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Couldn't make Nordic Testing Days? Gerie Owen shares her story

Expert Gerie Owen traveled to Tallinn, Estonia for Nordic Testing Days. Here's her first-hand look at this vibrant, grass-roots testing conference and a peek inside KGB headquarters.

We asked testing professional and regular TechTarget contributor Gerie Owen to share her experiences while attending Nordic Testing Days in Estonia.

On June 1 to 3, 2016, delegates, speakers, vendors and organizers assembled in historic Tallinn, Estonia, for Nordic Testing Days, in what has become the largest annual gathering of testers in the Nordic region. With over 450 total attendees representing 18 different countries, Nordic Testing Days is a true modern and international testing conference. Over half of the attendees were there for the first time.

There was a day of workshops and two full days of sessions, with four tracks and morning and afternoon general sessions. Topics were similar to what you might find at U.S. conferences, with track sessions on Selenium and automation, gamification, security and DevOps, and the material was largely current and well-presented.

Speakers often brought specialized expertise to share. Bill Matthews had spoken at Nordic Testing Days in previous years, and his easy and approachable speaking style enables his audience to understand complex topics. His talk and workshop on testing complex systems made it clear that entirely new techniques have to be developed for testing. "I consult a lot for government agencies," he explained. "And they are already heavily into machine learning and adaptive systems, so this is not new technology. We need new ways of testing now."

A young and serious audience

The Nordic Testing Days attendees trended young, and they were highly interested in learning and contributing to the testing community. Except for the multiple languages spoken -- English was the official language of the conference, but the participants also used other languages among themselves -- it could be a scene right out of an established top-notch conference in the U.S. All were excited at the opportunity to learn and share.

It was readily apparent that all attendees were serious about both advancing their skills and networking with their peers. I met Mart Kiviselg and his friend who got their master of science in computer science together in Estonia, and while they work for different companies, they attended the conference together. While his friend worked primarily in manual testing at a gaming company, Kiviselg was a test automation engineer working in the financial services industry. Both aspired to be testers. "I'm not a great programmer," Kiviselg said. "This was how I could make a difference."

There were about 10 exhibitors at the conference, more than in previous years, with a lot of interaction between vendors and attendees. One vendor, Finland-based startup UseTrace, was positive about its constant stream of booth traffic. "We exhibited because the organizers asked us to," CTO and co-founder Arto Vuori explained. "But we were already well aware of the conference and wanted to be here at some point."

Volunteers spread the enthusiasm

Unlike many conferences in the U.S., Nordic Testing Days is run entirely by volunteers as a not-for-profit service to the regional testing community. The enthusiasm of the volunteers was high, and for the fifth year in a row, they organized and ran a compelling and successful conference.

Guna Petrova, from Lithuania, is one of the conference's most dedicated volunteers. I enjoyed talking with her throughout the conference. She is very upbeat, cheering on both the speakers and the participants. She has been in testing for several years, and she told me it's like working on the farm. "You work long hours and your work hard, but it's fun."

The conference venue, the Sokos Viru Hotel, is the largest hotel in Tallinn with 22 floors, and it is unique in that it once served as the regional KGB headquarters and today houses a KGB museum. Guests can get tours of old KGB offices and see where tiny cameras were mounted around the building to spy on guests.

Tallinn is a vibrant city of about 400,000 on the Baltic Sea, and includes a core old city that dates back to the 13th century, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Because of its beauty, it is a staple on the cruise ship circuit, and in the summer can be crowded with cruise tourists. Small shops share the cobblestone streets with a myriad of restaurants offering both local and international cuisine. On the streets, you will hear Estonian, Russian, English and a smattering of other Baltic languages. The country proudly flies both the Estonian flag and the flag of the European Union, and its currency is the Euro.

Estonia is in the far north of Europe, about 1200 miles north of the latitude of Boston. This time of year, the sun sets for perhaps four hours, and it never gets completely dark. The mild summer weather and long days make it a wonderful place to be in June; although the reverse is true in December.

But Tallinn and Estonia are also on the forefront of computer and software technology, with an active and rapidly growing list of companies and talent. Well-known Java deployment tool Zeroturnaround was founded in Estonia, and is a growing stable of developers of financial, collaboration, security and embedded software. The country has a very sophisticated network infrastructure and a high degree of IT usage in government and industry.

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