Updated November 2019
So with UKSTAR 2019 passing and EuroSTAR 2019 fast approaching, I’m building toward my fifth stint volunteering in the Community Huddle(at EuroSTAR and UKSTAR*).
*other wonderful conferences are available
It’s a long old slog, but a very rewarding one, here’s my way of running my very own retrospective of them all to date….in no particular order, and then what I am looking forward to this year.
And then looking forward to EuroSTAR 2019, where I have a new responsibility as 2019 Community Huddle Host….what that means, what I’m looking forward to and what my goals are.
You can meet the 2019 Volunteer Team here – it links to this website, so you could go all meta, if you so desire.
What is the Huddle?
This community huddle has two guises:
- The online community presence of EuroSTAR; blogs, tester’s chat, webinars etc. are hosted from there. https://huddle.eurostarsoftwaretesting.com/ is where you can find it. That isn’t the focus of this blog, as I can’t confess to have contributed to that. It has had a recent facelift, so check it out!
- The expo booth hosted at EuroSTAR and UKSTAR conferences, formerly the Community Hub.
- For EuroSTAR 2019, I have written a little intro to my vision for the Community Huddle.
I’m honoured to be the first Huddle Director, leading our wonderful team
of volunteers in the Huddle area at EuroSTAR 2019.
Some of the greatest and most valuable experiences I have had
attending conferences have been through the conversations that I have
had with my fellow testers. That is why the Huddle exists! The Huddle
is hosted by the testing community for the testing community. We have
three distinct areas, and I want to invite you to explore them all.
The Test Clinic is where you can discuss, debug and dive deeper oneto-
one with an expert in the field of testing. Our volunteer doctors will be
joined by some guests from different testing fields with whom you can
book your sessions, to get to the bottom of your testing issues.
The Test Lab is where you can get stuck in, our team will be hosting
games, puzzles and hands-on activities where you can learn by doing
and practically enjoying our craft.
The Huddle is the heart of the people side of testing, we will
have games, couch sessions with some of the speakers,
and your opportunity to get up on the soapbox
and share your ideas!
Browse the timetable of events in the guide, which is
just a small sample of what is happening. Please
come and say hello to any of the volunteers,
get more information and keep an eye out
for announcements via the Whova app, as
well as Instagram and Twitter using the
The Huddle is here for you. So
make sure to get involved, to meet
delegates and make the most of the
opportunity to learn, share, explore
- The UKSTAR conference’s team wrote a nice little intro to this year’s UKSTAR conference here. I would say, there was some added pressure with the message on the sign:
How did I become a Huddle volunteer?
This was pure chance.
I follow a lot of Twitter accounts, if I find the word tester in the bio, I’m likely to follow. One such account is EuroSTAR’s Huddle account. I was browsing Twitter one evening; while sitting on the floor of my youngest son’s bedroom, whilst I held his hand to help him sleep; and came across a call for volunteers for the upcoming EuroSTAR conference in Copenhagen (2017). There were four areas that you could volunteer: Cadets, Test Clinic, Test Lab and the Huddle.
The Cadets help to facilitate the conference, they steward and help out wherever required, they were everywhere and they are awesome.
The Test Clinic volunteers get to wear special doctor’s jackets and are there to help solve some issues, again they are selfless and awesome.
The Test Lab is where demonstrable testing takes place, from robots and coding to bug hunts and other fun activities, it’s a hustle and bustle that is so much fun.
The Huddle though, it stood out for me. When I talk about what my favourite aspect of testing is, I always go to the people side of things. I love people, I love coaching and getting the best out of people and I love sharing stories and experiences.
I also had the experience of being massively overwhelmed at that very conference, and wanted to enable others to get more out of their conference experience than simply the wide range of talks on offer.
Conferences of any size can be a lonely place, and all you need sometimes is a friendly face.
Also, volunteers received a free conference ticket, which they should, of course. I don’t think I could have attended any other way.
As I mentioned in All I know is I’m lost without you…. , at my workplace, we encourage testers to be engaged with the wider testing community, including blogs, meetups, and conference attendance. So, walking the talk, is important.
What went well?
To keep from writing a full retrospective, I’ll just list things here:
- Lean coffee – even if this isn’t the most well attended event on the calendar, candid and useful conversations always take place in these sessions.
- Couch sessions – these are where speakers at the conference are invited to ‘host’ a more intimate and informal session on a topic of their choice, within the Huddle space…..where usually we have couches. I’m often in awe of these ‘famous’ testers who are willing to give their time to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with our keen minds. At UKSTAR 2019, we introduced Huddle stand-ups, as we didn’t have couches, and made them less formal bringing the topics of discussion to the forefront.
- Soapbox sessions – much like a lightning talk, willing delegates are given time to propose ideas, share thoughts and speak to the local Huddle audience on a wide array of testing topics, I’ve been inspired by some of these talks more than some of the track sessions.
