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Do you confer ... locally?

Years ago I read that famous line in Lessons Learned in Software Testing:

Conferences are for conferring

I appreciated that line. All too often, we show up and listen to someone read powerpoint, something we could do easily without leaving the home. But conferring, on the other hand, is actually talking to each other. That has real value.

Then Monday comes. We walk back in to the office, and the end of the week, we’re beat to a pulp.

Without conferences, we’re lucky to make it to coffee break on Monday morning without heavy negativity and pressure.

The negativity and pressure has a real cost. Conferences where we actually confer are not just good, they are downright therapeutic. It turns out, simply talking to someone else about our problems provides a sort of reverse pressure. While telling Mom, a friend from volleyball practice or your cat will give some benefit (clinically speaking, you’ll get benefit from talking to a wall), it sure is nice to have professional peers. Yet we don’t get to conferences enough, and in this age of budget-tightening, if anything, we’re likely to go less.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go to a conference a month?

It turns out that you can, without stepping on an airplane, likely for the cost of a nice dinner … that you just might be able to expense.

One way to do it is to find out and get involved with a local user’s group. This is a chance to yes, listen to a speaker, but also to connect with your peers in the field. If your city is large enough, they are likely to have a chapter of some sort of user’s group; here are a few to consider.

The Quality Assurance Institute has chapters worldwide in most major metropolitan areas. It also focuses on software quality.

The Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) has chapters in the United States and focuses on “Enterprise IT”, but not testing

The American Society for Quality has over 250 chapters all over North America. ASQ tends to focus on manufacturing quality, but not technology. I’ve been an ASQ member for six or seven years; they do have sofware sub-communities if look for them.

The Agile Alliance has a local chapters program. The Alliance has developer-testing as part of it’s core mission, and has been increasingly friendly too discussions about customer-facing testing over the past few years.

The Software Engineering Institute keeps a list of Software Process Improvement Networks (SPINs) that focus on “process improvement,” an aspect of software quality. They tend to attract people interested in regulated testing and mission critical applications, but they leave a lot of room to design your local SPIN to match the interests of local business.

The Software Test Professionals also have a local chapter program, with a focus, on, well … testing and professionalism.

ASQ, AA, SPINs, QAI, AITP, STP, take your pick. If you follow all of the links and can’t find anything local, you could set up your own chapter.

Or just start small; see if you can think of ten people interested in software testing in your area.  Invite them out after work on a friday, or maybe have a brown-bag meeting at your place of business. Challenge each one to think of five or ten people of like minds, then setup an actual meeting.

For the actual meeting, you’ll need a topic. (Feel free to start with the presentation on quick attacks I blogged about last week.)

After that, set up the next meeting, maybe start an email discussion group, maybe eventually contact one of those organizations above and become a “chapter.”

By that time, you’ll have more than found a way to blow off steam. You’ll have made some real friendships and started a real community. And that means something.

Oh, and next time you’re looking for a job, people will remember what you’ve done.

Our profession could use more user’s groups. They are a helpful way to blow off steam, a great way to learn things and meet new people, and they are way cheaper in time and money than trying to fill up your emotional tank by attending conferences.

Join or start one today.

You’ll be glad you did.

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