AgileTD 2023: Artificial Intelligence, Quality & Community

The fifteenth edition of Agile Testing Days took place in Potsdam in November 2023. I hosted a workshop on Facilitation: Enabling Team Communication & Driving Change and gave a presentation Embracing Whole Team Quality: Making Myself Obsolete. In the midst of these roller coaster months, my medical team cleared me to come to AgileTD as long as I took it easy and took rest. So, with my family in tow, I attended the keynotes, hosted my own sessions, talked to old friends and met a few new ones and took all the evenings off to spend them with my adorable toddler & partner.

In this blog, I am sharing all the sketchnotes I made during the event. These sketchnotes were made live, during the keynotes, on an iPad Pro using Procreate. Feel free to share these sketchnotes with your colleagues – as long as you credit and link back to me.

Monday evening keynote: Maaike Brinkhof’s My Tale of Playing the Testing Game

Maaike Brinkhof introduced her concept of 4 Testing levels early in 2023. In my Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing #10 notes, she defined the levels as 1) following a process; 2) spicing up the process: “I’m finding so many bugs!” 3) testing as a team activity and 4) the organization structure is preventing us from making good software. In this keynote, she elaborated on these concepts via the Testing RPG Game and highlighted common struggles testers face when trying to ship quality software. Her keynote was engaging, recognizable and a good reminder on finding allies, advocating for testability and focusing on adding value with shippable quality software. I love her statement: “Testing is concerned with showing reality as it is, not as we would like it to be.”

Monday evening: Veerle Verhagen’s Mini Missions: Making the Every Day Exciting

Mini Missions: Making the Everyday Exciting by Veerle Verhagen at AgileTD

Veerle Verhagen followed up Maaike’s keynote with a challenge and a quest for us all. She introduced the concept of Mini Missions (or Side Quests). Small challenges we can set ourselves and challenge each other with to introduce an element of fun, whimsy and serendipity. A wonderful concept that spurred more people to meet each other, learn from and with each other and to make the everyday fun.

Tuesday morning keynote: Kristel Kruustuk’s 10x Software Testing

Kristel Kruustuk is the CEO of Testlio and her main message was that to make big improvements, we need to take small continuous steps. She explored her journey through testing and quality, and how her company approaches testing, incorporates the new technology such as generative AI and encouraged the AgileTD audience to also explore its use.

Tuesday lunch keynote: John Buck’s Could Agile Testers Help Debug Management

John Buck introduced the concept of a Sociocracy and its relevance to organizational structure and quality. He highlighted the importance of feedback loops and encouraged decision making by consent (defined as ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try. Or: there is no paramount objection) rather than by consensus (agreement). He encouraged experiments with cross-functional circles and stressed the importance of reporting back on the results. The hidden trust network that exists in organizations is important to start exploring: who would you go to for advice or help? Who would that person go to? Etc. I liked his emphasis on Agile Testing rather than Agile Software Testing – ultimately, the practices of feedback loops, experimentation with consent, and gathering feedback on the results which are reported back to allow for decision making and changes – transcend software and encourage a more holistic view on quality as a whole.

Tuesday afternoon keynote: Erika Chestnut’s Missed Opportunities. When Quality is Put in a Box

Erika Chestnut‘s keynote had a similar message. She stated that we combined the conversation of quality and testing so much that we often fail to assure quality outside of the testing function. Erika highlighted the struggle between innovation and quality, as well as an often seen vicious circle when it comes to disengagement in our organisations. Testers often learn their craft on the job and too many companies still have poor onboarding practices which then negatively impact a team’s success and breaks trust – which impacts quality. Quality suffers when it’s put in a box & poor quality is a succession of missed opportunities. So, she encouraged everyone to 1) Claim the Missed Opportunities; 2) Cross the Aisle and 3) Define Quality: be an advocate & find your opportunities. A defining trait of a true culture of quality, as Erika stated, is that employees are free to apply judgment in situations that fall out of the rules.

Wednesday morning keynote: Andrew Knight’s Reimagining Automation

Andrew Knight time traveled from the year 2033 and shared the developments that occurred in Test Automation since generative AI made its entrance in our industry. Starting in the 1970s, he went through the various developments in the industry – from the rise of unit testing, increasing automation, continuous testing and testability – to 2023 and beyond with generative AI, decoupling automation from assertion, and the rise of replay. Andrew predicted that humans would have a clear role still in verifying if the behaviour was valid or not, while the tests ran autonomously. He then went on to predict the use of automation in various collaborative team activities like automatic journaling, ticketing and async demos and a creation of daily digests. From my perspective, this last part of the automation prediction failed to take into account the challenges that we as a society already face when it comes to our algorithmic bubbles, a lack of concentration and ability to think critically and synthesize information. Already, we are overwhelmed with information, most people struggle to make sense of what is true or not, and automation is so often used to speed us along a broken road faster when we lose focus of building the right things instead of the possible things. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a glimpse into what we could possibly see in our industry in the coming years and see what value it could bring us.

Wednesday lunch keynote: Zuzi Sochova’s Everyone is a Leader: Unlease Your Agile Leadership Potential and Guide Your Entire Organization towards Agility.

Zuzi Sochova‘s keynote focused on agile leadership and how she build an agile, self-management culture that focused on co-ownership, collaboration and autonomy. Through her experiences and challenges, she stressed the importance of having a vision – a dream – as to where you want to go. She echoed John’s message that experimentation (including a feedback loop!) is valuable. I liked her concept of leadership with three levels: 1) an expert “I know how”; 2) an achiever “I set goals” and 3) a catalyst “and I create space”. Depending on the context, a different level leader is required and it is important to be able to analyse which one you are and need to be in a situation to achieve your vision and dream (and not burn out). She indicated the importance of autonomy with boundaries – a concept which I know as liberating constraints. Zuzi ended her keynote with a call that everyone is and can be a leader – and to help others step into their potential.

