Open Space conferences show why smaller can be better

By Matthew Heusser, CIO |  IT Management, Conferences

Michelle Hochstetler, a QA engineer in Portland, proposes a session on bridging the communication gap between developers and QA. After a few minutes of reasonable, and expected, "us vs. them" comments, we talk about getting the groups together, including pairing roles in and out. That seems unrealistic, though, as many testers lack production code skills. Instead of insisting on production code, someone suggests pairing a developer with a tester to do a day's work, and vice versa.

How-To: Using Pair Programming Practices in Code Inspections

Michelle Hochstetler facilitates bridging the communication gap.

At the closing session, Ben Simo, a tester from Phoenix, mentions that the best way to break down the barriers between development and QA is to literally break them down: Eliminate cubicles and physical space differences and even reorganize the groups if you have to.

Next Steps: Improve Regression Testing, Collaborate With New Friends

After attending three open space events (and taking notes), I am struck at just how emergent they are. In every conference, I found sessions that lined up directly with my interest. By the end of the events, I had a toolbox of ideas to help companies streamline the regression-test process, along with a half-dozen new friends to collaborate with.

Unconferences tend to be on a weekend, local and free (or at lease) very cheap. BarCampGR was entirely sponsor-supported, Test Coach Camp was grant-funded, and ATONW had a $75 entrance fee. This kind of price means that technical staff can attend local conferences without taking any time off, and use that time to pursue the exact idea they are struggling to solve.

Finding an open space conference can be as simple as searching Google for "barcamp (major city name)," "peer conference (topic)" or "open space (topic)." Once you find the right conference, getting your issues on the table is simply a matter of presenting the idea. Hosts do not need to present; they can take notes. This means there are no "bad" conference sessions; if the choices are poor, well, create a good one.

The best part is the quality of staff drawn to these events. It's people who care passionately about the topic. Beyond ideas for regression testing, doing this research I twice saw Michael Larsen, senior tester for Rovi and Association for Software Testing board member; ran a session with Jane Hein, director of product engineering at EthicsPoint, and met Ward Cunningham, the co-creator of extreme programming.

Originally published on CIO |  Click here to read the original story.
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