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The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 1 – The Story So Far (Sowing Seeds)

On February 27, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Somewhere around October of 2012, I got an idea in my head. More correctly, Matt Hutchinson and Michael Bolton got an idea stuck in my head. I had been searching for a tester meetup in the Cleveland area, and was having a tough time finding one. I had read tweets from testers all over the world, talking about their local tester meetups, or gatherings or whatever each group called them and wanted one near me. These were groups of testers, getting together to talk about testing. This sounded awesome to me, and I was sad I hadn’t heard about the local group. Sure, we have NOSQAA, which I attend, but I wanted something different in addition to what NOSQAA provides.

So I searched.

And searched.

Eventually, I accepted that there was nothing in Cleveland, so I spread my net further. I eventually found Matt Hutchinson’s Software QA and Testing Meetup in Columbus (if you’re in central Ohio, I highly recommend you go… more on that later). Matt first floated the idea of me starting my own group. The Twitter thread that followed planted a seed (see what I did there?) that has been growing ever since. I peppered Matt with questions on and off for a while, eventually asking him for more detailed input in mid-December. This is what I received from Matt on New Year’s Eve:

Things to think about:

What is the purpose of the group?

  • Looking to build a community of testers together?
  • Do you want to mentor others?
  • Is the group for any tester of any level? Other job functions welcome?
  • Focus on networking?
  • Focus on structured presentations?
  • Workshop formats?
  • Focus on specific technologies?

What topics are you interested in having?

Where do you want to hold meetings?

  • Physical meetings?
  • Virtually?

How often do you want to meet?

How would you like the meeting format to go? Same format for every meeting?

Food or no food?

Dues for the group?

Register as a non-profit?

How do you intend to get the word out and market the group?

Based on style of meeting, how many attendees can you support?

Are you interested in larger meetings or smaller meeting where everyone has a voice?

How will you handle logistics and manage your attendees? RSVP? Email lists?

My experiences:

  • I had a really hard time getting the word out for my group several years ago. I decided to restart the group back in 2012. Social media has made a big impact in this area.
  • I decided to gauge interest first my sending out emails/messages/Tweets first. I held online meetings/open forums where folks could stop in and tell me what they might be interested in learning about. That served as a way for me to get topic out initially. This also gave me time to find a location while still getting people engaged early.
  • Here is how I get the word out for my meetings: Twitter, LinkedIn Posts, LinkedIn Groups, forum postings mainly. Also, once people started attending, I asked them to spread the word. This year I will start an email campaign via LinkedIn targeting QA Managers to let them know that my group is meeting. My most successful way of getting the word out has been through the use of meetup.com. I also use that service as the vehicle for handling my reservations and members. It’s cheap and I use it as tax write-off.
  • I try to get the word out at the beginning of the month on what the topic will be for the end of the month
  • I decided early that I wasn’t worried about the numbers and that took off pressure. If I could get a small group of core attendees coming, I was happy. As long as everyone involved is getting something out of it, I am happy.
  • Meetings started out really small at first, maybe 2-3 people. Average attendance now is about 10-15. I expect this to continue to trend upward as I continue to network. I have not put a ton of time in advertising the group.

I wanted to use 2012 as a test to see what works and doesn’t work. Higher attendance may actually have a detriment to what my goal is.

My goal for the group is to get people together and create an environment where everyone could have a voice. There are a couple of other groups that meet (and they are good), but I wanted a different format than what I was seeing. Most meetups I go to went something like this: network, presentation, 5 minutes of Q&A if lucky, and then people leave. I didn’t feel like people were always engaged and there was limitations to information sharing.

My format is a bit different. I send out in advance a list of questions/topic for a given month. I do an intro for the night, start off with a “meet and greet” for everyone in the room (name, experience, role, etc.), then we dive into the topic for the night. The entire night is an open forum – I try to act as a facilitator only and try to keep the flow of conversation going. I am trying to get everyone to speak and have a voice, ask questions, share experiences, etc. This format is also good as I don’t have extensive powerpoints, I can invite “exerts” in and they have little up front prep work, and as long as I have a good topic, the night will go well. I leave the networking to before the meeting time and about 20 minutes after the meeting. I am usually setting up/tearing down.

I want my group to be available for anyone interested in testing – testers, test managers, test directors, those wanting to get into testing, other business functions that had an interest. I try to stress that point.

I tried to pattern meetings off of the “local computer clubs” that I attended with my brother in the mid 80′s and 90′s.

  • Dreaded name tags really do work
  • Bringing someone to help with setup and also welcome people really does help. The sooner you can get people comfortable, the better.
  • Finding a location was easy for me. I am working through Tech Columbus and the Platform Lab. They gave me space. All I did was meet with the director, told him what I was interesting in doing, and he set me up. The only thing I have to do is give a 2 minute spiel on what the Platform Lab is. I found it interesting that once I started to get the word out, that larger consulting companies in the area were lining up offer to sponsor the meeting and provide a meeting location if I needed one. Perhaps you can engage in talking with consulting companies for free space or to rotate locations on a quarterly basis if you can’t do it at your place of employment. When I started this, I was 100% working at home independently or working at my client sites so this was critical for me.
  • I chose to start the group meeting monthly. I am leaning towards not having meetings in November of December due to lack of reliable attendance. I was surprised that the summer meetings did not have a drop off. I also find it that people want to meet more than once a month like the other meetings got together. More often people meeting, better relationships can be formed.
  • I found a consistent date helps. I am going with the last Tuesday of each month. This is good if you can use one single location.
  • Coming up with topics has been a challenge for me and will directly impact attendance. Hitting topics with popular buzzwords helps the most in this area. I would be curious to know what sort of topics you are interested in for your meeting.
  • No dues, no affiliations for me. I can keep things simple and unbiased.

Start small, start simple. Let the group help dictate and react as needed.

 

It took me some time to go through all of this in my mind, but it helped to fortify my resolve. I started asking people at work if they might attend something like this if it existed. Several said yes. I began asking on Twitter about other meetups and how they ran. I heard from Pete Walen, Matt Heusser and Phil Kirkham about GR Testers, and from Matt, Phil and Hilary about the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down. I heard from Tony Bruce about a group in London, and about the Leeds Tester Gathering. I received links to articles, and blog posts, and emails with information from other organizers, or about other organizers and how they did what they did.

Information and ideas kept pouring in. In January, I had the pleasure of working and meeting with Matt Heusser and Pete Walen for a quick, 3 day consulting/training stint (I was a participant, not a consultant). During that time, and the weeks after, we bounced ideas back and forth on Twitter, and others jumped in on the to the conversation.

I was now determined to start a group. I wanted a group that would represent the testers in the northern Ohio area. I wanted a group that would meet regularly, without dues, or networking hours or snacks (unless I could find a way to swing them… snacks are always a +) and talk about testing.

So I started doing something about it.

  • I registered to attend the February 27th session of the Software QA and Testing Meetup.
  • After some mild prodding from Michael Bolton, I reached out to several people at LeanDog and scheduled a meeting with them to get their insight into running meetups seeing as they run a number of the development focused meetups in the Cleveland area.
  • I registered for the March 23rd session of the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down.
  • I reached out to my marketing wonder of an Aunt for naming ideas.
  • I looked into meeting websites and personal business cards that I could use to share information about the yet-to-exist group. I thought about locations and possible sponsorship.

And so my journey begins.

I guess it’s a little late to back out now, eh?

 

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