Wednesday afternoon keynote: Dr Rochelle Carr’s Move that Wall: Cultivating Change in the Midst of Professional Stagnation

Dr Rochelle Carr is an engaging speaker who expects audiences to be active listeners and participants. She was a force on the stage and spoke captivatingly on moving the wall that you are stuck on and propelling yourself into change to break through stagnation. She defined stagnation as the feeling of running a sprint and never moving from the space you’re in. Her definition of a Wall is the block between you and the life you want to live & your professional goals. She stressed the need for clear career goals, and to be relevant in your work. She asked us to take a hard look at ourselves and get out of our own self’s way. To allow the walls we face to be our catalysts and to propel us into change, to keep climbing and growing and never to settle. Don’t forget the bruises and bumps that brought you this far and to identify who supports us & who holds us back. She started with the message that fluidity requires you to embrace change and take risk, and if you’re feeling stuck in your career that you owe it to yourself to shake things up and make a change.

Wednesday evening keynote: Lena Nyström & Samuel Nitsche’s Don’t Go Breaking My Code

Lena Nyström and Samuel Nitsche sang their musical keynote: Don’t Go Breaking My Code – a duet between a developer and a tester and common communication and mindset differences between them. They wrote songtexts inspired and set to recognizable music, playacted a number of conversations and had a blast on stage. Their dialogue is all too often still recognizable and their advice on shared goals through different approaches was valuable and entertaining. Their t-shirt game was on point and the music & their singing was brilliant. Let’s value each other in all our glorious differences.

Thursday morning keynote: Alex Schladebeck & Sophie Küster’s A Fighting Chance: Learning the Art of Conflict Resolution (presented by Alex)

Alex Schladebeck and Sophie Küster prepared their keynote on conflict resolution together. Unfortunately, Sophie could not attend AgileTD this year and therefore Alex presented their keynote alone. Conflict was defined as “the existence or perception of a threat or an impediment to one’s core needs, values and goals.” Conflict is unavoidable within social groups. They presented different scenarios and situations where conflict occurred in their work space and how they handled it in a productive and constructive manner. They sketched each situation, highlighted the conflict potential (such as a gut reaction; a reaction based in interpretation rather than observation) and describe what actually happened to deescalate, resolve and prevent conflict. Alex and Sophie had a series of tips to resolve conflict, such as learning to repair, finding their underlying need, learning to name your feelings and be curious. Conflict is a chance for change and rather than try to avoid it at all cost, we are better served with handling it responsibly. I especially valued their concrete options that they offered at the end of each scenario.

Thursday lunch keynote: Heather Reid’s Wait! That’s Not Tested

In the interest of self-care, I chose not to sketchnote the final two keynotes of Agile Testing Days 2023. Nevertheless, Heather Reid‘s keynote on Wait! That’s Not Tested! spoke eloquently on opportunity cost, on return on investment of our shipable software and she advocated for looking for the smallest shipable slice (rather than a minimum viable product). I loved her keynote and the way Heather backed it up with concrete data and the stories she shared.

Thursday afternoon keynote: Tariq King’s The Rise of Generative AI: Judgment Day

Tariq King put on a show for the closing keynote of the event. In three acts, he first “live-prepared” his keynote using generative AI on the stage; and then went on to discuss the rise of AI. He discussed Alan Turing’s ideas on machine learning in the early/mid twentieth century and his concept of the imitation game. He contrasted Turning’s ideas with Ada Lovelace’s ideas of a century earlier. Tariq then invited us to participate in such an imitation game as he showed a series of art, music and faces that were either created by humans or by AI. Needless to say, the Agile Testing Days audience could not reliably tell the difference. Tariq continued on to describe the current AI (particularly generative AI) developments, and branched into religion and its underpinning worldview for a bit. There is a lot happening in AI development these days and so I decided to close out this blog with a throw-back to last year’s keynote by Fiona Charles.

Bonus: 2022 Keynote by Fiona Charles: Human Impact: An Ethical and Practical Perspective on Our Software Driven World.

Fiona Charles gave a brilliant keynote at Agile Testing Days 2022 on Human Impact or What Could Possibly Go Wrong. She stated that she’s an optimist by nature and a pessimist by trade. There is cause for optimism in tech development such as robot assisted surgery and the role of technology in developing the covid-19 vaccin. Technology that enhances and enables human capability and creativity. Unfortunately, there is plenty of cause for pessimism too and Fiona highlighted a number of examples where technology breaks down trust, privacy violations run rampant, algorithms are turned into political tools and racism and misogyny are interwoven through AI algoritms. These examples are not potential harm that could occur – but harm that DID occur. Fiona stressed that we cannot afford to ignore tech’s potential problems and so she encourages us to embrace Human-Centred Computing where we ask: “what could possibly go wrong?”; “should we build this?” and “what is the human impact?”. Fiona created 10+1 commandments for Ethical Techies and implores us to ground our technical practices on ethical thinking and ethical processes.

All in all, I enjoyed Agile Testing Days 2023. My own presentation Whole Team Quality: Making Myself Obsolete was well-received and can still be viewed until February 2024 for all holders of an Agile Testing Days Virtual Pass. My workshop Facilitation: Enabling Team Communication & Driving Change reached the maximum amount of participants and based on the reactions of the participants, they enjoyed it – as did I. Bringing my family to Agile Testing Days was an intriguing experiment that paid off and my toddler loved collecting all the sponsor swag, greeting the unicorns and in general being a people magnet. Thank you all for a lovely conference and all the conversations, and I hope to meet you again next year or on the socials!

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