For reference, I had never been to Portland before my trip out to PNSQC this past October.  I searched for hotels and eateries and transportation information and (being who I am) Irish Traditional Music Sessions and Pipe Bands.  I had been on the MAX – the light rail system – for 10 minutes when I realized I had failed to search for one key thing….


Really.  Any city that has a website, bumper stickers, billboards and … stuff dedicated to Keep X Weird gets huge bonus points in my book.  Massive points.

I met a whole passel of dedicated, creative, passionate, exuberant people who were excited to be in a place talking about software and quality and engineering and the like.  I’ve been to conferences before (yeah, the blog has a fair number of references to them) and have seen energy like this and have fed off it to get through a long week.  This was different.

Let’s see, how was it different.  Well, I hung a lot with a bunch of people I had met but did not really know.  I also met people I had never met in person before – but had read their writings, blogs, articles and the like.

This was folks like Michael Larsen, crazy smart and all around nice guy with may more energy than I can muster.  Ben Simo, yeah, Quality Frog – another crazy smart guy who has lots of cool ideas and thoughts and is also way nice. The three of us went to lunch the Sunday before the conference started.  It was one of the most amazing conversations I can remember having in some time.

We covered the range of good quality Mexican food (we were eating at a place with fairly few non-Hispanics eating) to Tex-Mex to South-Western to – Oh yeah.  Software testing, software development, cool tech stuff to bands to music to … what WAS that stuff Michael was drinking?  (a lightly carbonated fruit juice bevvy – pretty good actually.)

We experimented with artisinal chocolates (its Portland, EVERYTHING is made by an artist) on the walk back to our hotel, while discussing the amazing variety of food wagons that were parked (some looking like they were more permanent than others. 

Included in this was a discussion on the huge variety of opportunities for exquisite food and remarkably enjoyable people watching and meeting.  I know.  Weird, right?

The Conference

Instead of a blow-by-blow description of events and activities, I’d suggest checking out Michael Larsen’s way-cool live blog posts.  The weird thing was that it seemed like every time I looked around in the session I was in – there he was typing away and way into the topic.

Michael -Dude – you are so inspirational it is crazy.  Here’s what Michael had to say…

Day 1 
Day 2
Day 3

OK, so my personal remembrances of the conference – I had a nice coffee and walked to the conference site from my hotel – not the conference hotel, but nice and not too far.  I found myself focusing on nothing at all and simply drinking in how walkable the city is and how good the coffee was and … why was I 4 blocks beyond the conference center?  Really.  Cool city with lots of things to see and small, comfortable parks.  Nice.

My Day 1.

So scurried back to where I was supposed to be, grabbed another coffee, registered at the front desk and promptly met Michael Dedolph and then Terri Moore and then – a bunch of very friendly people.

It was pretty exciting – the auditorium was packed for the opening key note by friend, colleague and sometime partner-in-crime Matt Heusser.  The fact is, there was not a seat left in the room, there were a bunch of people (myself included) were sitting just outside sipping wireless, power and coffee, and listening to Matt over speakers set up for that purpose.

I quite enjoyed Matt’s presentation on Quality and manufacturing an software and… stuff.  I was astounded (and humbled) when he mentioned me toward the end. 

I found myself in some great conversations, bailed over to the “birds of a feather” lunch session on testing in the cloud, hosted/moderated by Michael Dedolph, I then wandered off to a couple of other presentations – then was drawn into Doc Norton’s presentation on “Growing into Excellence” – it was really solid, dealing with encouraging and growing people to do better and… yeah. Good stuff. 

This set up Linda Rising’s presentation on Agile Mindsets and Quality.  It was…  Wow.   Consider the similarities between people who are willing and able to adapt multiple views, consider a variety of information and approaches and select the appropriate solution based on the needs of the project.  Pretty agile, no?  How we communicate with people, starting in primary school and running through until finishing – high school or beyond – colors those expectations based entirely on what we praise and reward.  Thus, the question is, what do we want to reward?  Yeah.  I quite liked that.

