ORLANDO, Florida—Thousands of software developers and testers converged here this week for the Software Testing Analysis and Review conference, better known as STAREAST. It’s one of just a few must-attend learning events for people in our field, and if you haven’t been to one of these events, you’re truly missing out.

Dozens of the testing industry’s top thinkers were here. Names like Jon Bach, Michael Bolton, Hans Buwalda, Paul Gerrard, Jonathan Kohl, Rob Sabourin, James Whittaker and many other “silver-tongued speaking pros,” as chair Lee Copeland put it, delivered full- and half-day pre-conference tutorials on Monday and Tuesday.

The rest of the week was filled with concurrent sessions of about an hour each (taught by many of the same folks) as well as by numerous testing practitioners like you. These are people who submitted papers describing their experiences solving their testing problems and challenges. “I like hearing people’s war stories,” Copeland told me at “Meet the Speakers” on Thursday, at which speakers make themselves available for casual conversation over a buffet lunch.

The further availability of speakers at book signings, open spaces and Lightning Talks, is part of what made STAREAST valuable and memorable. Another fun and unusual networking event was Casino Night. Following a catered expo reception, attendees were invited to play at Vegas-style gaming tables staffed by professional dealers and croupiers. Winnings are cashed in for chances to win from an impressive array of entertainment electronics (a la Sony Wii, iPod Touch, etc.) and gift and gas cards.

I had time for just one keynote, and it was delivered by Microsoft’s James Whittaker. “Testing Dialogues—In the Executive Suite” opened with a hilarious look at error dialogue boxes and the extremes of information they display. He ended with advise on how to fix our broken testing system of “last-minute heroics.”

Your next chance to attend a STAR conference is in October, when STARWESTtakes place in Anaheim, Calif. An smaller event of similar quality and prestige is the Software Test & Performance Conference, or STPCon in Boston in September. Produced by BZ Media (my employer by day), I’m the chair of that conference and not ashamed to admit that I’ll be engaging in some sincere flattery.