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CAST 2009: Test gurus Sabourin, Coulter preview keynotes

Next month, the Association for Software Testing (AST) will hold the fourth annual Conference of the Association for Software Testing (CAST) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This will be the first year I won’t be attending, so I wanted to take a chance to catch up with some of the speakers to talk to them about their papers and presentations. The first pair of speakers I was able to catch up with were giving the closing keynote for the conference: Rob Sabourin and Tim Coulter.

Rob Sabourin is presently the President of AmiBug.Com Inc, a frequent guest lecturer at McGill University, the author of a short book illustrated by his daughter Catherine entitled “I Am a Bug,” a regular author of articles of software engineering topics, and he’s a regular speaker at just about every software testing conference you’ve heard of.

Tim Coulter is a software developer for The Open Planning Project, has participated in over ten software testing peer workshops, and he brings a fresh perspective to the practice of software testing which you can read on his blog at

Both Sabourin and Coulter are regulars at CAST, and this year they are taking on a rather interesting challenge with their closing keynote. Their talk, “Tim Bits: What I Learned About Software Testing at CAST 2009” will be an attempt to summarize lessons learned from the 2009 talks and will use a mix of improv and group participation to make the lessons specific and relevant.

“We came up with the idea of ‘Tim Bits’ at a peer conference,” said Sabourin. “I think it was at a Workshop on Performance and Reliability in New York city in which I asked Tim to give us some quick lightening encapsulations of lessons he learned – as a novice – from presentations made by experienced professionals.  Tim Bits is also the name of a popular doughnut hole treat at the famous Canadian chain Tim Horton’s and thus the pun began.”

Sabourin, a speaking veteran, has a history of taking on challenging keynote presentations. He’s done light but lesson-filled talks about software testing based on lessons-learned from the Simpsons, Dr. Seuss, and the Looney Tunes Gang. Two of the best talks I’ve seen him give include “A Whodunit? Testing Lessons from the Great Detectives” and “Peanuts and Crackerjacks: What Baseball Taught Me about Metrics.” But given that this talk depends on material presented by others in the two or three days before the closing keynote, I asked Sabourin how they plan to prepare.

“I’ve prepared a number of closing keynote-style presentations at STAR conferences in which I focus on pain points of delegates and how lessons learned from specific conference or tutorial sessions can be applied. So when Tim and I were asked to combine Tim Bits with the ‘Closing Lessons Learned’ to create our closing keynote at Cast, we of course said yes.” Sabourin went on to outline their planning. “Tim and I plan to spend several evenings together in New Jersey the week before CAST preparing our Framework. But the actual content will be captured on-the-fly during CAST.”

When I asked if the on-the-fly preparation was at all intimidating, Sabourin responded: “Not at all! We will be well prepared in advance, and spending time dialoguing with delegates to capture real learnings and applications on the fly during the conference will be fun. I feel that our talk at CAST can be a solid practical constructive step to not only making CAST more useful, but also in demonstrating the power of actively participating in the AST community.”

I also asked Coulter how he felt about the talk, and he said: “I’m extremely excited for this talk. This is going to be up there as one of the coolest things I’ve done so far, in testing or otherwise. The AST community has done so much for me since I started college that I’m happy to do anything I can to give back.”

When asked what they would be working on for next year, the two of them listed off several topics.

“I have been working hard on task analysis of session based exploratory testing implemented in real projects and especially in frameworks like SCRUM,” said Sabourin. “In 2010 I hope to share these experiences. I’m also dedicating a lot of time to visual modeling in test design and testing in turbulent contexts.”

Coulter has been thinking about how to put theory into practice. “I’ve thought testing history would be an exciting thing to research, and if I can get a speech or paper to come out of that I would be more than happy. In total though, I don’t know what’s to come. I envision a talk titled ‘Trying to make it in testing while discovering the (software) world around me,’ but when that’ll come I don’t know.”

For more on the upcoming show, check out the CAST conference website. Another great resource is this site’s info on Rob Sabourin, his book, or his classes. And here’s how to learn more about Tim Coulter, the man behind ‘Tim Bits,’ and his current projects.

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