- Introducing new ideas – I could have wrapped these into the preceding three bullet points, but I wanted to emphasise the value in having a space to talk about, and demonstrate new ideas to people. I am a visual learner, and this is right up my street. At UKSTAR 2019 alone, we introduced a forum on meetups and also TestSphere, with RiskStorming.
- Games and prizes…..we all love swag, and how we facilitate that, be it through selfies, duck pond, beer pong or other, it’s always worth it.
- Stickers!!! – delegates are invited to decorate their lanyards with stickers, not only with national flags, but also punny or proclaiming test type stickers, they can act as conversation starters, or laptop decorations.
- We have run first timer networking sessions, discussion spaces for celebrating women in tech, and other fun and informative sessions.
What didn’t go well?
Not everything goes to plan, we are humans and we are fallible.
- We’ve had couch sessions planned when there was a fire alarm.
- At EuroSTAR 2018, we replaced the Soapbox with a stage, that was apparently too intimidating, and only one (Ioana) braved the stage.
- We’ve given away too many prizes too soon.
- We’ve given away too few prizes, and had too many left over at the end.
- I have hosted solo at the UKSTAR conferences, and when I have attended talks, track-chairing or other, I haven’t been present for delegates to interact with at the Huddle (blessing in disguise?).
There’s probably more things, I’m maybe too close to the Huddle to see all areas of improvement.
Why did I come back for more?
On one hand, it was ego. They seemed to like me, and asked me back. Words of affirmation can be motivators, and I am not shy to admit it.
Conferences are a huge source of impetus, recharge and inspiration. The medium of talks, in a live environment are second to none. I am always more engaged in such an environment, than via its online counterpart, the webinar. The presence of a speaker, whether it be hugely energetic, funny, raw, emotional, honest and humble, captures my attention and enables me to learn more from their experiences, than I ever could in written word. I have used several talks that I have attended as points of reference for blogs, in conversations with colleagues or peers and expect to do so more.
I get so much from interacting with other testers. Sharing ideas, anecdotes, struggles and so on, is such a great way to learn and also to teach. Testers are naturally keen learners and we often teach organically, conversations create content, drive our development both personal and professional and feed into our working lives.
If I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job, I would stand aside. I don’t know how I will feel if I attend as a delegate (or maybe, even a speaker one day) and am not on the Huddle.
How could things be improved?
I’d like to think that things have incrementally improved on each occasion, but I honestly believe that all things have potential improvement, and am critical of my own work, always.
Back when the Huddle was the Hub, they had a backdrop that was a black chalkboard-esque wall, it was a space where there could have been the opportunity and space for those who have artistic tendencies, to express themselves. Now, I’m not very artistic, but I would love it if we could include such a space in the Huddle.
It’s fair to say that for some, that the hustle and bustle environment during the break times at a conference, can be pretty overwhelming, and the last thing that you would then want is to go to somewhere with a lot more stimulation. Sometimes there is a real need to chill, and to have somewhere for quiet solace. I don’t know whether that’s something that could be facilitated in the Huddle, but I do think that it would be a valuable space.
So, I’m back as Huddle Director, what does that mean and how is it different?
Firstly, to be asked to come back is a massive honour, and to do so as someone who will coordinate the Community Huddle Team is incredibly humbling, exciting and terrifying.
What we have looked to change this year is a greater coordination, feeling of togetherness and team across all three disctinct areas.
This will be addressed in the positioning of the three areas together in the expo, not divided, but together, to offer a wide range of activities and chances to engage with others, in one place.
We will still have the the Test Lab with hand-on activities, the Test Clinic with problem solving one-to-one deep dives and the Huddle with all the other highly enjoyable madness.
We will have a more joined up timetable and we won’t be bound by our specific areas.
There are many ways conferences plug events and encourage interaction at conferences, and as of UKSTAR 2019, Whova has been the app of choice, this will continue with EuroSTAR 2019, I love engaging with the community, and having ‘won’ the leaderboard at UKSTAR 2019 I’ll try and make it a double in Prague.
Beyond that, there will be a quiet room, which will be a tech free zone….I forget what that’s like sometimes.
That’s all very nice Chris, but it’s not much of a confession….
That’s probably fair, so here’s the struggle.
There is a sacrifice to be given, to serve the community. That is time and to a lesser degree financial.
I want to concentrate on the former here.
It is exhausting.
The advice I give to those attending is to take time for yourself, so you don’t burn out. Conferences can be full on, and you want to attend everything. So, imagine doing that, and hosting a community booth, where you are constantly engaging and networking, discussing and sharing your great enthusiasm for a duck pond.
I have now learnt how to manage that, but it is not easy.
The harder part though, is time away from family.
We have a lovely family unit, and I always feel guilty when I am away. My wife works incredibly hard and she doesn’t get a break when I am away. I can only thank them for the support they have given me over the years.
I always look forward to returning home, they are the reason that I am motivated to continuously improve myself, and I love them all.