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Monday, November 02, 2009

GTAC 2009 - Brilliant!

So, I've just got back into the office from a week in Switzerland and I wanted to take a moment to share some of the experiences I had while away at GTAC 2009, the annual Google conference on test automation. It was an incredibly enjoyable, dare I say it almost inspirational event!

To start to get some understanding for the richness of content at this conference, take a look at the site and the agenda. An opening talk by Prof. Niklaus Wirth, one of the founding fathers of modern computing, and talks by people like Simon Stewart (of webdriver fame) and Jason Huggins (of Selenium fame). This wasn't a conference just about experiences of using tools and doing automation, it was where you got to meet the people that designed and wrote the tools themselves. Very geeky, but very cool! Lets call it 'GeekChic' ;)

So, what else is different about an experience at GTAC compared to other conferences? Here are some top moments for me:
  • Engagement - everyone I met there was smart, engaged and engaging. They had a passion for their profession and the work they do. They openly shared their knowledge and experience without hesitation or resistance. Everyone seemed very open to learn from each other too. This could be seen really clearly in the open forum session at the end of day 2 which ran from 5pm to 6pm. Open mic. Rotating panel of four people at the front, with people joining randomly from the main audience as they had something to say. Could have gone on for days - in a good way!
  • The Google experience - these people love to solve problems, and they do it for kicks. The whole place just makes you think differently. It could be the sugar rush from all the free choccies. It could be the slides or the fireman's poles between floors. It could even just be that they have a free bar, and a geekfest of a library to hang out in. It could be a lot of things....
  • The way you get in - Google had too many applicants to the conference, and they wanted to restrict it to 100 - so that everyone got a good experience, and they could keep it to a single track over two days. So they set up an automated voting system and the Googlers around the world voted for who should be there. Over 50% of the people attending were from various google offices around the globe. The rest of us were the lucky ones that got the highest % of the 2200 votes cast around the company. Knowing that makes you feel different about a conference.
  • The international and diverse nature of things - we're in Zurich, which is pretty international anyways, but the conference wasn't Eurocentric. A great many people from australia, USA, israel, etc etc. Very diverse. Very interesting. Great collective experience and perceptions.
  • No cliques - The one big turn off for me at the big conferences is the vested interests that strangle the sharing of knowledge and information. You see groups of independent contractors holding onto the 'power' and creating revenue streams for themselves over many years of talking about the same old stuff. It stifles our industry and it frustrates me. At GTAC they don't allow that in the door and they don't let it happen. As a result you see people from all companies - from Microsoft to the BBC, attending and also giving talks. It's about sharing knowledge and experience and helping people to do stuff. To get what I mean take a look at the videos-and-slides

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that the world starts and stops at the beat of a Google drum, but I do think that they are cool, and that the people I have met there are quite impressive to say the least. I think that they have some interesting ideas and approaches to testing of web and mobile applications and I think it is clear that a great amount of the future for TCL and for the industry as a whole is in these fields so we can do well to keep a listening ear out to what Google do and say. With that in mind, take a look at:

The conference was not cheap. Well, it was free to attend, but the costs to go there were high. Flights and hotels and subsistence quite a bit, but the time - that's the big thing. I spent 4 days out there, including the travel. That is a lot. Nothing else would get that amount of time except going on holiday!

So what did we get for our investment:

  • Knowledge - a lot of things to share, and I'll be getting on with that soon enough. This article is the start of that work.
  • Ideas - I've had some inspiration to do some things differently and to introduce some new things over the next quarter that we should all find very interesting and exciting. Some are testing related. Some are cultural and organisational
  • Network - I've met 5 or 6 new, important, and interesting people that I have now connected with. With networks its not just about them knowing you, but how they know you. The GTAC conference is a great context in which to meet people and to grow a network. You get to know them, and they you, in the context of a mutual passion. That can't be any better!

Despite being a seasoned pro at conference attendance, I didn't do all that I should to make the most of it. I got on the Google Wave, I Tweeted and I shared, but I didn't manage to:

  • Get a presentation slot - only 10 people did. My submission didn't make the cut :(
  • Take loads of pictures - helpful with the sharing and bringing things to life for people
  • Set up specific meetings before I got there - this is something I would normally do for a big conference and helps to build the network faster.

I hope that we get more opportunities to go to, and present at, conferences like GTAC in the future. If you get the chance, then grab it with both hands and make the most of it. It will most likely be something very special.

Huge thanks go to Dr W for his guidance and inspiration to attend the GTAC. It's not something I would have made time for had he not made such a convincing case and indeed, as always, he was very right!

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