On Conferences — Random Talks and Going Solo

“So…what’s that got to do with Rails?”

This was perhaps the third time in one day that I’d been asked this question by a prospective attendee to my talk. I was speaking at RailsConf and my talk was entitled ‘Playing Games In The Clouds’.

It wasn’t about Rails. It was about how game theory applied to distributed systems. It was born out of a lightning talk that I’d given at a local meetup some months earlier.

Having this question posed towards me again and again made me anxious that ten minutes into my talk, once it had dawned on them that there were no Ruby or Rails code examples coming up, half of the audience would get up and leave. They had paid to come to a conference all about Rails to ramp up on that framework and my talk just didn’t factor into that plan.

Of course, in the end, it was all fine. Many people at the conference were sufficiently curious that they turned down the opportunity to listen to talks more on point in order to see what this game theory thing was all about. In fact, speaking about something that was very much “not Rails” in the middle of a large Rails conference worked in my favour. I’ve always been a fan of talks that don’t quite fit into the theme. I think it’s important in our software communities that we stay open minded to new ideas: learning something random together is fun and we can always find, within these seemingly tangential topics, lessons to help us become better developers and better people.

If you’ve got thirty minutes, have a watch of my talk. It probably won’t turn you into a better person, but I hope you find at least one interesting takeaway:

If you’re interested in having a closer look at the slides, I’ve put them up on Speaker Deck. I always welcome any feedback, comments, or questions.

If you have an opportunity to go to a conference alone, do it! It may be tempting to invite somebody else but you really unlock the full benefits of attending a conference when you go alone. This is the case whether you consider yourself a shy or introverted person or not. For example, I have no issue striking up a conversation with people I don’t know, but when you’ve got a friend or colleague with you it becomes very easy not to bother introducing yourself to new people and you may find yourself compromising on what sessions you want to go to — and you may not realise that that’s what’s happening. It’s also easier to engineer time alone to sit and reflect on a talk you’ve just seen or a conversation you’ve just had. Next time you’re mulling over booking tickets to a conference you’re keen to go to, buy a ticket for yourself, put the dates in your diary, and just go!

I’m going to leave you with my top three talk highlights from the conference. Watch each of them from the beginning to the end. I’m so glad I got to see these talks live though watching them online won’t leave you disappointed. If you are, I want to hear from you:

Amelia Bedelia Learns to Code — Kylie Stradley

What If Shakespeare Wrote Ruby? — Adam Cuppy

Sometimes a Controller is just a Controller — Justin Searls

Getting involved in the conference circuit has been very exciting and I’m looking forward to speaking at GORUCO and Brighton Ruby later on this year, as well as helping to organise RubyConf. If you’re interested in getting into speaking then drop me a line. I’m happy to chat about submitting a good proposal and preparing for talks.

My ‘trick’ for everything is to ask for feedback as early as possible. That’s what I did with my proposal and the talk itself. On both occasions I had lots of improvements to do and it’s hard not hearing what you want to hear, but getting that early feedback helped me to write a successful proposal and deliver a successful talk. As they say: if you’re not embarrassed, you didn’t release early enough. It may be scary, but sharing your ideas/presentations/writing early to people that you trust to provide you with good advice gives your work the chance to evolve into something great.

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