Conferences, cliques and community

In the days following testbash, a very interesting discussion sprung up on twitter about cliques and the struggle for inclusivity that exists for many at these events.

The testing community is a very passionate one and never fails to impress me at how helpful and inclusive the majority of people are. That said, there as been some interesting conversations recently regarding cliques at conferences, and most recently at Testbash.

The discussions have originated from comments about meeting people how some have felt a bit isolated when attending these events as so many people know each other already and it is often difficult to break into existing groups.

I, like many others, have experienced this from both sides, and this continues even now. Yes, I know a fair few people and attending these events, especially Agile Testing Days, feels like a family reunion. I love that. My testing network is very important to me, and has opened many doors for me over the years.

However, I totally understand the feeling that these events are cliquey. It’s a symptom of the community nature, and perhaps something you would not get at a much larger conference such as the STAR conferences. With more people knowing each other, and where a larger percentage (no facts to back this up) of the attendees are repeat offenders, it is perhaps expected that groups develop. Where groups develop, it starts propagating the notion of in-crowd and outsiders, and I totally get this. It is really intimidating trying to break into an existing group, especially where there are strong characters.

I see this as a problem from two perspectives. Firstly, the testing community is awesome because of the relationships we have built between each other. I do not get the chance to go to many events to when I do, I love catching up with people. In fact through doing this at Testbash last week, I found out about two tools that I will be trialing and got several tips that will influence my work in the coming weeks.

At the meetup on the Thursday night, there were a couple of tables that were playing games. One that had some card game I didn’t recognise, and another with black stories.  I’ve found testing games to be a fantastic way of meeting new people, but they have to be facilitated with inclusivity in mind. The other table was playing black stories which I find to be much easier to dip in and out of than most other games, and it is a team effort to determine the scenario. However, facilitation is very important and needs to encourage new people to join. At Agile Testing Days, we have a tester games night where everyone is invited, and the collaboration aspect of the games is encouraged.

So yes it is partially up to the organisers, the facilitators to be more concerned with integrating and encouraging more people to join in.

However, the other perspective is from the ‘outsider’, where they see these groups, these tables of people having fun, joking with each other and playing games, and do not feel that they can join in. What they possibly don’t appreciate is that not everyone around that table may know each other. I joined a table for black stories, and only knew one other already at the table, yet after some brief introductions, we joined the common cause of trying to work out why the motorcyclist had no head!

When I started going to conferences, I made a pact with myself that I would get out of my comfort zone and make a point of approaching people and talking to them. Through this I got to talk to many people. Another great way to get into groups is via twitter. Engage in conversations in the coffee queue, at lunch, in between talks. Sure it goes against the grain, especially in the reserves British, but it sometimes leads to the most unexpected of outcomes. It’s important to remember that everyone is there because they want to learn and foster their interest in the subject.

So, next time you are at an event, walk up to someone new and say “Hi, I’m …’ and see what happens!

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