesome folks in the test arena in the Columbus area. We talked about why I was in town, and who I was speaking to. Damian offered some advice that proved incredibly valuable to me – this could be a “quick fix” by management, try to make everyone get along by bringing in this speaker. Some of the folks there in QA are *not* testers by profession, they probably don’t want to be there. That, in itself, was extremely helpful. I had not thought about it yet, but here’s what I realized:

speaking at a conference, people have chosen to be there or at least chose to be at your session, and can walk out at any time if they feel it doesn’t apply to them. Speaking at a company, people are most likely made to attend your talk. They have other stuff to do, and if they don’t want to be there or it doesn’t apply to them, they can’t leave – they can only sit there. You’re giving it your all, showing your passion to them, and some of them just don’t care. Maybe even resent you.

AND THAT’S OK!

Speaking in front of an audience like that was intensely different than at the conference. At the conference, the attendees were engaged and interested, and they laughed at my jokes! At this company, I was just like “management” to most of them – throwing a message at them that they didn’t care about or believe in.

Now I’m not saying every person that I spoke to there felt this way – there were a few attentive faces. But for the most part, it was the “ugh, I’d rather be doing my job right now” face. Without that realization – without that conversation at the bar! – I wouldn’t have been prepared. I would right now probably still be crying from the experience 😛 Lesson here – always get drinks with your buddies! Or something…

 

Then I went, directly after, to Per Scholas. Per Scholas is an amazing program that provides IT training and job placement to low income folks. This audience was the complete opposite of who I spoke to earlier in the day – they were excited to have someone come in to speak to them that was doing in the real world something that they could do in the very near future. I gave a quick rundown of my resume essentially, and opened it up for questions. Some great, intelligent questions and excellent conversation. They asked for my contact information and business cards (nobody at $Company did!) which I happily provided – I’m happy to answer any of their questions privately, or connect with them on LinkedIn. They are an awesome group of women and men that have a very bright future ahead of them, thanks to the Per Scholas program.

A few of the points I tried to make there:

  • You absolutely do NOT have to know how to code to be a great tester
  • However, knowing how code comes together will help you (the process of dev)
  • When I was hiring for testers, I was looking for:
    • Passion for software quality – beta testing games? providing bug reports for software you use every day?
    • Excited by puzzles – if you have to figure something out, you don’t get frustrated easily
    • Intelligent and willing to learn – I don’t care if you have a degree, but if you’re not willing to learn buh-bye
    • Admit when you’re wrong or don’t know – srsly, don’t lie or inflate your abilities. It won’t end well
    • Some technical aptitude – you have to be able to figure out how to troubleshoot. Or Google well 😛
  • Network network network! Look for meetup groups. Networking is how I got into this industry!

 

All in all, my mini speaking tour was great. I gained a lot of experience speaking in front of a not-so-accepting crowd, and got to meet the amazing Per Scholas organizers and students, and of course drinks with some great testers (paid for by Keith Klain!).

I’ll be speaking at the Quicken Loans internal Technology Conference in July, and then again at CAST in August. Then I think I’m done for the year! And I’m getting married next year, so probably not doing much next year… Though I started 2014 with the hopes of speaking at a single conference, and am ending up speaking at 3 plus privately for a company and Per Scholas. So who knows!