When you start giving public talks on technology as a software developer, you quickly run into the problem of what to talk about. If you’re lucky, your company will allow you to discuss internal technical architecture—many companies do this as it helps with recruitment. Or you pick up a new platform and introduce it to people (this is what I did with Node.js back in 2011/12).
Both of those wells soon run dry. You can only discuss your company systems to a certain depth, and eventually, most people learn about new tech as it becomes mainstream. Where do you find a sustainable source of talk topics?
One way is to participate as a contributor to the open source community. Your contribution does not necessarily have to be in code. You can make a project better in many other ways. Nor do you have to join an existing project. You are perfectly free to start your own. Even small projects, just utility libraries, are still useful and give you something to talk about.
The easiest option, which I have used many times, is to build a demo. Show how to use some other open source system by creating a little app or integration, or even something that has no use beyond impressing your audience. This is still very valuable for everybody so long as you share the code and tell the story of how you built it.
Getting to the point where you are in front of audience showing something of value takes courage certainly, but there’s trick you can use to outwit your future procrastinating self. Commit to demonstrating something you have not yet built. This forces clarity. In the time you have remaining (perhaps a month, or a week), you must pare back the project to its essentials, and get something working. The act of doing this, removing unnecessary complexity and features, means you end up with a better project that is easier for your audience to understand.
I learnt this technique from Matteo Collina, who is a prodigious contributor to the open source community. He call’s it: “conference-driven development”, and it works!
Normally this newsletter is sent out Wednesday evening, but this week we had Halloween and as I usually write on a Monday, that pushed my writing back by a day or two. Sorry for the delay – I need to think about how to handle bank holidays better.
Please help me to improve this newsletter – I’d love to hear your suggestions – they’ve already made an improvement! You can email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can tweet too: @metsitaba. Thank you so much for reading!
A special thanks and shout out to Tammy for helping to make this newsletter even better!
Jennifer Pahlka is the founder of Code for America, a non-profit organization that builds software to make government work better. It’s a compelling mission, and in this talk, she outlines her thinking and explains the possibilities. If “software is eating the world” as the VC Marc Andreessen says, then it also has a responsibility to save the world.
As a speaker, this talk shows you how to deliver a high impact presentation without resorting to any gimmicks. There are no great rhetorical flourishes. There are no props. There are no cheap emotional hooks. Rather, this talk is constructed to flow very carefully and logically to a compelling and uplifting conclusion.
This is a good structure to use when you are communicating something new, something that has transformative potential. You are not presenting in opposition to something, or take a position of advocacy in an existing fight. This style and careful manner work well when you want to introduce an open source project to an audience, or for the launching of a new project. Make a calm appeal to the intellect, and deliver it with careful pacing.
Learn from the best
This is a very short but wonderful extract from a talk given by Grace Hopper, one of the pioneers of computing. It’s an example of how you can use props to make your point, especially if you need to explain something highly technical. The accompanying article has many useful observations on her delivery style that you can apply to your own talks.
Karl Fogel is the person who inspired me to code my first open source project. I followed every detail of his earlier book “Open Source Development with CVS”. This book is a sequel, and an open source one at that. You can download and read the book for free. Karl has the battle scars to prove that he knows what he is talking about, including significant work on Subversion and GNU Emacs.
I recommend this work for its non-technical content. Understanding the human side of open source development is important to making your project work. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks, trust me.
A data-driven article on the connection between open source project adoption and talks given about that project. Admittedly, these are major projects, but I think the premise still holds. I have certainly seen this correlation in my open source projects. Nothing beats a maintainer talking about their own project—you just can’t beat the passion.
Contributing to open source is one the best ways to get started as a technical speaker because it automatically gives you something that you can speak about credibly.
- PHP UK Conference
- London, England
- Wed 14 Feb 2018 to Fri 16 Feb 2018
- The Brewery
- Standard ticket: £225
The PHP UK Conference is in its 13th year and has chosen a really cool and unique venue in the heart of London – The Brewery!! Join over 700 leading PHP developers for two days of the best PHP education. There’s also an optional workshop day and plenty of networking opportunities. Plus there’s always something happening in London!
Ruby on Ice 2018
- Ruby on Ice
- Tegernsee, Bavaria
- Fri 26 Jan 2018 to Sun 28 Jan 2018
- SeeForum Rottach-Egern
- Standard ticket: €220
How does gathering in Bavaria with the beautiful Alps as your backdrop, while you talk about the future of Ruby, Rails, and related technologies sound? Ruby on Ice offers you that opportunity in a single-track-community-run conference with 13 international speakers. You’ll also get the chance to give a lightning talk and play in the snow, so don’t forget your layers. There will be indoor activities too, so you could stay inside if you’d like. You’ll still be in the Alps. SNOW!.
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- Mon 4 Dec 2017 to Wed 6 Dec 2017
- Sheraton Vancouver Wall Center
- Standard ticket: $845
Web developers – this one’s for you! Join the event in Vancouver in a relaxed, yet professional, atmosphere with over 100 presentations by popular international speakers covering multiple technologies. Interested in Angular/TypeScript and Practical Symfony 4 training? That’s on the agenda too. If you have web development questions, they have answers!
These are the CFP deadline dates and submission pages.
- Wed 15 Nov 2017, Tech Rocks 2017, Paris, France
- Mon 15 Jan 2018, ScaleConf 2018, Cape Town, South Africa
- Mon 27 Nov 2017, DevOps Day NYC, New York, New York USA
- Wed 15 Nov 2017, PyCaribbean, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
- Fri 10 Nov 2017, DevNet Create 2018, Mountain View, California