In August I was in New York City for CAST 2014.  This was the Ninth installment of the Conference of the Association for Software Testing.  Like many non-profit conferences, there is a mix of staff and volunteers making sure things run smoothly.

As luck would have it, a couple of weeks before the conference began, I got a phone call asking if I was available to “help out” a little more than usual.  It seems the nice lady who normally runs the registration desk was not available this year – things going on with the family and medical issues and… life getting in the way.  I said “Of course I can help out.  Not a problem!”

The result was, even though I was at the conference, I was tracking the activity by watching twitter because I was awfully busy not being in the room.  It was really kind of fun.

Now, CAST is interesting in that for the last several years we have hosted a live webstream and recorded the keynotes and several of the track sessions – and then loads them to YouTube as soon as they are able to load them.  In fact, you can see them here:

So, I really wasn’t worried about missing content.  While I was kind of bumming about missing the energy in the room(s) I knew I would get the highlights from friends and colleagues later that evening.  Why did that matter?

Well, CAST is interesting.  Part of the “energy” is in the portion of each presentation (including keynotes) referred to as “open season” – That is a moderated Q & A session where, essentially, questions on the presentation, the experience the theory behind it or lessons learned are all fair game.  Discussion is aimed not to dance around issues but to get to the heart of questions that people in the room have and wish to know more about.  When the time is up, it is not unusual for the discussion to move to the hallway or to an area intended for just that sort of interaction.  For me, this is one of the main attractions to CAST:  the discussion.

Another main feature is related – the chance meetings with people in the hallway or at breakfast.  Frankly, one of the best aspects for me are these meetings.  The “I just bumped into {famous tester/tester I respect}” events serve as highlights of my day and week.  This year, I admit, it was a flurry of these meetings – Fiona Charles, Erik Davis (and his crew from Hyland Software – these folks get it), Huib Schoots, James Bach, Griffon Jones, Matt Heusser, Karen Johnson, Michael Bolton, Selena Delesie, Michael Larsen.  The list kind of goes on and on.  People I knew from other places and years past and kind of looked forward to meeting again.

Then there were others I had not met in person, but whose writings I respect, like James Christie, Richard Bradshaw (whom I had met before, but never really had a chance to talk with), Smita Mishra, John Stevenson, and … and… and … Right – you get the idea. 

There was an impromptu gathering at my hotel bar when I happened to run into people I did not expect to see there – and then more appeared – and more – and – There were some 15 people at one point on a Sunday night, with not planning what so ever, just having drinks and great conversation and … Frankly, I don’t see that very often at other conferences.  

One thing I must admit though, working at the Registration Desk, while it is a lot of work, is also a LOT of fun.  In what other way do you get to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON who walks in the door? 

I can hear it now – “But, I’m not good at that – I am shy and kind of introverted.”  HAH!  Ya know WHAT?  Very few people are comfortable doing that – walking in to a room full of strangers and greeting people and being warm and friendly – and saying hello and …

OK – here’s a secret:  I kind of suck at that.  I worked really, really hard to do that and not come off like a jerk.  Ya know how I overcame that?  I thought to myself, “Self, how would you want someone to help you feel comfortable in a strange setting, like a conference when you may not know anyone and all these ‘legends’ are walking around?” 

So, yes.  This is far from the full list of people I had the chance to meet and hang with at CAST.  It is simply some of the thoughts running through my head as I think back on that week in New York. 

What is my point on this?  I think it is pretty simple.  If you have the opportunity to help out a local meet up or gathering or even a conference – do it.  If they ask if you could work the sign in/registration table – DO IT.  It is kind of cool!  You will do something others won’t – say hello to every person who comes to the event.

You never know who might walk through the door.  One of them might be Opportunity.