Day one ended with a session with Matt on metrics.  It was kind of a fun discussion on “Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and Quality Metrics.”  It also was a good way to wrap up the day.

My Day Two.

Day Two started out similarly to day one.  Had a nice breakfast with Matt Heusser and Michael Larsen and Ben Simo, grabbed a coffee to go and headed out for a very nice walk to the conference center.  It was quite nice – and remarkably short when one pays attention to where one is going.

The morning keynote was by Dale Emory on “Testing Quality In.”  Yeah.  Its one of those topics we dance around and best, and generally reject as naive and simplistic.  Unless one considers another oft-cited testing truism “Everything can be tested” – including requirements, design, everything.  Test stuff early and the product we get to “test” will be better.  In short, get testers involved early and participate as much, and as constructively and professionally as possible – and things can be better.

Ben Simo gave a really solid talk on Software Investigation.  It was interesting in the way that I tweeted very little – instead, I simply listened and observed.  Ben has a style of presentation that I enjoy and appreciate.  Frankly, I suggest that you read his stuff.  Its good.  Find his blog here. 

The “Birds of a Feather” session I went to was a roundtable discussion on a variety of topics.  Everything from Agile to Metrics to “How do we do things better.”

I found myself in a conversation with a variety of bright people on software and perceptions and intent and goals.  Essentially =, Why do we do this and how do we know we’re done?  More on that in another post.

I had a listen to Venkat Moncompo talk on UX.  As we were speaking on similar topics I was curious to hear what he had to say.  Now, Michael Larsen gave a really nice summary in his live blog post, above.

I then got up and spoke on my take on UX and testing and stuff.  The gist of my presentation was – Everything touches on UX.  Tests you can think of, interactions.  Most importantly, the reasonable expectations of a person who intends to use your software to a specific purpose – if they can’t do that, the rest of the touchy-feely-kum-ba-ya stuff does not matter.  It was a good conversation and exchange of ideas – which is what I try to get going. 

That is
perhaps the greatest thing I ran into at this conference – folks were willing to discuss a point, debate an idea and examine concepts while asserting themselves, politely.

I know, weird.

My Day Three.

The third and final day for me in Portland was an all-day workshop on Software Testing.  Really simple, eh?

Software Testing Reloaded.  This is a session developed with Matt Heusser, that we have run several times now, that looks at what makes testing, well, testing.

We look at some of the truisms that get bounced around.  We look at the “you must do to do good testing” assertions and, well, test them.  We come in with a set of goals and intentions, then add to them topics that the participants have as areas they want to explore, discuss and generally spend some time diving into.  

The first time we presented this – it was a leap of faith.  Now, it is just fun.  The weird thing is (yeah, there’s that word again) that when we present it at conferences, we always end up with more people in the room at the end of the day than were there at the beginning of the day.  Its kinda cool.  (Shameless plug, if you are not doing anything the week of November 19, Matt and I are doing this workshopin Potsdam, Germany at Agile Testing Days.  Check it out.)

That evening, Matt and I met up with the SQAUG group – a new, home-grown testing and QA discussion meetup type group in Portland.  We had a great time with them, talking about Complete Testing and sharing ideas and doing some exercises around that. Good times.

Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

Thursday I needed to fly home so I could be at meetings at my client site on Friday. 

What I found enjoyable about this conference was a couple of things. 

First, and I’ve already mentioned this, sessions, hallway conversations and round-tables were very enjoyable. People were happy to discuss ideas and share views and be nice about it.  There were very few people I met where I thought “What a prat.” In fact, everyone was very nice and polite.  I kinda grooved on that. 

The other thing that I really liked was how relaxed everything was.  Now, that is not to say “Not intense.”  I came away each day with a feeling of “My brain is full.” I was mentally drained and exhilarated at the same time.  Many conferences I find myself physically exhausted and just wanting to curl up in a corner.  Here, at the end of each day, I felt I could go a bit longer, even when the conversations around the table with adult beverages went into the wee hours. 

Yeah it was weird, in a really good way.