He wanted to attend an affordable, one-day conference on QA and testing – for professional development and networking. So he created one.
For just about any profession, continuing education and building relationships are the most valuable resources to boost career growth and advancement.
One way to network and learn from peers is to attend conferences and seminars. But what if you can’t because most are too far, too pricey, or too long?
If you’re Centric Consulting’s Joseph Ours, you start your own.
“There was nothing in the Midwest,” he said. So he decided to plan a one-day professional development conference himself.
Taking on the Challenge
As the National Lead for Software Quality Assurance & Testing Services, Ours wanted something that professionals like himself would be more likely to attend. It should be local – or at least, no more than a few hours’ drive – reasonably priced and should last only a day.
In the beginning, Ours handled all the publicity, along with securing speakers, swag and signage. He even shouldered the cost to ensure the conference’s success.
“It started with me being willing to pay to get this conference off the ground,” he said.
The first conference was held in Dublin, a suburb north of Columbus. The venue held a maximum of 250 people, and the conference sold out – so much so, that 100 people were on a waitlist.
“That first year there were 16 talks: 4 tracks with 4 talks each,” he said.
The response continues to be overwhelmingly positive.
“Despite moving to larger venues every year, the conference continues to sell out,” he noted.
In the second year of the conference a non-profit board, Central Ohio Software Quality Assurance Management (COSQAM), was formed to manage the conference, of which Ours is currently president.
Building on Success
Today, the conference attracts attendees not only from the Columbus and surrounding areas but other states, as well. Ours has even had attendees from Canada.
Interest in speaker participation has grown, as well, with the conference receiving twice as many submissions as available slots. With only 20 spots available competition can be tough. Ours strives to provide not only diversity in the content of the presentations but on speaker opportunity, as well.
“We try to balance content people are interested in versus speakers,” he said. “Generally speaker selection is based on topic; whether the speaker is an experienced one versus a new speaker; the technology being presented; and giving women and other underrepresented groups a chance to present.”
When it comes to content, the audience tends to be split between automation and professional development, he noted; these are the talks that get the most attention.
“People attend talks that apply to their jobs or apply to their lives,” he said.
Surprisingly, talks on cutting-edge trends are not as popular. Ours says that’s because Columbus is not overly mobile-oriented when it comes to development.
Looking Towards the Future
Ours, who has spoken at national conferences, noted that attendance for QA or the Highway has been higher than at national testing conferences, a validation of the fact that people are hungry for continuing education, at a reasonable price and for only a day.
“I want to continue to be able to provide some great content, and make it as affordable for attendees as it can be,” he said.
The success of the conference has inspired Ours to look beyond the Columbus area. Going forward, he’d like to take the concept and introduce it to other Midwest cities, as well, such as St. Louis, Chicago – even Atlanta – locations that are six hours apart, so that attendance is never more than a three-hour drive.
“There are lots of people out there who want to be better at what they do. They are passionate and eager to be better,” he said.
In fact, it’s what Ours loves most about organizing the event: the networking the conference provides.
“It’s like a giant brainstorming session,” he said, a great way to bounce ideas off of other professionals.
But he’s not ready to abandon Columbus yet – if ever.
“I want to keep it a tradition,” he said. “I think it’s important to build a community in our location.”