I think it depends where you look.
I most certainly don’t think the conversations are the same as 10 years ago. Lots has happened and changed in that time.
I like the concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) that Richard mentions. I don’t think it necessarily replaces community. Communities can be powerful in helping you find the people that you want in your PLN.
I think it’s important to study and learn stuff, but equally as important is practicing or applying what you learn. Perhaps testers need to get better at asking for help and getting the support from other team members to practically do things.
Developers take months to get up to speed on dev things, we have to cut ourselves some slack too.
Also, everyone wants different things. There’s a need for practical talks/learning. There’s a need for inspiring talks. There is a need for good talks for newbies (hence TB Essentials). There’s a need for technical talks.
Everyone is at different levels. I’ve felt frustrated like Katrina too, but we also have to remember that Katrina has been far more exposed to the testing world, conferences, community etc than most. It is easy to get bored if you over do it. (Though it is wrong of me to assume that Katrina has over done it). For every Katrina there are thousands of people who do not get to see what she sees.
Speaking as someone new to the community - but not to testing - I think the problem is that testing is still carving out a place for itself in the IT sector as a whole. When you hear accounts of people struggling to be recognised as being on a par with developers in their organisations, or having to have the “just checkers” arguments, or the “why did you let these bugs through?” arguments, you’ll see why the testing community as a whole has to keep repeating itself to try to carve out its niche in the industry and defend it against those who just do not see the point of testing, let alone testers.
Once that position is accepted without any second thoughts on the part of project managers, developers and business managers, then we will have the luxury of being accepted in, and being asked to contribute to, more general discussions on new advances in tech generally, as well as more erudite discussions of the industry, testing and systems development.
As I said, I’m not new to testing. My first testing job was in 1995; in those days, there were no courses on software testing (well, we looked long and hard for one, and in the end did a fairly irrelevant course on product testing), so it was a question of sorting stuff out by trial and error. So discovering the testing community on taking up my current role two years ago has been a revelation to me. As Rosie says above, you can’t always assume that everyone already knows everything. Testing is notable for attracting people to the profession from all manner of diverse roles, so for a while yet, there will be people for whom the basic stuff is still new. And that diversity is one of the strengths of the testing profession: long may it continue.
I’ve been encouraged by a lot of the discussions in the community on soft skills issues - diversity, occupational health, communications and a lot else. These were things that I spent twenty years in a previous life as a civil service trade union representative working with, receiving and delivering training on, and campaigning about in the workplaces I was responsible for representing. I’m encouraged to see a lot of people in the community using its forums - TestBash and other conferences. meetups, blogs and so on - as safe spaces to discuss these things. I’ve heard some people mutter darkly about such strands, saying “I came to this conference to learn about…” (insert techie stuff of your choice).
I see it as a sign that the testing profession is evolving into talking about these issues because no-one else is. Traditionally, these were things that trade unions organised around; the decimation of the trade union movement in the 1980s and later seemed to banish discussion of workers’ concerns, and it’s good that the testing community is discovering these things for itself. Some segments of the IT industry that moved into the UK in the 1980s were strongly anti-union, and the demise of trade unions in the large-scale clerical industries at the same time, plus the structural changes in the world of work generally, mean that a lot of people in IT today have never encountered the sort of campaigning work unions do. No other organisations have taken up that campaigning where the unions left off in such a comprehensive way; and those unions that survive are for the most part not in IT, and also have a lot of other issues to concentrate on.
If occasionally I think that there’s an element of re-inventing the wheel in terms of the soft issues that get discussed at conferences; well, that’s just my perspective and it’s true that everyone who thinks about these things for the first time discovers them in a fresh and new form. By bringing fresh perspectives to these topics, it’s even possible that the testing community can teach a grizzled old trade unionist like me a few new tricks!
So there’s your evolution; consolidation of the position of testers and testing in the industry, building on that consolidation to explore new approaches in tech generally and testing in particular, and exploring the hinterland of workplace issues that no-one really talks about in the mainstream any more. With an agenda like that, it’s unlikely that we will run out of topics for discussion or new directions to explore any time soon.
I think that you are doing a bang up job just taking the initiative! There are many companies out there that say, “we encourage learning” but provide few resources to do this. You are especially lucky if you have a job that allows and encourages knowledge growth.
As for what should you focus on, pick something that really interests you and start there. It’s good to be a Jack of All Trades, but specializing will take you where you want to go. It will give you the opportunity to get on a path you want to take, and specialized learning leads to other learning opportunities that you may not have had if you dabbled in a little of everything.