Nordic Testing Days 2019

This past week I was fortunate enough to be able to not only attend, but to speak at Nordic Testing Days 2019. Nordic Testing Days is a fantastic, and highly attended, conference that takes place every year in Tallinn, Estonia. They bring together speakers, attendees, and sponsors from not only the northern EU but also from around the world to discuss and learn more about testing and tech as a whole. With a bit of background now given, let's dive into what this year was like, from my perspective!

Day 1/2 - Exploring Tallinn

Heading off to Tallinn, Estonia for Nordic Testing Days (NTD from here on) was my first trip across the Atlantic. Yes, this was my first ever trip to Europe. After a nice 14 hours of travel time, I arrived in Estonia on May 28 around 1:30pm. Sadly, with the time zones and travel I was absolutely too exhausted to be exploring Tallinn that day. I spent most of that day just holed up on the hotel trying to get enough sleep at the right time to be able to properly function the next day. 

Worth noting here that the hotel the speakers were staying in was absolutely beautiful. We were staying at the Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel, huge emphasis on the spa portion of that. Half of the main floor was dedicated to numerous relaxing areas. There was a huge pool, a bar, a hot tub, something like 7 saunas, plus so much more. It was incredible. Definitely a great place to keep the speakers who may need a little bit of time to recuperate! 

I spent the next day exploring Old Town Tallinn before our speakers dinner in the evening. Tallinn is such a beautiful combination of old and new. From the lookouts of old town (as seen in the photo below), you can see the medieval town so lovingly kept and then just beyond the walls you see the glass walled skyscrapers of the tech companies now flourishing in this area. It's absolutely incredible to see how well the city is able to balance the two and how incredible the contrast between them is. 

Tallinn From Old Town Hill

Day 2 - Speakers Dinner

After a fun day of exploring the city it was time for the Speakers Dinner. Let me just preface this by saying, NTD really knows how to throw a party. 

The Katharina
The Katharina
After meeting at the venue (which in and of itself is incredible, but more on that later), we took a lovely stroll down to the seaside. This being my first time at NTD I had no idea what to expect, although it was clear that some of the speakers who had been here before had an inkling of what was to come. As we get to the seaside we stop by, what is essentially, a stone ping pong table. Although, it was serving a vastly different purpose this night. Laid out on the table were flutes of champagne and strawberries, not a bad way to kick off the night if you ask me. 

After some time spent having a toast to the speakers and everyone starting to chat with one another we head off again. This time we walk along the seaside to the harbour. At the harbour we were greeted by the captain of the ship Katharina. We all climbed on board for an evening of sailing around the harbour, food, drinks and incredible company. This was really a unique and fun way to throw a speakers dinner. I had some great conversations with people, met a lot of new friends, and overall we had just a spectacular time discussing everything from testing to newly implemented laws in some countries. 

Tallinn Shoreline

Day 3 - Let The Conference Begin! 

Thursday morning started out bright and early! Another incredible perk of the hotel we were staying at was included breakfast. That meant it was easy to get up, get breakfast in and get to the venue with no hassle. I arrived at the venue a little before the first keynote, grabbed my name tag and goodie bag and headed off to the main hall. The venue itself is an old power plant, which leads to a really cool atmosphere now that it's been converted to event space. There's a lot of open areas for mingling, the rooms are spacious and unique, and one room even has a balcony that attendees could be standing on to watch the talks. Overall, a fantastic venue.

One of the greatest things about our goodie bags was the 'notebook' included with them. The notebook included a schedule of the entire two days, complete with locations, as well as having every single abstract included in the book! There would be a page or so of the abstract, followed by a line page where attendees could take notes on the sessions. I think this was easily one of the most helpful things I have ever been given at a conference and it made everything much easier throughout the conference and after to remember what I learned. 

