TestAway Shimla- From Attendee Perspective

Software testing community

“This is an amazing, amazing, amazing experience!”, exclaimed Subham as Mahesh trained the camera at him. Mahesh was live streaming the experiences of the participant testers of TestAway Shimla on Facebook as the fifteen of us strolled from the playground, back to The White Haven in Shimla.

Although poor Subham was targeted for his antics on live camera and earned himself the nickname “Amazing Subham”, what he said reflected the thoughts of everyone at the end of the event.

I recently moved back to India from Australia, where I learned the value addition that networking, and community activities provide to professionals and how it helps them get better in their job and in life. I was on the lookout for opportunities to meet with the Software Testing community in India. I found The Test Tribe and took a look at their website. It was just what I was looking for. I visited their Upcoming Events page and saw that they had a workshop on Usability Testing and TestAway.

I got curious and explored further. A cursory glance was enough for me to decide that I need to be part of this. Gamifying Testing, Workshops, Unlearn to Learn, Reset – all the right words to tick off my interest. Long story short, I applied, Mahesh called to interview, and after a short while, said I was in. I managed to put all logistics together and was soon on a flight to get to the event!

I have attempted to pen down the proceedings of the event by retrieving whatever my memory could store, adding my personal takeaway and experience. I tried to group experiences to the best of my creative ability with no one sub-topic having more importance than the others. They can be read in any order. If this attempt doesn’t appeal to you, it is because of my inability to tell a story effectively and you shouldn’t undermine the effort gone into setting up the various aspects of the event, the contributions of the participants, and the impact the event had on all of us.

 

The White Haven, the chefs and the food

TestAway Shimla

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

A little away from the city, in a quaint neighbourhood of Shimla, stood The White Haven. Typical of many Hill Station properties, you climb down the stairs to get to the different parts of the property.

Our hosts were wonderful. I remember the name of one person I met – Ajay Thakur. The chef and his assistants who helped us were down to earth and agile. Without their support, active participation throughout three days by all participants would have been a challenge. It’s rude on my part to not mention their names here, but I have forgotten them. I could ask someone and write but I won’t, so that I remember names in future. A big Shukriya to them!

The chefs dished out rotis, sabjis made from a range of greens, selection of meats, and dal, parathas, omelette, and toast. To complement all this was a yummy pickle, dahi, salads and fruits! We loved the food so much that a majority of us didn’t want to experiment eating anywhere else on the last day when there was an opportunity to do so.

The Tribe Leaders, Introductions and the Welcome Kit

When I first spoke to Mahesh, I got the impression that this guy is doing something meaningful. In his WhatsApp DP, where he holds a mike and is talking, I could see a spark in his eyes. However, until after dinner on the first day at Shimla, I didn’t understand the full extent of this man’s passion to help testers in whatever possible way he can. Throughout the event, if there was one person keeping an eye on the clock and the schedule and keeping us on our toes, it was him. In every game and activity he orchestrated, I could see the love he has for testing and testers.

 

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

There is a saying in Kannada – Thumbida Koda Thulukola (very loosely translated, it means pots which are full don’t wobble or jump about). This is every bit true about Niraj Yadav and I didn’t realize this until we spoke, when we sat next to each other on our way back to Delhi. The number of topics about which this man could converse with ease amazed me. During the event, he went about his job of ensuring that all the logistics for each activity were in place so quietly, that you almost wouldn’t take notice of him.

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

Add to this, these two guys went a day ahead to setup and gave us a warm welcome! They handed us a Welcome Kit (co-sponsored by Moolya), that comprised of a surprise t-shirt and a water sipper among other things. The sipper idea was come up with, based on feedback from TestAway Goa to reduce the use of bottled water.

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

I had been following Ajay and his work for a while now. I met him at one of his workshops just a week before the event. He commands a focused attention in his blogs and when talking testing, but is a very humorous person. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of his jokes, puns and comments!

 

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

Tribesmen

One of the participants – Jitendra, has accurately described each participant in his article here, and that makes my job easy. He has modestly excluded himself from the list. He is an enterprising professional who understood the value he adds to organisations early in his career and has broken away from the shackles of the corporate structure.

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla
In my opinion, the group was as diverse as it could get. The testers were of different levels of experience, from very different domains, and organisations of different sizes catering to different segments of the market. Most importantly, the group was fun!

After the first few hours on Day 1, most of us felt we knew each other well, although, by then most of us had bonded in groups of twos and threes. The rest was History!

Mahesh’s Games

Each of the games that the team had designed helped drive home a point for testers. From observing an image (a web page in reality) for three seconds, and attempting to reproduce it, to guessing a mobile app’s name by asking five questions to using the Ministry of Testing’s TestSphere card deck, to diffusing time bomb emulators, to understanding Visual Auditory Kinesthetics (VAK) learning styles by putting first thoughts about a word down as a drawing, each game helped testers understand that observation, questioning, note taking, collaboration, modeling, strategising etc. are some vital skills they need to learn and improve upon continuously.

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

Ultimate Tic Tac Toe and Mafia during after hours helped us to connect and have fun.

Ajay’s advice to Testers – Online Portfolio 101

 

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla

How many testers do you know? How many testers know you? How many testers do you know outside of work and outside of your social circle (predominantly engineering friends)? How many testers do you know in your city, country and in the World? How many testers do you know, with who you can randomly strike a conversation about Testing? How many people will reach out to you when they want answers to questions in Software Testing? Are you reputed enough to be head-hunted? What reputation and credibility have you built? What does a search engine return when you are looked up?

These are few of the questions that Ajay asked the group at the beginning of the session. He went on to explain the need for individuals to have a portfolio of their work. For Testers, use of mediums like a blog, videos, GitHub, etc. can be used to publish learnings and ideas. A Github account with sample of work for various aspects of Testing can be setup so that interested people can understand the work of publisher better. I knew I had to let people know that I exist, but the question “How many testers do you know, with whom you can randomly start a conversation about Testing?”, has hit me hard!

The Workshops
Liberating Structures

Getting people to work well together is one of the biggest challenges today, across the world. Organisations of all sizes and shapes consider this as one of their top challenges. To foster a culture of inclusion and engagement, to motivate teams to work together and to generate ideas from unexpected sources, organisations need to demonstrate to their employees that this is possible (rephrased from the liberating structures website). Liberating Structures is one way to do this.

Ajay used 3 of the 33 structures to demonstrate how ideas get generated quickly for any problem statement. The problem statements were interesting enough to keep the participants involved. ‘How would you increase your company’s revenue by 15%?’ ‘If you had unlimited resources, what would you do to improve your testing skills?’

Software testing meetup - testaway-shimla
The Liberating Structures we used were 1-2-4-All and 15% Solutions. With the 1-2-4-All microstructure, individuals first come up with a set of ideas, and then group themselves into twos and compare and improve the ideas. Two groups of twos then come together to further improvise. This way at each step two sets of ideas are studied and improved. Eventually this will lead to a possible solution that has the ideas of the entire group. Although, it is easier said than done, it is possible to ge