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Out of the Test Cave: Starting a Meetup Group (Assert.This)

On November 17, 2015, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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out of the cave

Phase 1: The Search

I wanted the same feeling of community I experienced online only locally. I work in a relatively small city but for its size we have a quite a bit of software being developed here, we even have early claims to the title Silicon Beach. Although that title has stuck more to the Santa Monica area we still find our way into the News.

So I just assumed that when I would search for a Meetup that there would be a group… There wasn’t.
I expanded the search thinking there had to be one. In 20 miles, in 50 miles nope. I finally got hits at the 100 mile mark, and frankly looking at them I was jealous, on top of the general test groups there were more focused ones on automation and tooling.

I ended up joined a few of the local development oriented groups to see how things went, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Phase 2: The Complaining

What followed next was several months of intermittent complaining. I happily attended 3 or 4 meetups with the local JavaScript group. I’m pretty new to JavaScript but each session was great, but at each session I was pretty much the only tester. The number of participants varied at each meeting, but there was still good participation. At the close of each session I’d think to myself, with all this software passion how can there be no testers group. I would carry this sentiment home and literally say the same thing to my wife. Each time she would reply, “Why don’t YOU just start one?” and I would have no real answer. To be fair to myself I’ve been committing more and more time to testing outside of work hours. I take night or online computer science classes at the local community college, the BBST class, Weekend Testing and this blog. Its all been great and I want to do more, but organizing a testers group really played into Imposter Syndrome feelings. I mean its not like I’m leading a team, or even working in particularly buzz wordy areas. What can I bring or share, there’s so much I’m still learning.

Phase 3: Starting a Group

My strategy as of late has been, when things start to feel a little overwhelming to double down. It’s kind of like the episode of the Seinfeld sitcom where George does the opposite everything he would usually do.

One day when I felt the urge to run back into my cave, I instead logged into the Meetup site and started a group. I was a little shocked that it actually costs money to establish a new group. This brought up even more reservations. It’s not like its super expensive, but the last thing I wanted was to shell out my own cash and have no one show up. Thankfully, my wife stepped in again and said just go for it, it’ll work out. So, out came the credit card and the group was started.

I didn’t have a dedicated space for the first meeting or any guarantee that anyone would even join the group so I opted to have the first meeting be Lean Coffee. I figured if people show the open discussion could uncover topics for later meetings and worse case I would have my laptop and just work at the coffee shop for the evening.

Phase 4: The Fear

And now we wait. I could have gone around and advertised the group to friends and coworkers but I wanted the group to start organically. I’ve been to meetups where the bulk of the group for the evening is from a single company or with a people that know each other from outside the group and it can easily be a little awkward for those that are new.

So I waited, and as days went by people began to join the group. Not, in droves or anything but after a few weeks the group had 8 to 10 people. No rsvp’s to the Lean Coffee yet but you never know who will actually show up even when people rsvp.

The closer I got to the day of the meetup the more nervous I got. I was hoping people would show up, but a part of me definitely would have been more comfortable if no one actually did.

Phase 5: A Glimmer of Hope

After a couple of weeks of no activity, by the day of the meetup 2 people had committed to going. So, I packed up my laptop and little paper sign and headed to the coffee shop uncertain of what to expect.

Both of the confirmed attendees showed and we set to sharing our backgrounds. We opted to skip the formality of lean coffee since it was just the 3 of us, but in an interesting note one person shared that from time to time his team used the lean coffee format for their retrospectives. It never occurred to me to do something like that but I really liked the idea since people can just submit topics via sticky note. This seems like it might lower some of the intimidation factor or bringing up certain topics.

An interesting thing was that all three of us had some form of development experience. I expected the group to draw only testers, but we had a developer interested in how to better test her code. I had expected to be talking about test planning and organization but we ended up with more interest in Selenium and TDD.

What was really nice was that everyone was interested in growing the group. I committed to keeping a cadence of meetings somewhere around every 4-6 weeks and to try to find a dedicated space/host for us. They said they would try to get the word out, and suggested I send out a message to ask for suggestions on what the group would like to see presented/discussed in the future.

All in all a success.

Phase 6: What Now?

I am continually impressed with the testing community. Local and across the internet testers have been very supportive and willing to help. I don’t think it will stop being a little nerve-wracking any time soon but to quote Woody Allen:

Eighty Percent of success is just showing up.

So, I’ll be at the next meetup, will you?

 

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