Conferences – Will they exist in the future?

We at QualityMinds have for a long time organized, participated, given talks and held workshops at many local, national and international conferences.

Lately we have seen that many companies, organisation and persons doesn’t participate on conferences anymore. Why, well that is something at least we don’t have any clear answer yet, but maybe there are other ways that fulfils the need to meet, competence develop and inspires by?

The larger testing conferences have developed during the last years, from mainly just sitting listening to speakers and to maybe do a workshop, to have much more different contents and possibilities to be active. However, what the people who going to conferences mainly wants and expects are the “old” setup e.g. a speaker and inactive listeners.

With that conclusion, I think that many conference organizers are trapped. If they change too much, they will lose the audience that they have and they are not sure that the new ways is securing a crowd that finds the people they lost or has not yet found.

At QualityMinds we try to elaborate ways to improve eller boost conference experience. We have created a concept named “Test Charter”, which means that you travel, live and eat together as a group instead of going alone. The concept is also including knowledge sharing with retrospectives every day to get information from which sessions where good and which was a miss.

A forum that I was one of the founding members for over 10 years ago – TestZonen, where we tried to challenge the conference concepts for a few years. The whole purpose with the conferences we made was to do things that we would ourselves like to participate in. The concept was that everything was included, for a selected number of persons that could add something to the mix and where all focus was to facilitate the meeting between those persons. We had agenda, but it was mainly driven by the participants will to share.

In another organization – SAST (Swedish Association for Software Testing), we at QualityMinds have had persons more or less from the start of the SAST Väst part and where I have been in the board for the last decade. In SAST Väst, we tried to change the way of conducting the meetings, with first changing timeslots, places and added more hands-on workshops. But in the end, it’s the traditional “speaker-audience” way that remains most popular, especially doing it in a grand scale.

How can we change the conferences landscape, making it fresher and more appealing in the future? Because when the conferences are at best, you get massive amount of inspiration, knowledge and meeting people packaged in a way that is hard to beat.

Off the top of my mind, I would suggest the following:

  • International conferences that is hosted locally at the same time. For the ones who would like to have the complete experience, they travel to main city (Eurostar, Starwest, Agile Testing Days etc.). For the ones who can’t go or where the company would like to reduce costs and time away, a breakout program is made locally. At the local place, a few talks and workshops are held, but key-notes and other high profile talks are broadcasted. In this way, the organizer can rent a smaller place and have a local/global program. For the companies, it might be that the managers are willing to send their testers as cost is much lower.
  • Conference packages, which means that a group goes on tour to bigger companies and organisations. Other participants can pay to join.In this way, as the larger companies have auditoriums, the facility cost is low and the total need for traveling is reduced. The package can consist for an example of a day full of great speakers, workshops and networking events where the conference comes near the customer.
  • Virtual conferences. They exist already, but I haven’t seen anyone really succeed in the testing area yet. You could elaborate with virtual/non virtual form, where you have most sessions virtual but setup meeting places at several cities to join in person.
  • Companies match with companies. Your company got another company where you do a program for each other. It could be that you travel to the other company but it could also using virtual solutions. An organizer could act as a match-making facilitator and have a platform for that.
  • Conferences that have program for many days that are spread out, such one day per month with mixed speakers and workshops. Could and maybe should be arranged virtually.
  • Test clinics in a large size.  Test clinic is a meeting where you bring your challenges/problems to get feedback or find solutions Test clinic for. The concept could be that all participants should bring minimum one challenge each and that the organizer divides the subjects in to different groups with active facilitator.

There are many ways to elaborate with the conference concepts than above, but as a business and competence area, we must continuously find new ways that safe guard our participation and knowledge in tomorrow software development.

As for me, conferences are a vital part of my testing life and I hope that we can find new ways to enhance the way of meeting persons with competence!

//Bengt Augustsson
Bengt has worked over 20 years in the testing business and is a co-founder of QualityMinds. He has organized over 20 conferences, participating in even more and in rare occassions hit the stage as a speaker.