The days were broken up as follows; keynote in the morning, then you had the option to attend a 2 hour workshop or a series of up to 3, 40 minute talks, lunch, again the option to attend a 2 hour workshop or a series of talks, closing keynote. I found this was a really interesting way to break up the day. On day 1, I opted to try out the talk series instead of the workshops. Although the workshops also looked incredibly interesting I was hoping to get a wider variety of topics in. That allowed me to attend 6 talks that day, as well as the 2 keynotes. I'm going to go into more detail about some of my favourite sessions later in this post. 

Overall, the day flowed incredibly smoothly. Which I learned was not necessarily the case from the organizers perspective (a new venue always comes with new challenges!) but from an attendee perspective, it was incredible. Although in my opinion the food left something to be desired that was truly my only complaint throughout the entire event. 

After the closing keynote there was said to be a surprise coming... and boy was there! We were treated to a fabulous show of aerial silks and hoops, performed by two 'little old ladies'. The show was extraordinary and a ton of fun. It was a great kickoff to the social that was planned for that evening. 

Although all of the speakers had gotten a chance to socialize, have some drinks and food and just relax a bit the night before, the attendees had not! So this night there was a huge social thrown for all of the attendees of the conference, including the speakers. I think it's quite fair to say that we all had a great time. It was hilarious to see trays of tequila shots being carried around but I realised quite quickly how valuable those were, as I saw a lot of very introverted people suddenly opening up and asking questions, engaging in conversations etc. It was a very unique and interesting atmosphere. At the same time that there was a dance crew performing in the main space, board games had kicked off in one room and lightning talks in another. I listened in on some really great, quick lightning talks that I sincerely hope their speakers will turn into longer talks some day! 

After the lightning talks, PowerPoint Karaoke began. Now, for those of you who were like me and have 0 idea what this is, let me set the scene. PowerPoint Karaoke is where the organizers of the event take all of the slides that were used that day (that were submitted by the speakers to the conference) and then randomly pick 5 at a time to make small PowerPoint presentations. But keep in mind, these slides are all from different talks on different topics, so they rarely go together very well. The brave souls willing to participate then get up on stage, pull a topic from a hat (random topics that have nothing to do with any of the talks that were done that day). They then begin their presentation! They will start to discuss whatever their topic is, using the 5 random slides given to them and making it all up as they go. It's kind of a nerdy version of improv, and it's also one of my favourite things I have ever seen. 

Day 1 was an absolute blast. I got to learn so many incredible things from all of the talks I attended, and got to end the day by chatting with some great people from around the globe about testing and tech, what more could I have asked for? 

View Of Main Venue Area
View Of Main Venue Area
View Of Main Venue Area
View Of Main Venue Area
PowerPoint Karaoke!
PowerPoint Karaoke! 

Day 4 - Workshop Until I Drop

Workshop Attendees
Workshop room before getting started
The second day of the conference was the day I had been waiting for - it was time to run my first workshop. I chose to skip the opening keynote that morning to get a little bit more prep time in and be ready for the 2 hours ahead. Although I had done "Don't Take It Personally" as a 45 minute talk before, this was the debut of it as a full length workshop after being asked many times last year if I could do so. 

So how did the workshop go? Better than I could have hoped! The attendees were so engaged, curious and most importantly, fun! Because of the topic and the way I structure it I really need to have attendees who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and really try to communicate with one another. It was incredible for me to see them changing throughout the exercises and to see them come out of their shells a little bit and open up. This also allowed for some really positive conversations to happen after the fact. 

Demoing some bad body language in a mock interview
Demoing some bad body language in a mock interview
My favourite thing about doing this talk/workshop is how much I can still learn from everyone who attends it. We've all had very different experiences, albeit similar to one another, but still so unique. It allows people to bring in entirely new perspectives to this session and allows for so much peer to peer learning. 

Disclaimer: The talk won't be linked here as it's being presented again in a few months at CAST2019 but it will be posted on this blog after CAST! 

