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14 August 2012

viaqa 2012, Varaždin, Croatia

by Željko Filipin

A couple of months ago I was in Varaždin (Croatia) at a local software testing conference viaqa 12. The topic of the conference was education of software testers. Karlo Šmid wrote really good blog post about viaqa 12. I agree with his thoughts, so I will not repeat them here.

Before I start, I want to make it explicit that I am really thankful for all the effort all participants of the conference have put into it. I will be highly critical, but polite (I hope), about almost all of them, including myself. Nothing I say is personal. It is what I think. If you want to hear constructive critic, read on. If you just want people tapping you on the back, stop reading.

The conference started pretty boring. Since we got free venue from the local FOI university, a couple of the teachers, Melita Kozina and Valentina Kirinic, asked if they could start the conference with a talk each. At the conference, they decided to add one extra talk, just in case. I knew this was a bad idea. Last year at viaqa 11 we had 3 FOI teachers as speakers at the conference, and that was the most boring part of the conference. The same happened this year. Boring and completely irrelevant, in my opinion. I am pretty sure the two of them had the best intentions. After all, instead of spending time with their families or friends, they have decided to come to the conference. They also stayed until the very end. That shows they really care. But they have completely missed the point.

I know it is hard to be funny and interesting all the time while trying to teach people something. I am also guilty of a few boring talks. I have recently spent hours and hours practicing my 10 minute talk for a local conference and then got the worst audience score. It is not all about half stand up comedy, half teaching, no matter how hard would I like that.

So, what was the mistake? First, I think they are mixing quality assurance and software testing. In my opinion, the two terms should even rarely be said in the same sentence. That is a huge topic, and I will probably write separate blog post about it, so I will not get into detail here.

Second, I guess they are used to teaching things that are relatively mature. The way such topics are usually tought is with "best practices" (the term that was pretty often mentioned at the conference) and standards. They probably just can not figure out that software development, and especially software testing is such a young craft, that there is no consensus on how it should be done. Also, it looks to me that they think all software should be tested like it is life, safety and mission critical. All that talk about endless documentation probably just drives the students away from software testing. I know there is a lot of software that should be tested like that, but surprise (!) there is a lot of software that is developed using CDD methodology (Chaos Driven Development) and any testing is better than none. We should teach the students that there is this entire new horizon, wilder than the wild west, where your job is to be a creature part Sherlock Holmes and part The Hulk! I am working as a software tester for more than 7 years and I have never had to deal with tons of documentation or any other similar folklore. My job was "just" to find as much important problems as possible before our users did. Nobody cared how I did it. Did I test manually, did I automate, did I follow a script, did I do rapid session-based exploratory testing (need more buzzwords here)...

Not to mention constant mentions of certifications in their talks. I will not even start that discussion.

After them Mirella Subotic from Plinacro (a natural gas transmission system operator) talked how they tested something. I must admit I forgot a big part of her talk, since all the time she was talking in such generic terms, I could not figure out what they were really doing. A few of us talked with her later and she said that she was generic on purpose, because she did not want to bore the audience with technical details. I think that was the wrong decision.

Then we had a break and I think almost all students that came to the conference have run away at this point. I would probably do the same thing, if I did not know more interesting parts were coming.

The main event of the conference was round table about education of software testers, moderated by Davor Banovic, founder and organizer of the conference. It was pretty interesting. We talked with Tomislav Buza, local tech bloger, via Skype. This was the first time that I have seen live Skype call on a conference. Valentina, Karlo and I were other participants. I think Valentina just repeated her option about best practices, standards and certification. I remember Karlo was pretty energetic about education, as usual, but I must admit that I have forgot the details. I did not contribute much. I think I just said all you need to learn formally is English, and then just use your brain and learn the other stuff as needed.

After the round table pizza came and there was time for informal talks, usually the best part of every conference. (Talks over beer after the conference are also high up on my list.)

After the pizza break I was the moderator of lightning talks. We had 4 of them, all of them pretty good. Security testing by Tonimir Kišasondi, Game of set by Karlo, "Do students have time and will to think" but I do not know the speaker's name, and I have closed the lighting talks with a five minute version of Test automation at screencast. I am biased, but I think the lightning talks were the best formal part of the conference. I think almost all talks had enough questions to fill the optional 5 minutes of discussion.

The formal part of the conference was over at that point, but we stayed there, talked and had a few beers. After we left the venue a few of us decided to have a beer or two at a nearby pub. That was also a good part. The three of us spend and hour or two talking about formal education and freelancing.

A few of us that were not local decided to spend the night in Varaždin and FOI arranged accomodation for us at the local dorm. I almost forgot one of the important parts of the conference. Karlo and I came with my car to Varaždin, so we had about an hour in each direction to talk about testing and related topics while driving.

After all, it was a good conference, I am looking forward to next year. I just hope we will change the name, since we already had problems with the name being hard to say and really similar to a popular erectile dysfunction drug.

By the way, this was the first conference that I have been at that had beer served all the time (since the venue was in University pub). Nice. Making note for next year.

tags: event - facebook - photo - speaker - testing - testival