Lately, I’ve been engaged in some one-on-one training/coaching/mentoring/how-can-I-do-this-better activities at my client.  Of course, this falls on top of project work.  It is nothing so formal nor so grand as what some folks do.  Often times it consists of a cup of coffee or tea, sitting at a table outside – there are some nice nooks and crannies that someone thought about and put tables and chairs in for quiet conversations.  One day, a particularly warm day, it was a nice bit of gelato instead of coffee.

At the end of one of these sessions that featured me saying things like “That is an interesting statement, what do you mean by that?” I gave a bit of homework to “the other party.”  The original question was “am I worse than average of the testers and test leads you know?”  (There was a bit of self-doubt that day.)  We talked about her question and different aspects of people’s strengths and weaknesses.  That was when I gave her the homework.

I told her to consider the skills needed as a tester who designs and executes tests.  Then consider her own skills and how her skills compared.  I pointed her to this blog post.  She looked at me and blinked and said “You were fired?  Really?”

I then gave her the “homework” – the same exercise I did for myself with skills I’m good at, skills I need to improve and stuff I don’t know anything about and want to learn.

That Sounds Really Hard!

I smiled at her response.  If you are honest with yourself it is not easy.  Not in the least.  She was astounded that I continued to do this on a periodic basis.  “But you go and speak at conferences and do workshops and stuff.  You’re an expert!”

Hardly an expert.  I know somethings.  Some of those things I know really well.  Other things I desperately need to improve on.  That is part of why I go to conferences.  Agreeing to speak at conferences simply makes the face-to-face conversations a little less expensive.

Learning is not something I can “schedule” easily.  Learning opportunities are everywhere.  Making time to learn what I need to learn, or sometimes what I want to learn is the challenge.  If I have the opportunity to talk with people, even for a few minutes, I often find I can take something away that can help direct my next stage of learning in a given area.

She seemed confused.  “You mean, you go and talk with people the way I am talking with you?  Really?”  Absolutely.  I need guidance.  I need a nudge sometimes.  I need to check my thought processes and see if what is going through my mind is accurate or not.  I need the inspiration I get from hearing people talk on topics they are absolutely comfortable with.

You mean that they are passionate about?

Not exactly.  People can be passionate about things and actually know very little.  They can be moved to passion by something, but have incorrect factual information that is the basis for their passion.  they are basing their passion on.

I am looking for enlightenment and inspiration from people who have done good, solid work to be able to set aside the rhetoric, the marketing fluff and the stuff that will get them the next gajillion dollar consulting contract and present information and ideas.

I don’t have to agree with them to learn from them.  I can disagree on the conclusions.  I can disagree with them on interpretation.  If they have solid evidence, fact (not truth – truth is two doors down the hall) behind their views, I often can learn something from them.

When we both have finished our “work” for the day, I can then seek them out, speak with them and hopefully engage in a learning session.

This astounded my colleague – “You go there to learn?”

That is precisely why I go to conferences and meetups (even ones I help put together).  I go and participate so I can learn.  Plain and simple.


There are two conferences I will be participating in later this year.  Other opportunities presented themselves, but schedule would not allow me to participate in two of them.  My submissions for a third were not accepted.  No hard feelings there.  I will certainly submit (better) proposals again.

The ones coming up are in August and October.  They are nicely spaced, from my view, for getting client work done (keeps them happy and generating checks) and not so far apart as to feel there are ages between them.

In August, I will be in Madison, Wisconsin at CAST – the Conference for the Association for Software Testing.  I’ll be doing an “unofficial add-on” session Monday evening with Matt Heusser.  We limited the participation in this simply because it gets unmanageable if there are too many people.  We have a cap at 24 – and have only a few seats left (last I knew).  I’m kind of excited.  The Saturday before CAST, Matt is running TestRetreat.  That looks to be really cool. 

In October, I’ll be in Potsdam, Germany at Agile Testing Days.  There I’ll be teaming up with Matt, again, on a full-day tutorial on Exploratory Testing.  I’ll also be running a workshop.  Matt will be giving a keynote. 

I’ve been to CAST before – missed last year because of day-job commitments.  Last year was my first experience with Agile Testing Days.  That was also my first experience with a testing conference in Europe.

If you are in North America, I know conferences in Europe are expensive even to get to – but the experience is astounding.  Way smart, articulate people.  Excellent conversation.  Wonderful thinking.

So, yeah.  I go to conferences to share ideas.  Mostly, I go so I can learn from way crazy-smart people.  At both of those conferences, I find it very easy to not be the smartest person in the room.  That is what drives learning for me.