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The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called “99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester“. Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the “99 Things” book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions.
Suggestion #21: Attend or even better speak at Software Testing and Programming conferences (there are free/low cost one that provide great value) – Stephan Kämper
This may well be the best kept secret out there, but yes, if you want to get into various software testing conferences (and developer conferences, too), there are numerous ways to get involved and participate so that you can attend either for free, or as close to free as possible. Most conferences rely on a cadre of volunteers to run. They need to have a quantity of paying individuals to attend so that the conference breaks even of sees a prefect, but that typically does not prevent conference organizers from looking to volunteers to help them make the conference a success. The key, though, is to be able to offer a talent or a skill that will make you a good candidate for accepted as a volunteer. From my own experiences, I’m offering some ideas below.
Workshop #21: What Can I Do to Be a “Volunteer”?
Put simply, there are lots of avenues and opportunities where even basic skills can help tremendously. From my own experience I have:
– arrived early to stuff bags and have badges ready to go
– manned the front desk and given out badges and bags to attendees
– offered to be a “track coordinator” and introduce speakers, manage questions & answers, and collect surveys/questionnaires
– help out with the A/V needs of a conference, whether it be to do live sound, recording of audio or video taping of sessions
– offer to live blog or otherwise promote the conference (this has worked for me because I have an established blog and a reputation of posting live blog updates, but it’s definitely worth asking if such a thing would be worthwhile to a particular venue)
– offer to do interviews and convert them into podcasts or available audio content for the conference organizers
– arrange several months in advance to assist with web content creation and management for the conference web site
– offer to do systems administration or other chores that the conference needs (registration, front end development & testing, content uploads, etc.)
– offer to review papers and presentations from speakers. This is a huge service, and one that is very often needed
and the final recommendation… offer to speak.
I saved that one for last for a specific reason; it’s often the most difficult of the volunteering opportunities to fulfill. 
At a variety of conferences, getting picked to speak is a big deal, and there are more rejections than acceptances. Does that mean don’t try? Of course not, but it does mean give some consideration as to where you are looking to speak. If you have never spoken at an International testing or programming conference, it might be hard to get an acceptance as a first time speaker. Often, regional or local conferences are a better bet for first time speakers. 
My first opportunity to speak at a conference came from the fact that I had established a reputation doing something first. My first two “conference talks” were both related to Weekend Testing, and both came about because I was asked to speak about my experiences facilitating sessions. The first opportunity came at CAST 2011, and would have been followed up by speaking at PNSQC 2011, but a broken leg prevented that from happening. My original paper, though, was published by PNSQC, and that paper being published helped lay the ground work for my presenting it at STAR EAST 2012 (along with a friend who read the paper and said “dang it, this needs to be presented” and championed me to the conference organizer). 
Those experiences helped make it possible for me to present additional papers at additional conferences and get consideration to be reviewed by other conference committees and make additional presentations. In short, volunteer efforts get you known, those efforts help you develop experience reports you can share, that sharing (and positive reviews) opens up other avenues to speak and present. 
Bottom Line:
Conferences are great opportunities to learn and interact, but they are also great opportunities to share your own experiences and develop a broader community. If you have the time and the energy to volunteer at the local or regional level, do so. Express your interest early, and offer in areas that are not glamorous. Show that you are reliable and want to be engaged. That enthusiasm is remembered, and you will find that you’ll be on a short list of contacts the next time around. 

Speaking opportunities are often available to those willing to share what they have learned and initiatives they are involved in. Topics do not need to be “The Next Great Revolution in Software Testing” and you do not need to be “The Greatest Rock Star Tester in the World” to be asked to speak. Every day people have compelling stories and Lessons Learned that can help the industry. Be one of those voices, and be willing to work up to being one of those speakers… oh, and don’t be shocked when you are offered more and more opportunities to participate. The testing world is small, and it’s always surprising how many people know each other. Show that you are ready, willing and able to work to make a difference, and you’ll be contacted for lots of opportunities, I can almost guarantee it :).
 

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