Monday, July 29, 2019

Getting to Know Great People aka Call for Collaboration

Year 5 of organizing European Testing Conference has just started. We took notes of possible locations and decided to head to Amsterdam. And with the choice of location, figuring out the program comes next.

What I really want to do on conference talk selection is to invite people to speak. Save them the energy of preparing a submission that may end up rejected. Make them feel like they are recognized, noticed and thus invited. I could do that with many people. As soon as I find them, I could invite them.

But if I did that, what about all the awesome people I have not paid attention to yet, that I may not had a chance of meeting? They may not go to other conferences (where I find people), and they make not be particularly active on social media (where I find people) and they may not work for the considered-cool companies (where I find people).

To balance my troubles, since year 3 of European Testing Conference, we have done a Call for Collaboration instead of a call for proposals. And I'm learning how to best run it.

With a call for collaboration, we ask people to make their existence known balancing our ability to make good decisions on contents and using their time. To do so, we have asked potential speakers to do a Skype call of 15 minutes with us, to together discuss what their topic is and how that would fit our idea of the conference.

Here's the math I work against. 200 people submit. Each use 4 hours to prepare an abstract. That is 800 hours of abstract preparation. We choose 5%. 760 hours of other people's work is wasted, or hopefully thinking either a useful learning experience or reusable for other conferences. I rather use 50 hours, where individually wasted time goes down by 3,75 hours for every single submitter. I have to use 50 hours instead of 10. But my 40 hours are not of more value than their 760 hours. I may run a conference but I am their peer another tester, another developer, another manager.

There are people who find the idea of a Skype call a blocker. This year, we introduced an optional pre-screen route to just tell us the talk idea (not prepare the full abstract and description) in writing so that if the topic seems like the right fit, we could reach out to have our discussion in format they find comfortable.

Some people are terrified of the idea of being rejected on a face to face call, and we surely can never work enough to make people understand that it is not the call but the program fit. We select very small percentage of talks we are considering because we are running a 3 track interactive conference with a limited amount of talk slots.

The way we want to approach these calls is that it is a discussion of peers in testing to geek out on topics. We know everyone is worth a stage, and we need to try to build something that fits our vision for our stages. We try to find great stories, good illustrations, practical experience that highlights the work that is different enough from what we end up choosing otherwise. Trying to guess what might make it without the collaboration is hard.

Every year, we've had talks that were not submitted but ended up being discovered. They are often specific techniques that originally were part of an agile transformation story, a sidetrack where they deserved the full focus.

I hope you trust us to have one of these discussions with you. We seek a mix of testing as testers, developers, designers and managers know it. There is no reason we couldn't discover your experiences to highlight a perspective, and you identifying that idea of what you tick is our starting point for the conversation.

Join us and schedule your own session for discussion.