A Very Special Place - My Story at TestBash San Francisco

by Felipe Oliveira

The Ministry of Testing Scholarship

Soon after I started working in QA, I discovered the Ministry of Testing and their Dojo. Something that particularly caught my attention were the TestBashes the Ministry of Testing organizes and the MoT Scholarship, which grants entrance to these events for participants who qualify. All you need to do to is send them an email explaining why you want to attend. Once it was announced the next TestBash USA would be in San Francisco and hosted by none other than Ash Coleman and Angie Jones (two huge names in the testing community) I knew I had to go. I submitted my application and waited for a response.

Fast-forward several weeks and I'm at the gym. I hardly bat an eye as I see an email notification on my phone. "Must be some promotional email" I think to myself. It's a Sunday morning after all. A few moments later, I am sitting on the floor semi-paralyzed. The email is Richard Bradshaw letting me know I had received a scholarship. I am going to my first TestBash in San Francisco!

Arriving in San Francisco and Pre-Conference Meetup

After a lot of anticipation, the day has finally come, and I am landing in San Francisco. It couldn't be a more perfect day. Warm weather and clear skies. The Golden Gate Bridge distinctively red against the landscape. I take all of that in and just then completely grasp the fact this is really happening.

Later that evening we have our first event, a pre-conference Meetup with food and drinks provided. This and another Meetup after the conference are open to non-conference attendees and I think that's a great move to include people who might not make it to TestBash. We then have a very informative and spirited talk from Charity Majors on Observability and Testing in Production. The conference hasn't even officially started but I am already having a great time.

Day 1 and Family Feud

After a much-needed night of sleep, I head to our venue, the Cowell Theater, zooming my way on a rental e-scooter atop Fort Mason, once again greeted by a beautiful sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Arriving at the check-in counter I get my name tag and t-shirt and try to strike up more conversations before getting a seat.

At this point, I am reminded that as an introvert, socializing in a room full of people is not exactly my forte. I also notice a lot of the folks here are seasoned testers and many are well versed in code. I can’t help but point out to myself that I can barely write a few lines of code without referencing Google. A little anxiety mixed with impostor syndrome sets in and I start feeling doubtful. How did I even get here? Maybe it was a mistake. I quickly find my doubt is misplaced, however, as I notice everyone I talk to is incredibly welcoming. Not once do I feel judged either. On the contrary, I see that diversity is cherished and professionals from all walks of life are valued no matter what techniques or methods they use.

Once everyone’s inside, we get ready for the talks. The first talk of the day could very well be a closing keynote at any other conference. Elisabeth Hendrickson (author of "Explore It!") teaches us how authority is subpar to influencing people by building trust, leading by example, and communicating effectively. Any remaining thoughts of displacement I had earlier are promptly washed away. After all, every point presented strikes true with experiences I've had and are clearly applicable to my work. This realization is repeated throughout the day as each talk provides more useful advice and relatable stories. By the end of the day I am itching to take back what I learned to my team and put it into action.

After the talks it's time for Family Feud, an adaptation of the game show with a QA twist. I am matched with other attendees forming a team and Angie Jones reveals the prize of the night: the winners will each get a ticket to any TestBash 2019 event of their choice! The stakes are suddenly very high. The teams try to list answers to topics such as "Groundbreaking testing book" and "Places testers go in their free time". Once the teams have their go the audience takes their chances and it quickly becomes a challenge of how much TestBash USA knows the testing community. Angie mercilessly fills the venue with a resounding buzz indicating wrong guesses as we try to reveal the final answers. After the scores are tallied, my team is delighted to hear we are the champions of the night! Can a lightning strike twice at the same place? Yes, it can, and I land a ticket to another TestBash. Woot! We all celebrate a great first day with food trucks and drinks provided by the Ministry of Testing.

Day 2 and 99 Second Talks

Next morning, the air has a distinctive smell of smoke from wildfires affecting Northern California. Nonetheless, the folk in the conference keep a cheery mood as we start the second and last day of talks. Today's schedule includes another impressive roster of speakers with diverse topics, ranging from strategies to defuse bugs, testing voice devices like Amazon's Alexa and what artificial intelligence can contribute to our field. The smoke outside subsides a little and people have lunch outside while talking and appreciating the view of the Bay.

The day comes to a close, but no TestBash can go by without one of its most fun traditions: 99 Second Talks. This is a moment when anyone can go on stage and share anything they want. Wanting to make the most out of my first TestBash, I decide to give it a shot and get in line to talk about an article I read recently about building trust between testers and developers. Once my turn is up you can bet those 99 seconds go by faster than I thought and I barely have time to say a couple points before being interrupted by a cow mooing. No animals in the theater, just one of the sounds that announce our 99 seconds are over. Mooing aside, I gave a talk at my first TestBash and am glad I did! After the conference ends, we have another Meetup to get together and share food and drinks before parting ways.

The Path Ahead and Thank You

Looking back, I find it amazing how so much happened in just two short days. I made connections with other testers, listened to engaging speakers, had a lot of fun, and was reassured I'm part of a community I am glad to say I belong to. TestBash was my first testing conference and I left with an outstanding first impression.

On a personal note, the conference stirred within me two distinct but complementing emotions. First, it left me humbled as I saw first-hand the multitude of things one can learn and practice as a software tester. I already knew that diversity is a staple in our profession but reading about it is one thing and being in a room full of people exploring and, in some cases, leading the way on the field is something else entirely. Secondly, TestBash made me encouraged by the thought of discovering my own path. Encouraged not only by the resources and knowledge that were brought together, but also by the welcoming and non-judgmental place that popped up at that pier in San Francisco.

Finally, I want to thank the Ministry of Testing for giving me this amazing opportunity as well as commend the organizers, presenters, and volunteers who made all of it possible. Here's hoping this is the first of many TestBash events I will share with you all!

About the Author

Felipe Oliveira has been working as a QA Engineer for over a year and loves how testing stimulates his curiosity and desire to learn a multitude of things. he’s particularly interested in exploratory testing and ways testers can collaborate effectively with developers and other team members. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.