Consultants Camp Report

In September, I attended Consultants Camp. This was my first time there, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had the camp handbook, and read a post by Dale Emery describing Camp. (It’s worth a read, like all of Dale’s writings.)

This was about all I knew of Camp when I flew out of Calgary. Now that I’ve attended Camp, and have had time for reflection, I have something to share. Camp had a big effect on me, and I got a lot out of it. I came back home and Elizabeth said: “This has been good for you. You’ve come home rested, energized and full of new ideas.” I struggled with a good word to describe what Camp meant for me, and found an article called Renewalby fellow Camper Rick Brenner. “Renewal” describes what I felt after attending Camp. Rick says:

Just about every year I attend a conference called Consultants’ Camp. It’s a group of consultants, IT specialists and process experts who meet annually in Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado, for a week of self-organized collegiality and fun. In some ways, it’s a conference like any other — there’s a continental breakfast, days full of sessions, and there is a program. By the end of the conference many of us feel tired and full. Learning is everywhere.

In other ways Camp is unique. The setting, the Colorado Rockies, is inspirational. Attendees give all sessions. There is no sponsor. Every day, there’s a long break in mid-afternoon, which today I’m using to write this essay. Lunch isn’t provided, but most of us ante up and share soup and sandwiches and stimulating conversation. For me, and I think for all of us, there’s a feeling of belonging.

Renewal is a time to step out of the usual routine and re-energize. I feel good to be here, with these people — colleagues and friends. Renewal can be a large block of time, as Consultants’ Camp is, or it can be a few minutes. We find renewal in weekends, vacations, days off, even in a special evening or hour in the midst of routine.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Camp had some times of joy, and there were difficult times we experienced with sadness. I talked with other first-time campers, and a common theme emerged: Consultants Camp is a community that is not only highly intellectual, but also understands people’s humanity and emotion. This is a community that cares for each other.

One of my favourite parts of Consultants Camp was the opportunity to spend a lot of time with James Bach. James generously offered to spend time with me talking about the testing craft, and having me work through testing exercises. I learned a tremendous amount from the time we spent together, and I have renewed direction on improving my skills as a tester.

I’ve followed James since about 1999. I had been testing as an intern student for a few months, and was in a unique position of leadership. I found I was struggling to explain what I was doing when training other testers. I realized I was too focused on technology and I was drawing from other disciplines when testing that I hadn’t realized. Since I had studied Philosophy and Business as well as Technology, there were non-computer related influences I didn’t realize coming through in my thinking about testing. I had studied Inductive Logic in university, and found when I read James’ work, the correlation of software testing with philosophy I had been bumping up against was spelled out already for me. I was pleased to see James recommend books on Abductive Inference, and I started reading everything I could that he had written. What he was saying was matching my beliefs and experience, and he had a lot of great information for me to use.

James continues to be an influence because I greatly respect his commitment to teaching testing skills in the software testing field. Furthermore, my experiences show that what he says is true. We tend to think alike when it comes to testing, and I have the benefit of his knowledge and experience to draw on in my own work. I (and other testers) are indebted to his willingness to share great ideas, and teach what he knows.

I have used James’ Heuristic Risk-Based Testing strategy ideas a lot, particularly on agile teams. However, it wasn’t until I worked with James that I really began to own the concept of heuristics, and developingmnemonics to help remember and apply my own heuristics when testing.

I was pleased when I was finally able to meet James in person for the first time last year, and during Consultants Camp we picked up where we left off. James posed problems, I worked on solving them, and he continuously challenged me to push myself harder as a tester and as a thinker. I learned a lot, much like I have from other great (and very rare) teachers I’ve had who have challenged me this way: Dr. Michael Kubara, Dr. John Rutland, and my Father come to mind. We also spent time working on the motivations behind the Context-Driven Testing School principles, and talking about testing, working and life. I appreciate the time we were able to spend together, and have a lot of work to do and new areas to explore in my learning.