25 July 2013

CAST, The story about an abstract

The Challenge
It was late in January. I was spending the Sunday with my kids and fiance visiting my mother. As we were eating my phone did that annoying sound it does when I get a message on Twitter. I ignored it and kept enjoying my visit. Little did I know that the annoying sound was the start of one of my biggest adventures so far.

Anyway, later that evening I finally checked my phone and found this tweet from my, soon to become, manager:

The first thought that ran through my head?
"Yeah right! Like I'm good enough to do that"
When it hit me, I had had the same feeling about Let's Test, 8 months earlier and still regret losing that opportunity and 3 months earlier when I was invited to SWET 4 but that time I accepted the invitation and loved every moment. This was sure a much greater adventure but why not give it a shot?

Getting started
When Louise Perold said "not much time" she wasn't laying. Three days to finish my first ever abstract for a conference talk, add kids to that and I was down to 3 evenings... and I didn't even have a topic.

As the theme for CAST was "lessons learned" I figured I at least had a shot since my career so far was much more about experimenting than reading stuff. After some thinking I came down to three potential topics:
  • Note taking - Based on my blog post and further experiences
  • Going exploratory - Me and my colleague at Ericsson turned a factory school test processes into a context driven approach in our team. It was an amazing experience with some really interesting results. I will share those some day (you can read a tiny bit here).
  • Mindset - I had went from knowing nothing about testing to learn about testing and finally excel to become a tester with ideas others seemed to put value in. What made that happen?
The first one felt like something others would pull off much better (and after attending Huib's and Jean-Paul's tutorial at Let's Test I'm glad I didn't pick that topic). I could have focused on the experimental part but that thought never appeared to me.

The second one felt a bit... well, with me soon leaving Ericsson to join Maria at Verisure it just didn't feel right.

So I went with number three.

Writing abstracts
I have a topic, now let's write an abstract about it... what should be in an abstract? I scratched my head and started browsing around looking at various abstracts. Finally I just shrugged and started writing.

I sent my first draft to Maria for review. We both felt it didn't say anything about the actual content in the presentation so I started on my next one... two days left.

During day two I managed to produce two different abstracts, both having the same basic problem: They described a topic way too big to fit in a 20-40 minutes slot. So with one evening left it was back to the drawing board to either focus on some key detail in my current topic or find a completely new one.

Delivery time
I ended up focusing on a smaller but reoccurring theme in my previous abstracts, that by the way was about the mindsets described in my The year I became a passionate tester -reflections. I wrote and wrote finishing late in the night, making it a completely new abstract that Maria never got to review. As I pressed "send" in the submission form I didn't know what to think. On one hand I was really proud of my abstract, to me it was interesting and well written. On the other hand I felt it was probably having similar problems as my previous abstracts I just hadn't realized it yet.

A first hint
Maria told me she had been asked if she thought I would be able to pull off the presentation (I actually have a background as a speaker but in a completely different area). That question was an early indication that my abstract was at least considered. Suddenly things became real, I might be standing in front of a crowd six months later giving a presentation at a major test conference on the other side of this planet.

Finally the day came when presenters would be announced. I had mixed feelings, one part of me screamed "Don't you dare picking me" while the other wanted nothing else in the world than seeing that email in my inbox. The first people started announcing they would be speaking at CAST. After a while it became apparent no such mail was sent to me and I just felt... emptiness.

A couple of days passed. Even though I should be proud of myself for fighting the urge not to write, and later send, the abstract, I still just felt emptiness.

Two days after the announcements I cleaned up my spam folder. Usually I just press "delete all" without even looking at the content (yes, I once did trust Gmail that much). For some reason I didn't this time. When glancing the list I noticed a mail close the top:

Dear Erik,

Thank you so much for your submission for CAST2013. We are delighted to inform you that you have been selected to speak. Details will follow shortly around the next steps.

Best regards,
Louise Perold and Ben Kelly

Hey Google, that's a really ugly trick! Don't you ever do that again or you'll end up like Yahoo after spam marking mails sent to myself.

So what's now
I've been working on my presentation for quite a while now. Not too long ago though I finally asked myself: "What's the goal? What do I want people to feel/know/do when they leave my presentation". That question forced me to somewhat start over but it's coming together nicely and will be great in August.

The presentation? Well it's named Making learning my top priority and you can read more about it in the CAST schedule. The plan is to post one more blog post before CAST and in that provide a sneak peak of what I will talk about but that's for another day. For now, thank you for reading and I hope to see you in Madison later this summer!

... Oh, and in case you wonder about my promise to my finance: Yes, she and our (now) six months old girl with come with me.

Take care!

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