The Association for Software Testing says this about… well, itself:

The Association for Software Testing (AST)  is an international non-profit professional association with members in over 50 countries. AST is dedicated and strives to build a testing community that views the role of testing as skilled, relevant, and essential to the production of faster, better, and less expensive software products. We value a scientific approach to developing and evaluating techniques, processes, and tools. We believe that a self-aware, self-critical attitude is essential to understanding and assessing the impact of new ideas on the practice of testing.

This is kind of a mouthful. 

I’m not going to write about that.  Well, not directly anyway.

Once upon a time I was a regular participant at SQAForums, and a newly minted “QA Lead.”  I was digging for information, ideas and the like to use with my new position.  I remember threads where people posting things like”Really, there are no ‘best practices’.”  They sometimes went on to say something like “There may be something that works well in some circumstances or may help sometimes, but the idea of ‘this is the best thing to always do’ is misguided.” 

This made a lot of sense to me.  One guy posted something about starting a new group for testers.  This was roughly 10 years ago. I remember thinking “that sounds fantastic, but it is obviously aimed  at people more experienced in testing than I am.”  I let the chance pass by. 

Two mistakes in One.  Impressive, Pete.

Fast Forward to 2009.

I was at a conference in Toronto, sitting at breakfast with a group of people I did not know, when I realized the nice lady who sat down next to me and with whom I was speaking was Fiona Charles.  The same Fiona Charles whose articles I’d read and bookmarked. WHOA!  A few minutes later, here comes Michael Bolton – no, not the singer or the guy from Office Space – Michael Bolton the tester guy.  He sits down at the same table!  WHOA^2!

We’re digging into a breakfast of eggs and sausage and potatoes and fruit and coffee and tea and we’re talking – I’m trying hard to be nonchalant – its not working very well.  Two of my “testing idols” are sitting at breakfast and we are talking.  WHOA^3!

So, the conference day begins – we’re doing our thing at a workshop they are conducting and I’m participating in.  Make it through the day.  I grabbe some supper and had a drink and stumble off to bed with my mind quite melted. 

The next day, in between sessions, I find myself chatting with Michael who says “Got anywhere you need to be?  How about we play some games?”  YES!  DICE!  Awesome!  So, we dive in.  Pretty soon, there is a small group standing around the table we’re working at – drinking coffee and juice and tea and talking and there are some really smart people there.  A lively discussion around “metrics” and “measurements” and “expectations” and “needs.” 

There is Michael, myself, Fiona joined us, as did Lynn Mckee, Nancy Kelln, Paul Carvalho.  I realized that this “hallway track” had some of the best information of the day.  I also realized I was the only participant who was not a speaker.  WHOA^4

At one point, Fiona looked at me and said “What are you doing here?  You don’t really fit.  You need to go to CAST.”  I responded something like “CAST? What’s that?”  And got a chorus of “It’s awesome! You’d love it!  Its like this conversation but bigger!”  Then Michael said something like, “You’re from Michigan, you said.  CAST is in Grand Rapids next year.” 


I LIVE in Grand Rapids.  This way-cool conference is coming to Grand Rapids?  REALLY?  WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So when I got home, I looked it up.  I found “The Association for Software Testing” and saw the names of some of the people involved – and I said to myself “Self, these are the folks whose writing makes sense to you!  These guys rock!”

I did something I have continued to do since then – I bought myself a birthday present of a membership in AST. I have not regretted it. 

Why?  In AST, I found a community of people who are willing to share ideas and hear you out.  They don’t see you as a novice, even when you are.  Instead, most of the people who really get it see you as someone who is on a journey with them to learn about more and better software testing. 

That conversation in the hallway at a conference in Toronto was only the beginning.  When CAST was in Grand Rapids the next August, I swung by the conference site the day before it began and ran into Fiona Charles, who was sitting with Griffin Jones.  I loaded them into my car and dragged them kicking and screaming to my favorite Italian place in Grand Rapids for dinner.  Giving them a mini tour in the process. 

We landed at the restaurant, sat down on the terraza, ordered wine, the lady-wife joined us – and we had an amazing conversation with dinner that covered nearly everything in our heads – architecture, art, the economy, US-Canadian history, software testing.  It was an amazing evening. 

Every CAST since then has been like that for me – Exquisite conversation, learning, enlightenment and challenges. 

Ideas are presented – and it is strongly suggested you be able to explain and defend them – otherwise the results will be “less than ideal” for you.  People selling stuff – from tools to snake oil – are sent packing.  People with challenges are encouraged.  People looking for ideas find them.

Each year is different – and each year there are similarities. Generally, the sessions inspire conversation and discussion.  This leads to thinking and consideration.  Sometimes they result in “Interesting Encounters.”

Last year, someone was presenting on failed projects and mentioned the Mars lander – the one that crashed several years ago?  Remember that?  Partway through their story a hand went up and said “That’s not quite what happened – I was an engineer on that project…”  Yeah. Really. 

This lead to a series of interesting hallway conversations – and the session she presented was very well attended.

So, what is it that, for me, AST is about? 

It helps me be better at what I do.