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On February 22nd 2012 a brand new event is being launched at the Brighton Metropole hotel covering all things testing related. TestFest 2012 is a one day event with a difference – forget your closed sessions with bullet pointed PowerPoint decks – this conference is all about the interaction.

According to the website, “Testfest is a new and exciting event, bringing testing and QA communities of the ‘traditional commercial’ teams and the game industry teams together to learn from each other and network into one big community”.

I got the insider view when I grabbed a quick chat with Chris Ambler, MD of Testing Stuff who set the whole thing up along with his son Dave, Operations Director at the same company.

What made you want to set up a brand new testing event?

I’ve been going to conferences for the past 10+ years, I’ve been to big conferences, small meet ups in bars and everything in between. I’ve attended as a delegate, a speaker, an exhibitor and even helped organise a few. I’ve really become disillusioned with them over the past few years, they’ve become old and stale and lost track of what they’re trying to achieve. Rather than just stop going to them I decided to have a go at pulling together an event that’s dynamic and activity based, where you get to spend time with everyone else there, whether you’re a delegate, an exhibitor,a sponsor or a speaker. As an exhibitor you spend loads of money for an event where you spend most of the time standing around waiting for people to come out of sessions and then have a 20 minute rush when delegates are trying to eat lunch/network/visit the stands, so you can end up practically begging people to come to see you. I didn’t want any of that! All the attendees are important to us.

The whole objective of testfest is for people to go away knowing more than when they arrived - not more confused, which I’ve experienced myself a few times. We’ve worked closely with the speakers that the learning is the crucial piece, not the debate. Rather than having delegates sit in front of 5 different speakers all telling them something different and then arguing over who’s right, we’ve moved to something much more linear and engaging. We’ve also kept the cost low so it’s affordable to everyone (£60).

So that’s why the layout of the venue is different to most traditional conferences…?

Yes – there’s one big space divided into 3 areas by pillars. The idea is the central section will be laid out in cabaret style, so tables with seats and the stage at one end. Outside on both sides the expo area will be against the wall, pointing inwards. Noise control is done by audio rather than walls, which means people on the stands can listen to the sessions or come and join, people on the seats can wander across and see the exhibits whenever they feel like it. It’s laid out pretty much like a rock concert where the stage is the central point. There’s always stuff going on between talks too – next to the stage in one corner there’s the Microsoft Visual Studio Sandbox where people can get their hands on the tech and play with it, do a bit of testing and get some tips from the experts. The people who find the most bugs will win a prize at the end of the day so it’s worth coming over and having a go. In the opposite corner there’s cloud testers Centre4 Testing where you can use cloud testing techniques and learn about how it works.

What's the Goldfish Bowl Debate all about?

It’s a way of making a regular panel debate that bit more interesting and interactive. Basically there’s five chairs with four occupied. The debate will kick off, but if you want to say something you have to get up and sit on the fifth chair. Someone else on the panel then has to leave. If you’re sitting on your own chair (i.e. not on the panel) then you can’t butt in, you have to get up and sit as part of the panel. This means the debate topic can really take off, topics change and it facilitates an hour of really dynamic debate. Someone chairs it so it doesn’t go completely off the rails.

The website says you've ‘thrown caution to the wind along with their PowerPoint presentations’… have you banned PowerPoint?

Of course there’ll be slides, we’re just moving away from lines of text and bullet points (aka death by PowerPoint). When you’ve got experienced speakers who are passionate about their subject they use slides as a visual aid rather than a crutch, so slides will be used as a background aid at testfest.

If you're a developer (who also does testing), why should you take the time out to come to this conference?

QA and testing are important through the lifecycle of development, from start to finish. Having good testing techniques early in the development cycle not only improves the overall quality of the product but it also decreases the cost of testing at the end. Understanding the impact of not getting development testing right early in the development cycle really helps the testing process. If you have a test group it can help that group by doing early testing. If someone does development then testing early is vital. You’ll be learning about the value of testing and techniques – and if you’re a developer then meeting testers helps you understand the importance of what they’re trying to do and how you can work together.

At the end of the day we’ll be presenting awards to the people who found the most bugs etc. and then there’ll be an couple of hours of networking with free beer. We’ve tried to make it easy for delegates to identify who’s who by colour coding badges, so if you’re looking for a job you can see who to speak to (i.e. Head of Testing) and if you want to speak with peers you’ll know who the testers are.

So if you’re into testing and want to play with the tools and learn stuff then sign up and have yourself a good day in Brighton. If you go along then please leave a comment below and let us know how it went Smile