So, UKSTAR 2019 has finished, as has my fourth stint volunteering as Community Huddle host (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, because I’m still tired.
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.
- The expo booth hosted at EuroSTAR and UKSTAR conferences, formerly the Community Hub.
- The 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.
If I am to be a Huddler again, I will definitely look to bring new ideas to the Huddle….not sure what yet, but I love me some continuous improvement, any and all ideas are most definitely welcome. Please feel free to comment or let me know.
We have already received requests for European Union flags to be added to the stickers.
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.