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A View from the Chair with Michael Bolton

  • 04/02/2013
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In the fall of 2012, the EuroSTAR Conferences team honoured me by asking me to become the Programme Chair for the 2013 conference. Just after EuroSTAR 2012, I suggested that it might be interesting to maintain a blog as a way of letting people know something about the process of putting a conference programme together. Daragh Murphy, who works in EuroSTAR’s online marketing, took me up on the idea and has been patiently waiting for the first post, so here it is.

Being asked to chair a EuroSTAR conference is a little like being asked to throw a party for about a thousand friends, where you get to design the party and other people will do the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do pick the theme and the headliner bands. Well, a bunch of bands. And they have to be bands that people will like – or, at least, be interesting and compelling, even if the music isn’t always to absolutely everyone’s taste, including your own. And then you have to create an environment where people can enjoy themselves, perform their own party pieces, and share in the opportunity to chat, and – to return to the subject of testing conferences – to learn from each other.

 

For me, choosing a theme was pretty straightforward: since testing is a questioning process, it has always seemed to me that we should be willing and eager to turn our testing and questioning skills on testing itself. Choosing the headline performers – the keynotes, the tutorials, and the track sessions – is much harder. The position of programme chair provides me with the chance to bring people that I think should be heard to the EuroSTAR community, but it also includes the responsibility to present a range of voices, and the much less glamourous task of disappointing several hundreds of people competing for a few dozen spots in the programme. Considering all that, how can one person create a great experience for an entire community?

The obvious answer is that it takes a lot more than one person. I knew I’d need plenty of help. For conference logisitics, the problem is already solved: the EuroSTAR staff are well-versed in the practical matters of running a conference. I’ve been to EuroSTAR every year since 2007, and each time, the organizers have done the job so smoothly that it’s practically invisible to the majority of conference participants. We’ve had one face-to-face planning meeting so far, at EuroSTAR’s headquarters in Galway. Working with them is a delight. While they have a reasonable desire to maintain a sense of continuity from year to year, they’re also very accommodating to new ideas for the programme – and they’re fabulous and generous hosts. (It doesn’t hurt that meetings take place in Galway. My principal hobby is playing Irish traditional music; Galway is to Irish music as Florence is to painting.) In future posts (and at the conference), I’ll introduce you to them and the work that they do to support us.

In terms of the content, I knew right away that if I was to be the product owner, I’d need a test team to steer and challenge me, and to present extra ideas. I’m delighted that Bart Broekman (Netherlands), Rikard Edgren (Sweden), Maaret Pyhäjärvi (Finland), and Alan Richardson (UK) so kindly accepted the request for help that I sent out in November. Since then, the programme committee has had three online meetings in which we’ve discussed ideas for keynotes, tutorials, track sessions, and the overall structure of the programme. One thing that we have decided: in order to encourage more engagement, we’re going to emphasize discussion and questions more this year than in previous years; more about that in upcoming posts. The committee members have also been helping to contact potential keynote speakers, publicising the Call for Papers, and helping aspiring presenters. (For example, Alan has produced a blog post and a video on why testers should submit proposals to conferences – and soon. http://blog.eviltester.com/2013/02/you-should-submit-to-conferences.html)
The Call for Papers ends very soon, and then comes the biggest and hardest part of the Programme Committee’s job for a while: reading through several hundred proposals and evaluating them, a process that takes a little under a month. A larger committee also helps with that, by doing a preliminary evaluation of the papers. After we finish our reviews, the whole conference team meets in mid-March to make the final decisions.

Meanwhile, in the middle of writing this blog post, my machine crashed, and autosave notwithstanding, I lost some work. It seems there’s still lots of testing to be done.

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