Why you should go to CAST

Last year, when the Association for Software Testing announced the location for their next annual conference CAST 2015, Grand Rapids, MI, there was an up-roar happening on social media and back channels like Skype and private conversations. To my own surprise, I saw members of the context-driven testing community falling short of their very own principles. Rather than observing and interacting with people, it seemed that some persons preferred to derive their knowledge about Grand Rapids based upon a prior CAST conference there. Experience may be a good resource to start looking at, but I found that I should trust the folks from the local area that I knew to put together an awesome conference – more so since they could explain to me why the past experience was not so well received. When it came to the October 2014 AST board member meeting, Pete Walen, the conference chair, the guy who managed to send in a proposal prior to CAST 2014 so that the AST board could decide upon it, invited us to the conference location, so that it was easy to see for us where we were going with the proposal. Here is what I learned during my two nights in the conference venue – and why I think you should attend.

The Venue

The conference hotel is located right down-town in Grand Rapids. There was an art exhibition during my time in October there with many tourist flooding the halls. The conference hotel itself was huge – not as huge as those Gaylord hotels, but quite huge. There were several meeting rooms on various floors. Pete made sure to drop all of us arriving at the airport, and giving us a round at the hotel.

There are at least 15 floors with bedrooms, if I remember correctly. The main entrance hall had a chandeller hanging in the middle, with meeting rooms on the first floor. There was also a Starbucks, a restaurant, where I ate the most delicious food in my short life so far, and right across the reception was a bar that kept open even quite late into the night.

The first floor – I think in American counting it’s the second floor – appeared to be for all the conferences happening there. There is enough room to hold three CAST conferences there at the same time – but I think we just booked enough conference rooms for one event. In the evening, there was a wedding happening where I believe will be the main hall for CAST. It was a huge wedding, so was the main hall.

I found the conference hotel pretty awesome. Especially I like conferences where you stay with speakers and attendees at the same spot rather than spreading across the city. Thereby you can hang out with most folks without the “I need to get back to my hotel” crap, even if tester’s night or the challenges or whatever you have runs late into the night.

The location

When you fly into Grand Rapids, you can certainly check out the famous park calc parking lot. But the location of the hotel is actually right downtown. Close to the hotel, right across the street are two or three restaurants with any food you can think of. There is a brewery close by, and also museums. If that’s not enough, I am sure that some of the locals like Pete or Matt Heusser will be happy to point you to sights that you should visit if you haven’t used all your energy up for the conference.

In stories and rumors I heard that Grand Rapids was a boring spot with nothing to do, and so on. Certainly, I saw a totally different city back in October.

The program

Oh, year, there is also a program for CAST. The main theme is “Moving testing forward”. Monday usually is tutorial day at CAST, and we are happy to offer tutorials from Fiona Charles, Christine Wiedemann, Rob Sab, and Dhanasekar Subramaniam. Fiona will deal with transporting difficult messages, while Christine will be doing a tutorial on how to questioning rules and overcoming your own biases and conventions. Rob Sab has the basics for you if you want to become an experienced tester, and Dhanasekar will deal with mobile app testing. Usually tutorials fill pretty fast. So if you want to join any of these, make sure to sign up soon.

Karen Johnson will talk about how to move testing forward in her Tuesday’s keynote. The keynote on Wednesday will be held by my old fellow weekend tester Ajay Balamurugadas. In it, he will explain why the future of testing is already here.

Just in case, make sure to check the schedule online. Oh, and I probably also should mention that this Friday, June 5th 2015, the Early Bird will end, meaning that the prices will be higher if you wait longer.

As a closing to this blog entry, let me transpose the context-driven testing principles – deliberately – to conferences:

  1. There are good conferences in context, but there are no best conferences.
  2. People, working together, are the most important part of any conference’s context.
  3. Conferences unfold over time in ways that are often not predictable.
  4. The learning is a solution. If the wisdom isn’t solved, the conference doesn’t work.
  5. Good software testing conferences are a challenging intellectual process. Only through judgment and skill, exercised cooperatively throughout the entire conference, are we able to do the right things at the right times to effectively further our community.

If you plan to attend CAST 2015 with these in mind, I am certain you’ll get value out of the conference.

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