CAST is over, and I really enjoyed it. While I was there, I kept comparing it to the European testing conference I attended last February. Much of what I saw and experienced was similar, but there were a couple of differences that set the tone slightly, and since the two conferences felt so similar to me, I think they can easily borrow ideas from one another, if those ideas match the organizers’ view.
- Collaborative content – During ETC, there was at least one event each day meant for content that comes from the audience – a facilitated lean coffee and an open space. Both of those were part of the conference regular schedule, and were a great opportunity to get to know people and to hear ideas from everyone. At CAST, there was a lean coffee very early in the mornings (7:30 AM) , and while I think it was a great way to start the conference day, only about 20 people attended each morning to the event. There was also a session dedicated to lightning talks, with a relatively low attendance, as it was conflicting with other great events.
It definitely felt to me that ETC was more collaborative than CAST, and not only due to the smaller size (if I got my numbers correct, CAST had about 2.5 times people attending than ETC). I got my share of collaboration during TestRetreat where I got to meet some ~20 testers and hear what they had to say.
I find the collaborative parts of the conference very important. They provide a meeting place to start and make a personal connection and maybe foster some discussion later on. I also like to feel that I see familiar faces around, and talking for a couple of hours with a group of 10 poeple does give me that sense of familiarity.
- Discussion – One of the things separating CAST from other conferences I hear about is “open season”. Each talk had a built in time dedicated for asking questions. Usually, talks are ~40 minutes long followed by a 20 minutes period dedicated to questions from the audience. As someone attending the conference, it very assuring to know that there will be time for my questions, and that I don’t have to hope that the speaker will take the whole session time. I also saw less cases where people approached the speaker with a horde of questions after the talk. It still happened, but less. At ETC, one of the main challenges I had was that after each session I would come and ask a question or two, or listen to someone else asking an interesting question that lead to a short discussion – and then we were all late for the next event.
The K-cards were also something new to me, and they were used to easily facilitate the discussions around, even outside of formal talks. Having a way to mark clearly the difference between “I have something new to say” and “I have something to say which is related to the subject we’re talking about right now” was very helpful, and for some unexpected reason, I almost didn’t see any red cards being used.
- Workshops – during CAST, there were three workshops that took a couple of time-slots each. in ETC they were two dedicated workshop time-slots (one each day) that were about an hour and a half long.
For me, the fact that the workshops at CAST were measured against two events that collided with them (or rather, six events, as there were 3 other events in each time-slot), made it that much harder to choose going to a workshop. I’m happy with the workshop I went to, but up until the last moment I wondered if I should really sacrifice two talks in order to get one workshop.
- Sharing content – One thing that really surprised me was that CAST does not share the presentations of the conference, nor does it video all of the talks (but rather only those that were broadcast). The fact that I’m able to watch again the talks I had been in, and the talks I missed adds a lot of value to me. It is also a way to get the message back to people who weren’t at the conference.
(Edit: Apparently I was too quick to say that CAST does share the slides, Not sure when I got the impression they don’t. Curtis was kind enough to inform me that CAST are collecting the slides from the conference, so I’ll be waiting for that).
Sure, I get it – The slides are the presenter’s intellectual property, and recording all of the talks might provide people with an incentive not to come to the conference, but it might also do the opposite and make people want to come and actually participate in the confernce next time.
- Retrospective – ETC had one by the end of each day. I really liked the way they did it (use coloured notes – red for something bad, green for something good). During CAST I missed the easy feedback.
- Getting in touch – One of the things I really liked about ETC is that they have opened a dedicated slack channel for conference communication. There was one centralized place where I could contact just about anyone else in the conference, discuss plans (or past talks) and receive online notifications from the conference organizers. In TestRetreat there was a google-group for the same purposes (and it was used efficiently to organize several Sunday activities, a few lightning talks, and at least two dinners). At CAST, however, the closest thing was to try and follow the AST twitter handle (or CAST2016), which made me feeling a bit left aside, since I don’t use, nor intend to use, twitter.
- Name tags – I think that the CAST folks nailed it. Usually in conferences I’m used to name tags ranging between “non existing” through “I sticker where I can write my name” to, if I’m in luck, “a piece of paper inside a plastic cover that has my name in small print”.
At cast I got a name tag that was printed in large letters (so I don’t have to stare impolitely at someone’s badge while trying to remember the name they gave me a minute ago), with a small pocket to put stuff in. Next time I’ll bring a smaller notebook that will fit into it. I finally had a convenient place to put a pen in (pens tend to fall from my pockets).