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Being a Test Lab Rat by Shmuel Gershon

  • 07/06/2011
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR
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Conferences are great. We confer, we learn new things, we listen to repeated things, and we get a big motivation shot. Testing conferences are great too. In addition to the list above, we also have fun and make friends. One thing many testing conferences don’t have, though, is actual practical testing.

Some professions are less fortunate and have no option for practical amusement in conferences. I bet surgeons, in their “annals of surgery” conferences, don’t have live practical surgery sessions. Bo-ring!

Luckily, that’s not the case with testing. We can test anywhere and everywhere (many of us do), so why not in conferences, where testers of all origins gather?
The test lab was created exactly for that purpose.

The idea was originated by James Lindsay and Bart Knaack and first executed in Stockholm in 2009. The Test Lab gives testers the opportunity to practice what they study at the conference sessions, and to learn from one another. It has appeared at many conferences since: EuroSTAR, StarEast, StarWest…

This year, at EuroSTAR 2011, the Test Lab will be led by Henrik Emilsson and Martin Jansson. These guys are good and you’ll learn much from their work. I met them last year and was impressed by their technical skills and articulation (in fact, we competed for the place of Test Lab Apprentices, and they won. After meeting them, I know they deserved to win way more than I did). Even if you don’t want to experiment by yourself at the lab, just watching them in action is a positive learning experience!

The Test Lab sports ‘state-of-the-art’ equipment. Virtual machines, apple servers, access points, laptops of different models… All loaded with standalone software or web-applications to be tested. You can use your own computer, or any other testing tool you prefer. But the most important part has nothing to do with the equipment and materials. Many of the test lab participants don’t even touch a computer during their experience. The biggest benefit of the Test Lab is that it provides an environment for conversation and exchange of experiences. There are debating round-tables. Expositors attend the Test Lab and show their own tools in action, using them to test real-world applications. Testers have a platform to show their tricks and skills, to pair-test and to share their challenges and questions.

My own experiences with the Test Lab were memorable. It is a fun environment where one can come, meet an unknown tester and set off for an uncommitted testing session. It sounds like a pick-up bar, doesn’t it? Let it be a pick-up lab, then!

There is something magical in practicing with others – something happens when we experiment and practice… We gain insights when we attend conference track sessions. But we acquire the knowledge as our own property when we experience and share.
Experimenting adds innumerable layers to our learning experience. For starters, we engage multiple senses – a conversation is very limited on that aspect, and a frontal lecture even more so. The senses exercised on the Test Lab will add more than sight and tact, they add sensations of expectancy (as in “will this work?”, “will it crash?”), will add the wonders of error/failure (as in “no it didn’t”) and all you can learn from that.

So if you want to spice up your EuroSTAR experience and bring back experiential practice, don’t miss the opportunity of meeting passionate people at the Test Lab. And if you want to double-spice it, apply to be the next Test Lab apprentice. Apprentices of the Test Lab get a free pass to the conference and get privileged access to the equipment! There’s also some hard work involved, but if it wasn’t hard it would be less worth it, right?

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