A Review of the Google Test Automation Conference (GTAC)

Posted Mar 9th, 2016

Last summer I received an email stating I’d been selected to attend the GTAC. Wait, what? I remembered reading a blog on the Google Testing blogs and signing up to be entered for a chance to go, but hadn’t really expected to be chosen. So last fall I had the opportunity to attend GTAC, a unique and engaging conference, that included presentations from all types of test automators, from both industry and academia. Where else can you see a live demonstration of how a robot uses fake fingertips to test swiping a mobile phone, and then see how to component test soup dumplings? On top of that, you get to gamble at a hosted Casino Night while networking with your peers. And, best of all, IT’S FREE!

The Un-Conference

Normally when you sign up for a conference, you have a pretty good idea of the agenda. Not so with the GTAC. I was essentially told the dates and the city. Trying to get it approved by my manager was a challenge. I had to justify how it related to my work. Luckily, Google posts past years’ presentations and schedules online, so I was able to reference them. The conference was free, and that really helped, too!

I love how Google basically said, “If you are smart enough to be invited to our conference, you are smart enough to figure things out.” Everyone was enrolled into a Google Group. We had to organize ourselves. While Google was responsive to direct questions in emails, if someone was struggling to find a hotel, understand the area, etc, they posted questions to the group and were taken care of by the collective. The group also served as a launching point for other groups of like-minded testers who might want to network. Want to discuss iOS while having a beer? Covered.

The Venue

I’ve seen the movie The Internship so I’m aware of the Google campus in Mountain View. But I had no clue about the Boston office. The internal office has a really cool layout. The theme is Boston’s local transportation system, or the “T.” And of course, in the Google spirit of keeping their employees well-fed, every ‘stop’ has its related free food theme. The beach stop has a free ice cream stand, and yet I never really saw any overweight Googlers. I would look like Jabba after just a month there.Google Boston Office ElevatorsGoogle Boston Office

The conference itself was in a room just large enough to support the group. The sessions were serialized, and it was never necessary to leave to find the next presentation. They kept the pace random, which kept everyone on their toes, with presentations usually 30 minutes, and lightning talks that took 15. I got to see a variety without getting bored.

My Favorites

I can’t do justice to all of the presentations, so I will highlight a few of my favorites (in no particular order), and direct you to the site. They have posted videos and slides for anyone to view.


The Uber presentation was one of my favorites (I lead a mobile QA team). They demo’d how they had to test the interaction between the user app that we are all familiar with in conjunction with the driver’s app. How do they test the communication and coordination between the two? While discussing their solution, they also mentioned how it could be adopted across other types of similar apps, which got me thinking about how to apply it to my test suites.

Automated Accessibility Testing for Android Applications

Did you know that 20% of people will self-identify with a disability at some point in their lives? I really loved this presentation — It really opened my eyes to the many different types of disabilities there are. The presentation demo’d how to use different testing tools, including a Braille Back device with which content can be read on a Braille display connected to a device.


An average of 300 million hours of video are uploaded every minute! Mobile makes up over 50% of usage. While I love these types of trivia, it was also interesting to see how YouTube uses a test matrix to cover their unscripted manual exploratory tests, and to listen to how they changed their culture to automate EVERYTHING, especially the Push process. I could go on and on. Just revisiting the conference videos has taken me down the rabbit hole. A couple of other favorites I want to mention were a Nest presentation covering how they test the thermostats you have in your house, and another presentation about lessons learned from mobile cross-platform integration testing, given by a Googler. I always get the most out of the honesty that comes from lessons learned, and appreciate when people are willing to show that not everything works as planned, even at Google!

Check it Out

The next GTAC is over a year away. But you can spend days of your free time gaping at all of the presentations they provide online from the conference. Once you are done with them, do a little more binge-watching and check out previous years. It’s worth your time and much better than the third binge-watch of Breaking Bad. Joe Nolan is the Mobile QA team lead at Blackboard. He has over 10 years experience leading multinationally located QA teams, and is the founder of the DC Software QA and Testing Meetup.

Written by

Joe Nolan


Software Testing