The ALF – Annual Summit 2017 and do Conferences really add value?

Most of you may have attended conferences, and indeed many may have attended the ALF (Assurance Leadership Forum) possibly in its former guise as the TMF (Test Management Forum) - this is my take on the reason why I find ALF a more effective and engaging one to some of the others I have attended and what I took away from it. The ALF is “mainly a Forum for senior Assurance and Test professionals that is forward looking, focusing on trends/futures, the ‘big issues’ in Assurance, Testing and QA management, an excellent place for networking and meeting like-minded people, and let’s not forget learning”.

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The sessions I attended were:

There are lots of reasons people attend conferences – learn, meet experts and influencers face to face, networking, gain previews or reviews on new tools, fresh perspective, force you to think and question your existing understanding of techniques and practises, greater focus, serendipity of the random workshop (which has proven a breath of fresh air many a times!), invest in yourself and many more I’m sure!

ALF is not your standard conference, in the sense it’s not a conference where you get experts that speak at you, don’t get me wrong, there are some talks like that with experts going through a particular topic, but the main sessions are all interactive workshop based. The room is rearranged into a discussion theatre with all seats facing the middle, the presenter is in one of the seat, and may choose to have a few slides to prompt the topics of interest that will be covered in the session, or have whiteboards with markers placed around. You are as much a participant in this as the presenter, everyone is encouraged to share their experiences and question each other (which can be daunting for the presenter – facing a seasoned group of cynics, nothing less to be expected from experienced testers! But more reason it’s fun when you keep an open mind).

Opening Keynote: Rob Lambert, “10 Behaviours Of Effective Employees”

Slideshare

My take on Rob as a speaker is that he generally has a way of reaching most of his audience. His talks or workshops always come across as effortless, fluid and most engaging. I still remember the first ALF (TMF back then and his session was the first one I attended) which left me feeling energised and wanting to come back for another session. Rob blogs voraciously and is a people person which could explain his move into HR in his current company. This session was in true Rob style – interesting story kicks off the session, followed by getting people to stand up and join him. Totally agree - if you do not have a positive or “Growth” mindset then eventually you will become unhappy, with one thing or the other. Understanding your trigger points in your behaviour change and managing your emotions helps you grow personally and within your community and company. I feel very lucky to be part of a company where I’m surrounded by people who have all these behaviours!

Session C: Ani Gopinath, Sug Sahadevan & Mohamed Radwan, Testhouse, “Blueprinting your DevOps Challenges”

This workshop held high aspirations in my mind, and possibly why it was a bit disappointing when it didn’t live up to my expectations (reminder to self – don’t go into a session with what you want to get out of it, something I’ve noticed recently – if I go with an open mind I always find I’ve learnt something useful)! Couple of reasons I felt the way I did was there was no real structure to it, in fact one of the presenters mentioned that they had not prepared or thought through how the session may flow. Having a free for all and no agenda was the first point when the session lost a few of the audience. There was a visible lack of engagement because of the mismatched expectations (presenters thought audience would have loads of challenges to discuss, and most of the audience thought the presenters would go through a few live cases – long and short of it, neither happened!). The only saving grace I would say was towards the second half of the session a small debate on DevOps capability emerged – its meaning, and whether automation was truly needed to have this! So, the statement was made “DevOps is automated continuous delivery of solutions into a production environment to meet Business expectations” – the sceptic in me got thinking, and challenged whether automation was truly necessary to be agile and deliver to business expectation, because agility doesn’t necessarily mean delivery into the production environment is every hour, or even every day as some businesses would struggle with this!

Session F: Ben Fry, “Comic Relief: 500 real-time donations per second, serviced over 100,000 concurrent web sessions, production changes turned around in 15 mins on event night”

It was the last bit of the title “changes turned around in 15 mins on event night” that grabbed my interest, having worked in the Charity sector and knowing how important it is to respond to appeals and fundraising to keep the fund flowing into the charity.

Some interesting discussions, but overall wasn’t sure whether the title did the workshop justice. Again, my expectation was to gain insight into how the operation and process were so slick, but didn’t get that information from the session. Ben mentioned that they did some load testing but could not accurately predict the actual load on the donation website as Comic relief was a one day event once a year. His main point being that a slick DevOps process and a full stack cloud developer made all the difference. Some interesting points that came out and got me thinking – what do you do if you do not have analytics to reliably estimate the load for performance testing? And have added constraints on not being able to respond to issues (fix and deploy) quickly to prevent downtime? This makes Risk mitigation extremely difficult, but being able to highlight these constraints could open up discussions to reviewing some of the existing constraints – after all most stakeholders are willing to revisit solutions to existing constraints and come up with innovative problem solving if there is a direct impact to their business.

Session I: Isabel Evans, “Leading, following or managing? You can help your group thrive”

PDF of slides

I found her talk very interesting and engaging, and warmed up to session very quickly – noticed her strap line on her slides were “Be happy – do good – leave the world a better place than you found it” which resonates with my own thoughts “Positivity spirals out”. Being able to understand what my emotional triggers are has helped me get better at being to evaluate my emotions and temper my response instead of jumping in head first! Behavioural observations in our daily interactions with our close teams – testers, developers, managers, business users, IT operations (DevOps) staff help us become more successful as testers in communicating the risk outcomes to the appropriate audience in the most suitable manner. This can be most pertinent if the test independence is overshadowed by a team objective to get 100 % of committed PBIs delivered into production in an evolving agile team. Sad that the session had to be rushed as we ran out time towards the end. If you do get a chance to hear Isabel speak on this – definitely recommend it!

Closing Keynote: Declan O’Riordan, “Will Risk Transference outgrow Risk Mitigation?”

Prezi

I only met Declan that day, but his fame (due to his expertise in Security testing) precedes that! If anything, he was very approachable. The talk done in Prezi was very well presented (I like how Prezi lets you move very easily between topics rather than in a linear way!) , he started with a story about the British Navy – I find this technique always gets most of the audiences hooked in (even as adults we love a good story!). The gist of the talk was about cyber security – as the data we keep in digital format grows in value, and their location in the vast ether of the cloud or on your own device means the threat to its theft/destruction is very real (especially with the recent WannaCry malware attack), and many Insurance companies will start looking at offering policies to cover the loss for these. There are some policies in offer, but this area of risk being in its infancy has as little as 25% cover for loss of money, Cloud hosting contracts are crafted to avoid liability and with the EU Data protection regulation coming into effect next year, this is definitely something to watch out for!

Summary

With any Test Conference doing a talk takes a lot of courage, more so when the audience is a cynical and sceptical bunch of testers! So, hats off to all who took their time and effort for doing one.

In conclusion despite the cost, conferences provide a unique convergence of like-minded people learning, and having fun into a single package. A good conference forces you to grow and challenge yourself, and the status quo at their organisation. If you are responsible for a team please ensure you get your team to also experience this, it’s a win-win for the company and the individual!

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