Last year, after a long dry spell, I was fortunate enough to go to Agile 2010. Training budgets being so much lighter since the nineties, I have watched them from a distance. Well, by watch I mean read the brochures and checked out posted PowerPoints and papers.

Agile 2010 was a great time. While there I had the fortune to see several great presentations and talk with some very smart people. It was very worthwhile.

I’ve stayed home this year. It just wasn’t a conference year for me, and I was OOK with that.

But then a surprise. I got the announcement from AST that the keynotes and emerging topics tracks would be broadcast on UStream. I quickly got permission to order in lunch so the testers could watch the keynotes live.

So we gathered in a conference room. I brought in speakers so we could really hear the speakers. The pizza was ordered and arrived on time. And then it started. Well, it started a little late, as folks who were watching would know, but it started.

The first keynote was Michael Bolton. His keynote was very interesting, but definitely controversial to us. We are a diverse group with varied backgrounds in testing. The concept of the testing schools was new to a lot of folks. While he talked about acceptance, the team felt that concept of acceptance felt a little one way. I don’t think that is what was intended, but that’s how it felt to a number of the people in the room.

I like to think of myself as a contextualist. Would I meet someone else’s definition of a member of the Context Driven school, I don’t know. I do try to understand the place I am working, the software I am working with and the culture of the people I am working with. But that being said, I can only make decisions on tools or approaches based on my knowledge and skills.

I found myself both sympathetic to the feelings in the room, and at the same time being an apologist. I know that he didn’t really need defending. Michael is more than capable of defending himself and his thoughts.

Today, it was time for James Bach to deliver the keynote. I’ve followed James’ work since the mid nineties. I was at STAR East the year he introduced the Low-Tech Testing Dashboard (one of the seminal concepts in better test communication). I took the RST class with him as the instructor. So I know that James has strong opinions and he shares them quite freely.

I used to consider James the more extreme of the Bolton-Bach team. But comparing the feel and the tone of today’s keynote with yesterday’s, I found that James was the better speaker. He was probably just as critical of the other schools, but somehow his tone felt more even. I also really liked how many practical concepts he mentioned that folks could use to do more investigation. For example Testing Playbooks (I do think playbook is the better name), is an idea that I encountered before the conference, and that needed his commentary.

I also got a chance to catch some of the Emerging Topics track. This was just fantastic. I really enjoyed getting to hear some new voices speak. And as a surprise, there was testing themed singing. Still trying to process that.

In conclusion, it was a great opportunity. I really appreciate the fact that AST chose to share these streams with the community. Not everyone can attend conferences, and to be able to see these people speak is a service to testing. Sure, the people that attended our viewing had a strong reaction to Michael’s keynote, but that’s OK. What is important is that they had the chance to listen to a voice they might not have even known existed.