I’ve been watching the continuing twitter feed as people unwind, download, and organize thoughts around the week in Potsdam at Agile Testing Days (ATD). I wrote one set of thoughts, mostly stream of conscious – a mind dump.

This one is different. I’ve been thinking about what makes a conference something where people go attend sessions, go to the “official” events (mixers, networking events, etc.,) and go back to their rooms for the rest of the time, and conferences that are events in themselves. Agile Testing Days  is one of the very few conferences I’ve been to that fit the later description – an event.

Loads of learning – Some decent presentations, keynote sessions, workshops and tutorials. No session will be to everyone’s taste and that is probably a good thing. I’d personally like to see more nuts and bolts, practical “apply this idea” sessions and have begun considering what I have in the hopper that would fit that bill. Now, not every keynote presentation will impact people the same way. By the end of the week, I can see a need for a difference in tone and timbre.

Idea… People are tired. Mentally exhausted. I think of this as brains leaking out their ears. Looking to issue a “call to action” in the last plenary session is a challenge. I like the idea of a retrospective – a “what did we learn?” Less a clarion call to DO SOMETHING and more a gentle glass of something warm sitting by the fire.

Other Learning – I tweeted about how “people talking” was a favorite part of ATD. Yup – I did… here:  https://twitter.com/PeteWalen/status/806146808368025600

Why is that a big deal? In hallway conversations and breaks and quiet chats in quiet areas, people are free to delve into thoughts and concepts that interest them, or considerations on a topic that were triggered by a presentation. While this can be social, I find many of these are part of deep learning. They allow people to explore partially formed or considered ideas and help shape them by talking them through with other people. This is a key component to learning for many people, including me.

That ATD has breaks between sessions of a nice length, with snacks, coffee, fruit, etc., between each session, AND a quiet area (like, really, a designated quiet area) AND plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to sit and talk helps people do exactly that.

Social – Part and parcel of the “other learning” are social activities. A visit to the Potsdam Christmas Market before the official start of the conference, the Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person Award dinner (MIATPP – this year’s winner was Maaret Pyhäjärvi – @maaretp – extremely well deserved. Congratulations!) The “Sponsors Reception” and “Agile Games Night” – AND a Cabaret-type event after the Games – AND Lean Beer and Karaoke – AND a Women’s Summit…

That was just the “organized” functions.

Meeting and talking and drinking and walking about the town and talking and going for dinner and talking and meeting in the pub/bar later and coffee and lean coffee and talking and beer and talking and whisky and laughing and telling stories and listening and listening and watching and thinking.

I know the organizers did not “make” that happen. What they did was work with the venue to allow it to happen. This is hugely critical and often overlooked. Getting people to interact is easy when everyone knows where everyone will be.

My personal learning – Don’t over commit. Yup. That sums it up.

This year, in addition to all the conference stuff I normally do with ATD, and all the stuff I promised people we’d “talk about in Potsdam,” I was also desperately trying to finish some testing on critical tickets for the day-job. Yeah, there was a deadline. There is always a deadline.

The result was, time I usually used to allow information and ideas to distill or settle, was spent working on projects that also required deep thinking. Result was even less sleep than normal for a conference (One morning I woke up after just over 4 hours and felt like a million bucks for having had “so much sleep”… yeah. Nuts.)

So. Don’t do what I did. The recovery time took way too long this year.

Allow time to decompress. Allow time to sit and sip a coffee or tea or juice or water and enjoy the flavor and taste of it. Allow time to taste the beer or wine or whisky you are drinking. Going full speed all the time actually diminishes your ability to fully enjoy the experience around you.

I ended up doing that Thursday afternoon. Walked away so I’d be rested and restored enough for the tutorial on Friday. There were good things, fantastic things all around related to the conference. I was full. That was enough for now. That way, I could finish the week strong. I could do what I had committed to for the conference AND for the day-job. (I actually finished testing at the SAS lounge in Stockholm on Saturday.)

Give yourself the choice to step away from the world so you can enjoy and appreciate all that is around you.

With that…

I return to finish shoveling snow deposited over night.

To Jose, Madeleine, Uwe, Sabine, Stefanie and everyone else who worked so hard to make this experience happen – Thank you.

I look forward to Boston, Agile Testing Days USA, in June – and, with luck, the 9th installment of Agile Testing Days in Potsdam, next November.