Demoing bad body language in a meeting
Demoing bad body language in a meeting

What did I learn from doing my first workshop? Wear better shoes! Ok, ok, yes I learned a lot more than that too but I was shocked by how much walking around and even just standing I did. I was very ready to sit down at the end of the 2 hours. So what else did I learn? Getting people out of their comfort zones is hard, but when you're positive and encouraging anything is possible. That people all over the world, and in every language, struggle with taking comments and feedback negatively. That we all want to do better, but we frequently aren't entirely sure how to go about it and having someone to ask for advice is invaluable. 

Engaged group during workshop activities
Engaged group during workshop activities

The rest of this day flew by in a blur. I attended another series of talks in the afternoon and won't lie, I was exhausted. It never fails to amaze me just how much adrenaline gets you through your own sessions. Because let me tell you, as soon as I'm done presenting I realize how incredibly exhausted I am. Despite that, I still got so many awesome things out of the talks I attended that afternoon! 

Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk

So what did I learn from all of those talks I attended?

Be Honest About Automated Test Value

In Lena Wiberg's talk Listen Beyond The Pass/Fail - Analysing Test Results Over Time she talked about how we need to step back and really look at how much value we are getting from our automated tests. We all seem to have large automated test suites and be under the impression that the more tests we have the better off the quality will be, but is that really true? 

If you have a test that has never failed, is that test even giving you value? Or is it wasting your time when you run it? If a test has never passed, has always been flaky etc, is that test worth keeping? Just because it's failing doesn't necessarily mean it's giving you any information that you need. We need to start to re-evaluate our test suites and our tests over time and be willing to delete those that are no longer giving us value.

All The Way From Dev to QA

I had an amazing time listening to Benjamin Bischoff discuss his journey through the software world, and how he did things in a way many would feel were 'backwards'. 

This talk was a really amazing look into the way that tech, as a culture, has historically viewed developers and testers. They see testing as a stepping stone to development, or as less than development. Benjamin did things a little differently, he realised that in his time as a developer he had a passion for the automation side. For the quality side. Eventually he made the decision to move to where his passion was, and not to where others thought was 'better'. It was really great to hear him tell his story and advise everyone to question if they're happy in their role and encourage them to follow their own passions. 

A Developers Take On Learning From Bugs

Now this was one incredibly intriguing talk. The title Learning From Bugs caught my attention. But what grabbed me once I entered the room, this was a talk being done by a developer! This wasn't a tester who was here to tell us what they had learned from bugs, but a developer who had taken the initiative to! 

Henrik Warne did an amazing job captivating the audience and telling us his story of how, and why, he has been capturing learnings from what he considers to be fascinating bugs. He told us all about how he determined which ones got recorded (the hard to find ones, the only under certain condition ones, etc.), and how they have helped him in his work. It was incredible to see how much thought and time went into the recording of these bugs and it has absolutely inspired me to start tracking my own fascinating bugs! 

How to Share the Testing.. Even with Developers! 

What better way to end a conference than listening to Ali Hill tell his story on how he was able to shift testing to the left.. all the way left with his team. 

Ali told attendees a story that, to some, sounded far too good to be true. He got his whole team involved in quality and in testing. So how did he do it? Well he was in a position where they had few other choices. He was the only QA on the team and they had identified that testing was their bottleneck, so what can be done? Well he can share the testing with the team! Ali was quick to admit that even he was hesitant about how this experiment would go, but it went incredibly well. Over the course of time he was able to get everyone involved in the quality of the product, to get testing done on early iterations to avoid rework, and to just get the whole team on board. 

I personally found this talk hit really close to home, since my team is currently doing the same. I'm our only tester and I now share that testing work with the team. I work as a coach more so than being the manual tester on the team. It's really incredible for me to hear stories of others going through similar things and reassuring to hear we all struggle in similar ways. 

All Wrapped Up

And then, just like that, the conference was over. It was an absolute whirlwind 48 hours but it was absolutely incredible. I can say with certainty that I will be back again! From the venue, to the organizers, to the speakers, to the attendees, what an incredible conference. Thank you NTD2019, I will see you all again soon. 


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