December 9, 2014

Does it always have to be about the drink?

This year, I've been immersing myself in the testing community, attending meetups and events across the UK and Europe. Along the way, a nagging question has been weighing on my mind. I wanted to save this until the end of the conferencing year, to be clear that this doesn't refer to any one event in particular.

Can we please consider more alternatives to alcohol for our evening conference/meetup activities?

It's perhaps inevitable, particularly during multi-day events, that participants will gravitate towards a bar at the end of the day. I don't have a problem with this, despite being an introvert, but I can't help but think of other ways that we can spend our time as a group of testers, without getting a sore head night after night.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't go to pubs - if you're a group of people who want to sit and chat during the evening, it's as good a venue as you're likely to find. It's also a sociable environment which encourages conversation and inter-mingling; though if there's a loud DJ or jukebox, it's often at the expense of your vocal chords the next morning!

And I'm not saying we shouldn't drink - I like a beer as much as the next guy, and a free bar is a great sponsorship opportunity to cover costs - though it does create awkwardness when one finds themselves asking for "just" a Coke. (This is a topic which was well covered by Kara Sowles, in her recent article Alcohol and Inclusivity: Planning Tech Events with Non-Alcoholic Options.)

However, I'm reminded of the Friends episode "The One Where Rachel Smokes", where Rachel discovers that all of the important business decisions are being made in the smoking room, and so she feels compelled to start smoking. I've been in situations where I've gone to pubs solely because they feel like the best environment available for some quality testing chat, which created an awkward situation with my wife when she didn't necessarily equate "in the pub" with "maximising networking opportunities"!

Friends - The One Where Rachel Smokes

What are the alternatives to drinking? Well, here's where I'm happy to cite some examples; there's a whole host of other things that you could be doing, and I'd like to mention a few that I've seen on my travels:

Event organisers - if you're hosting events in a pub, or are otherwise looking for evening activities, why not try one of the above? Or ask your attendees whether they might prefer something like this? (I saw a great example of this at EuroSTAR - the Community Hub area contained chalkboards where people could propose/join others for some impromptu post-conference activities.)

If your event(s) are already offering some of these activities, then I applaud you, and I hope you'll encourage others to take up the proverbial baton too. With your help, maybe we can stop "Pub?" from being the de facto question at the end of every day!

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