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Why TechWell’s StarWest and StarEast are Becoming my Favorite Conferences?

By Rajiv Jain (CEO, ThinkSys)

“No great idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” – F Scott Fitzgerald

Talk about damning something with faint praise. I am not sure what conferences Fitzgerald attended – I myself have been to more than a few, many focused on software testing, and with some admittedly mixed results. This post though is not about those events that didn’t work, it’s about two events that most definitely do work – Techwell’s StarWest and StarEast conferences. I got back a couple of weeks ago from StarEast in Orlando and now that I am done catching up with post event follow-ups it seemed right to put this down.

First, as you know, there is no dearth of Testing focused conferences. Googling “software testing conferences” spits out over 67.3 million page results. Clearly us software testing pros like talking shop. Among those results, you will find some good ones and some extremely nondescript ones but conventional wisdom has been that the stars of the show are TechWell’s StarEast and StarWest (yes, I know I’m not the first one with that pun). So convinced are we of the utility of these events that Thinksys elected to be a Platinum Sponsor at the most recent edition of both these conferences. So what drives this confidence?

1. The Speakers and the Sessions:
I can’t think of any other place that can boast of all-star line-ups including speakers like James Bach, Michael Bolton, and Joe Colantonio among a host of other gurus and expert-level users. The range of topics covered is also staggering – everything from testing and test automation best practices to the emerging trends not yet fully visible as they come down the turnpike. There is so much to learn from. This year I particularly liked Isabel Evans’ StarEast Keynote, “Telling our Testing Stories”. Her thoughts on the miscommunication between IT and Rest of the World resonated with me. I agree that we have to present our work as a testing organization in words and stories that are understood outside of our group if we have to show the value of our work.

2. The people:
The range the conferences span is vast – everybody from a junior tester looking to build a shining testing career to those tasked with software quality in some of the biggest companies in the world attend. As a company, access to such a highly targeted audience is extremely helpful. Over the two events this year, the companies we met spanned all parts of the QA spectrum. There were those focused on doing manual testing well to organizations who are seeking to make QA an integral part of the product planning process, involved from concept to delivery – a change we see happening more and more.

3. A bellwether:
This is the place to be if you want to get a sense of where the QA world is going in the near future and even beyond. The speaker sessions and even the conversations over coffee give you so much information to chew over. For instance, our meeting with the TechWell program chair, Lee Copeland was quite interesting. He is seeing a change in the role of QA and in the skills needed today, driven by the adoption of Agile and Continuous integration. We fully expect these trends to be transformational for testing. Testing could become a very different organization from what it is today.

4. A platform:
In many ways, this is where we get the real ROI as a sponsor. Our objective obviously is to get in front of our target audience and showcase who we are and what we have to offer. Over the two events this year we focused on our test automation tool, Krypton. I have to say that overall Krypton was quite well received. As a new tool, what was perhaps even more valuable for us was the feedback we got from those that saw what it could do. Many people liked our adoption of the Open Source initiative for this tool and many had valuable suggestions to offer on features, usability and so on. It does appear that they would like to see the tool made more visible and marketed more openly. On a personal note, I got an opportunity to talk about something close to my heart – what makes test automation projects fail. I have long believed that it is essential to know what could go wrong before you can work to ensure that everything will go right. The response to my talk on the subject was, frankly, quite overwhelming. At StarEast, the room was overflowing with attendees and the feedback during the talk and even later from people who stopped by the Thinksys booth was extremely gratifying. Clearly, this is something I should do more often!


In closing, let me share something that Ryan Holmes said about SXSW, but is accurate enough about our conferences in general too. “One of the ironies of a conference dedicated to all things digital and virtual is that the best ways to connect with people are surprisingly old-school. Social media tools can improve the odds of a serendipitous encounter at SXSW, but old-fashioned hustle, palm-pressing and – above all – creativity go a long way.” I have come to believe that in the software testing world the place to meet people is StarWest (& StarEast). Assuming you agree- will you be at Anaheim, come October?

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