This blog post will examine the benefits communities, specifically the testing community, bring to the workplace. It also looks at the changes that have taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the destruction of the testing community as we know it. Does that mean community is dead? I hope not, as without it opportunities for development is severely limited. Such limits can stifle innovation, and not give teams or business’ the encouragement to improve and grow.

The introduction of outside influence can result in drastic, and often positive, change. This could be in the form of a new colleague joining the team. They will ask questions and challenge current processes that may have been in place for years.

An alternative way to instigate change is to encourage the team to speak to fellow tech enthusiasts outside the business. One person talks to another, and another, and another, and suddenly a community is born. We share and discuss ideas, and bring these back to the business. The result, the team decides to try out some of these ideas. Some work better than others, but the ones that work best remain and the team has developed a new style of working. The results might be shared with the community and other teams nights also give these new processes a go.

Community is a wonderful thing. They help with both personal and business development. But what happens when suddenly we’re not able to talk to each other any more?

Before COVID-19

I was a regular attendee of meetups. In fact, I’d set myself a 2020 goal to attend at least 3 meetups a month. I hoped to expand my network by finding different meetup groups that I’d not attended before. These could cover different topics, and also take place in different locations within the UK.

Most meetups included free food (pizza was the most popular offering) and a talk. There was always an opportunity for networking, to discuss the talk or other related topics. I often found the discussion as useful as the talk itself. The meetup catered to a mixture of regular and new attendees, creating a friendly, local community of testers or other tech enthusiasts.

Conferences are like meetups, but a lot grander in scale. Instead of a single evening, a conference will cover several days of intense learning. With such a variety of topics, there is no limit to the learning opportunities. In addition, where meetups have about 10 – 50 people in attendance, a conference will have anything from 200 to 2000 attendees. With such a large and diverse audience, ideas won’t be generated from the talks alone.

I find I have as much to gain from speaking to people as watching the talks – which for me is the greatest thing about community.

During COVID-19

I had my list of meetups that I planned to attend for March and April. There was even one that I’d arranged to speak at. I was very excited. I then started receiving the emails. Meetup after meetup was cancelled.

Fortunately meet-ups have now been moved online. Before, I was restricted to meet-ups that I could travel to within an evening. Now, the only limit is the time zone. The local community has grown as meet-ups normally hosted in Birmingham can have people attending from all over the World. There appears to be a common theme among meetup topics – self care and remote working. A lot of people are keen to share tips for coping with the current situation. Everyone is finding lockdown and self isolation tough, so it’s great to see the community offering support.

Most webinars include a chat room and the facility for asking questions, and the online community is as active as ever. However, the ability to network and speak to people has been lost slightly.

However, several lean coffee meetups have cropped up, which introduce more opportunities for discussion. Tools like Metro Retro can be used to run virtual lean coffee sessions.

The Ministry of Testing slack includes a #virtual-coffee channel. People signed up to this channel are paired with a different person each week, who arrange a time to have a ‘virtual’ coffee chat. Its a great way to meet new people.

The community is not dead, but it has clearly had to adapt so it continues to flourish.

After COVID-19

At the moment it seems like this lock-down will never end. Don’t worry, it will eventually.

What state will the community be in once its all over?

It has been clear for some time (even before the pandemic) that for learning and networking can be just as effective online as it is in person. Webinars have been an excellent way to learn something new. Communicating with the host and speaker has always been possible, but meeting other attendees has been a little harder.

I hope that the meetups and conferences start running again. Its nice to actually speak to people in person. We’re going to have to rethink introductions a little – no more shaking hands!

However, I also hope that the virtual lean coffee meetups continue. Its been nice meeting people who live further away. The person I’ve been paired this week on the #virtual-chat slack channel lives in South Africa. When would I have had the opportunity to speak to someone from there if I only attended meetups and conferences based in the UK?

The ability to adapt has been more essential than ever and the community has done a great job of this. In some ways it has improved since we no longer have the same geographical restrictions that we had before. After the pandemic, aspects from the new and old community will continue.

A community will continue to exist so long as people continue to contribute to it. See you at the next event!

Final Thought…

There is an incredibly active online community which has been largely unaffected by the pandemic (can’t think why!). There are many testers and tech enthusiasts who are more than happy to discuss any topic you dare to suggest. LinkedIn and Twitter are good places to go for this. As is the Club – a forum setup by the Ministry of Testing.

Without this enthusiastic online community, the move to the internet would not have been as successful for some meet-ups.

Links – A lot of meetups are advertised here. If you need help finding some local meetups, this is usually the best place to start.
Software Testing Conferences – A list of up and coming testing conferences. A lot of online ones are still happening, you can find out about them here.
Ministry of Testing Club – A forum for online discussion around various test topics.
Ministry Of Testing Feed – With so many bloggers out there, including yours truly, its hard to keep track of them all. A lot of testing blogs will appear in this feed as soon as they are published. Its a great source of news and information

The Ministry of Testing is arguably the biggest contributor to the testing community. As well as supporting local meetups throughout the world, it also organizes workshops, online webinars and the amazing TestBash conferences. This is a site worth checking out.

Bloggers Club

This article was written thanks to a topic provided by the Bloggers Club – a group that exists in the Ministry Of Testing forum. This months topic was “The positivity in community”.

Here are some other blogs that have been published: