JavaScript Jabber

JavaScript Jabber is a weekly discussion about JavaScript, front-end development, community, careers, and frameworks.

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040

040 JSJ Conferences


Panel

Discussion

01:16 – Conferences Attended

03:24 – Preparing/Planning for Conferences 08:39 – Chatting with Others/Making Contacts at Conferences

  • Hackathons
  • Social Activities

14:36 – Hackathons/Code Retreats/Workshops

18:46 – Methodology Conferences

22:42 – Industry Conferences vs Local/Regional Conferences

  • Multiple Tracks
  • Networking

28:12 – Making the Most out of Sessions

  • Taking Notes
  • Follow Along in Code Sessions
  • Seating Choice

33:02 – Lightning Talks

  • Speaking Exposure

35:37 – Speaking at Conferences

  • (Tim Joins)
  • Veteran Speakers vs Unique Speakers

41:00 – Submitting Proposals

  • Interesting Title

42:56 – Mistakes People Make Speaking at Conferences

  • Underestimating Time
  • Practice Your Talk
  • Be Excited

45:24 – Preparing Slides

  • Bullet Points
  • Color/Contrast

50:03 – Watch Your Audience

Picks

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TRANSCRIPT

CHUCK:  From the meat lockers of Domo. [This episode today is sponsored by Component One. Makers of Wijmo. If you need stunning UI elements or awesome graphs and charts then go to Wijmo.com and check them out.] [Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net.] CHUCK:  Hey everybody and welcome to episode 40 of the JavaScript Jabber Show. This week on our panel, we have Joe Eames. JOE: Howdy! CHUCK:  I’m Charles Max Wood from devchat.tv and we have a special guest, that’s Trevor Tingey. TREVOR:  Hello. CHUCK:  He’s joining us from Domo. We had some folks on vacation and stuff and we were short a few people. So, Joe invited one of his co-workers. I don’t really have co-workers per se since I’m doing contract stuff most of the time. Anyway… JOE:  Is your cat your co-worker, Chuck? CHUCK:  What was that? JOE:  Is your cat your co-worker? CHUCK:  I don’t have a cat. JOE:  A dog? CHUCK:  Nope, I don’t have a dog either. I’m allergic to cats. But yeah, no cats. Anyway, we’re going to talk this week about making the most of conferences. I’m a little curious, what conferences have you guys been able to attend over the last few years or over your career? JOE:  I was a Microsoft developer before I went fully front end. So I went to several Microsoft development conferences, VS Live was probably my favorite one. Recently, I’ve been to the Utah Open Source conference and the Utah JavaScript conference, really liked those. CHUCK:  Yeah, the local conferences are fun. What about you, Trevor? TREVOR:  I’ve been to a lot of conferences. Recently, I went to the Mountain West Ruby Conference. That was entertaining. I went to the JavaScript, JS Conf and that was the first Node Conf also was kind of dependent on the end of the JS Conf and that was up in Portland. I really liked that one. Like Joe, I used to do some Microsoft stuff. So, I’ve been to Microsoft before and several other ones in between, Uber Conf, Web 2.0 in New York. JOE:  Does Comdex count? I went to Comdex once. [laughs] CHUCK:  Yeah, I didn’t really start going to conferences until I gotten into Ruby. So, most of the conferences I’ve been to were Ruby related, though I did go the Utah Open Source and some of those. Yeah, the Mountain West Ruby Conference, the Ruby Rogues did a keynote at Rails Conf. I also went to Ruby Conf this year and Aloha Ruby Conference. That’s just this last year. I’m going to be speaking at New Media Expo this next month in like three weeks, I think. So, I got to get my talk finished. Yeah, have you guys spoken at conferences? Or do you usually just attend? JOE:  I spoke at Utah Open Source Conference. That was interesting. Other than that, I just attended. Then, I’ve spoken here locally. CHUCK:  Great. What about you, Trevor? TREVOR:  I’ve only spoken at internal conferences? There’s an interesting, actually pretty decent conference put on by the LDS Church for all of its I.T. departments including BYU, ICS, and Family History departments. So, I’ve spoken at that a couple times; a pretty big conference, in terms of internal conferences. But other than that, I just like to attend and enjoy that side of it. CHUCK:  Yup. It makes sense. I usually wind up speaking at the conferences I attend. Of all the conferences I attended this year, the only ones I didn’t speak at were Mountain West Ruby Conference. And I was actually an alternate speaker there. They just didn’t have an opening for me. And then, I didn’t speak at the Ruby Conference. I just went as an attendee and that was fun. TREVOR:  Have you spoken at Ruby Conf before? CHUCK:  No. I’ve never spoken at Ruby Conf. I spoke at Rails Conf but not Ruby Conf. I’m going to be putting in proposals to speak at Mountain West Ruby Conference this year. TREVOR:  That’s cool. CHUCK:  Alright. Well, so when you go to the conferences, what do you usually do? Do you spend anytime like looking at the schedule preparing or you just show up? TREVOR:  Most of the conferences that I’ve gone to have been pretty multi-track ones. At least three tracks, if not four or five. So, I usually spend a lot of time plotting and planning on what tracks I’m going to end up going to. So, I’m definitely a planner. I think in order to get the most out of your conference, you kind of have to plan even the smallest ones that I’ve been to. I would say JS Conf was a smaller conference that I really, really enjoyed. They had a main track and an alternate speaking room, I guess. There were more like lightning talk kind of thing although, I really loved that. Even then, I had to plan out which ones I wanted to attend to make sure I didn’t miss the ones I was really excited about. If you don’t plan, I just don’t think you can get the most out of the conference. CHUCK:  Yeah, the multi-track conferences are kind of that way. I tend to just show up and then look over the schedule at the beginning of the day. Then just say, “Okay, I have to hit these couple.” And then, it’s funny because I usually wind up skipping a couple of sessions each day of the conference. The only conference that’s really the exception to that is the Mountain West Ruby Conference. That’s a single track conference and it’s kind of a different deal. TREVOR:  In fact, I would say the more tracks they have, the more possibility of planning. But I like the Mountain West Ruby Conference where you just kind of show up and get entertained. Plus a lot of times, you know, your company will send like two or three guys and so you’ll end up probably wanting to plan according to each other, right? And go different tracks so you cover more things and bring more knowledge to the company. I have had that experience quite a few times. Probably that’s something you’ve had very much problem with, Chuck? CHUCK:  Not recently. But I have worked for a few companies that sent us to various conferences. And yeah, sometimes it was, “Okay, you go to this track and I’ll go to this track and then, we’ll compare notes.”  And sometimes it was, “I don’t care which track you’re going to, I’m going to this one. And if we’re both in there, then fine.”  So you kind of work that out and make it happen. TREVOR:  Yeah, I had some funny experiences when I was at VS Live because we split it up. And then, I was going on an all day pre-conference all day things and it was really good. And the other employee that was there, what he was in turned out to be not so great. So I actually pulled him in and said, “Hey, you need to come and stick in on this one. Even though I’m learning a lot of stuff, you should be in here hearing the same stuff.” I think being fluid, as well, makes a big difference. Understanding that sometimes, you get into a track you think is great like the Utah JavaScript Conference. One of those tracks I went in turned out to be a real bust and I ducked out after about eight minutes. I remember one time at the Uber Conf in Denver that I started off in one class that I thought would be interesting and it was terrible. So, I switched to another one and that one was terrible; and I switched to another one and that was terrible. By that time, the hour was up or whatever. CHUCK:  Yeah, one of the things [crosstalk]… JOE:  That’s rare. I don’t want to say anything bad about the Uber Conf. They actually have a pretty good conference. I just had a bummer hour there. CHUCK:  The thing is, I mean, they get the proposals, they look the over and they try and pick the best ones, and sometimes, you just can’t tell. Or sometimes, it looks really good and then it just doesn’t work out very well because the content is interesting but the quality isn’t there. You know, the speaker isn’t well-rehearsed, the speaker isn’t a good speaker, things like that. You know, you just work it out and go somewhere else. So, one other thing that I want to get into a little bit and one of my favourite parts of conferences is the stuff that happens around the sessions or instead of the sessions. So, I usually wind up spending at least a couple of sessions at each conference just chatting with people. And so, I’m not actually in any of the sessions. I’m out in the hallway, we’re talking about something interesting, making contacts, making friends. Do you guys find yourselves doing a lot of that or do you try and attend the sessions when they’re available? TREVOR:  I haven’t done much of that. But I think that the conferences that I’ve gone to have done a fantastic job of really encouraging that. I know, we have lots of conferences that basically run kind of a hackathon. They have a specific room you can go into that people are actually in there programming all the time. So, you can go in there and network with other people and program and stuff. They actually have it even more organized where you go in and there are other people working on projects. You can see what projects they’re working on and join them and pair along with them. Or at other conferences I’ve heard of, especially some of the more methodology-based conferences, like Agile Conf, I believe did this, where the speakers were actually available when they weren’t speaking in a specific room. You can go in and talk to speakers and talk to them about, basically hit them up and ask them questions. Speakers are available to the attendees. CHUCK:  That sounds like an interesting take. TREVOR:  Yeah, I like that idea a lot. I went to Agile Conf and I didn’t actually go and do any of that but I had a friend who did some of that. And he said he found a lot of value. Although he ended up, I think he said everybody they came in and asked. One of the guys’ questions was like, “At my company, we’re doing this and we’d like to fix this.” Of course, all the questions are about Agile. And every answer was, “Quit and go find a better company.” [Laughter] TREVOR:  So I don’t know how constructive the feedback was other than, “You need a better company. You need a better job.” CHUCK:  Yeah. The last conference that I attended, this was Ruby Conf, I wound up hanging out with a handful of guys that are fairly well-known in the community. And they do various levels of training for the community. One guy owns the Pragmatic Studio and so he sells videos and courses and things. The other guy has RailsTutorial.com, I think it is. So, you can actually get his eBook online for free if you want to read it on the website, or you can buy a PDF or whatever. But it’s probably one of the most popular Rails tutorials out there. I have an interest in training, so I wound up chatting with them and one or two other guys. And it turned out that that was a very productive thing for me, much more productive than sitting in a session. So I have to say that it’s okay to go to a conference and miss some of the sessions. TREVOR:  Actually, one thing I really enjoyed — I was going to say two things about it actually. First of all, I like it when they give you a little extra time between sessions. It gives you a little chance to either talk to the presenter or talk to some of the other people that you are sitting around and just kind of discuss the topic a little bit or get to know each other, network like that. The other thing I was going to say is sometimes, one of my favourite things when we did those lightening talks was it was a little less formal. So a lot of times, people would just kind of congregate towards the back. It was kind of an open room just towards the back and have a little discussion about the thing that was presented on by the presenter and a couple other people that were interested in the topic. And that was actually really fun and interesting as well. But I think it’s important to have that time to talk to the people around you. I’m not a big networker, but I see value in hearing other perspectives. Especially in Utah, it’s a little different than if you’re in Silicon Valley and you might bump into a lot more people and have more exposure to different perspectives, different takes on ideas. But it’s important when you’re at a conference like that, it can help to spend some time listening to other people. CHUCK:  Yeah. It’s also fun after the conferences. A lot of times, you’ll have a big bunch of people who are going to dinner or going to go hack somewhere. You’ll have companies that put parties on and stuff. So, you can continue to have that kind of experience after the conference is over as well. JOE:  Which is funny because you don’t typically think of programmers as being very social people. In fact, I would say it’s probably motivated by something else, trying to find someone that’s like you. [Laughter] TREVOR:  So, I guess when you’re doing that, it’s probably more beneficial to be attending alone because otherwise, you’re with somebody and you’re like, “We’ll just go out with them.”  But when you’re alone, you want to actually go and do something, detach yourself to the group that’s actually going to be doing some socializing. I think it’s really cool when the conferences do organize some social activities done afterwards. Give you more opportunities to network. Not just network, but also just talk to other people and just get more — just talk to people overall. CHUCK:  I think those are what make my conference experiences my most favorite ones were the ones where I’ve been able go and socialize with other developers. And people are doing cool stuff. So, even if it’s not something that you’ll necessarily use or even pursue to learn, it still pays off in a big way. So I want to get into like some of the Hack fests and Hackathons and stuff? How do you take advantage of those? What do you usually do to make the most of that? TREVOR:  You mean the hackathons and stuff that are going on during an existing conference? CHUCK:  Or afterwards at night, or whatever. TREVOR:  You know, I haven’t actually participated in any of them. When I go to a conference, usually I find myself so busy going to sessions that I don’t end up participating in the hackathons that are going on. It’s probably much to my detriment because a lot of times, you end up going to a session that seems semi-interesting and when you get in there, it’s not that interesting. Rather than either bailing or not going in the first place and going and doing something productive by networking and learning from other people through actual programming, you just end up sitting around checking Email. CHUCK:  Yeah, I’ve gone to a few, usually after Mountain West, one of the companies that’s sponsoring the conference will also sponsor hack fest in the evening and they’ll sponsor food and stuff. You can go and pair with folks and work on stuff. That’s always fun. You just show up, you pick a project or if they’ve picked a project and then, you just kind of go from there. You get a ton of value out of that, just the challenges that come up and the approach that the other person has. It’s really, really awesome. So, it’s kind of like the socializing except you get the benefit of having RIB code with them. TREVOR:  Have you gone to any of the one day hackathons or code retreats that are held specifically just for that, not conferences? CHUCK:  I went to the code retreat on the Global Day of Code Retreat a couple weeks ago and that was a lot of fun. And again, you get the benefit of the variance and experience. A lot of the people who were there were on Windows and they were doing development in Dot Net. There were a couple of folks there that were writing the Game of Life because that’s what you do at the code retreat. We’re writing Game of Life and like objective C in X code and stuff like that. It was really awesome, the different variations on that. Just, you know, you get the different challenges, you find the different things that are tricky in different languages and the things that it makes easy. So at the last code retreat, I did objective C, Ruby obviously, and Small Talk were the languages that I got to play around with. TREVOR:  I heard about the guy that was there doing Small Talk and there was like a line to go and pair with him. CHUCK:  Yeah, it’s Johnny T from Money Desktop. He’s a local developer. He does Ruby in his day job and then Small Talk is kind of his passion. You know, you kind of get the different development environments and the different things that come about from those. Small Talk really does have its own way of doing things and it’s kind of a fully integrated development environment that you use to build your programs. But anyway, it’s awesome. Those are just awesome. Sometimes, the conferences will have those. I’ve also been at conferences that had workshops. So I spoke at DevTeach North America in May in Vancouver. So they had a mobile track and you could go and you could learn about building mobile apps along with building Dot Net. They had a Ruby track too, so you could do Ruby stuff and that’s where I was speaking. But they had workshops for Android, for Sequel Sever, for iPhone development and for a couple of other things, different JavaScript and other related technologies before and after. The workshops are usually a pretty good way to go too because they’re focused, they’re usually not too much. If you’ve already paid for a conference ticket and you kind of meet some people before or after the conference that you wouldn’t get to interact with in any other way. TREVOR:  So do you go to any conferences, Chuck, that are actually technology-focused or have you gone to any of the methodology ones like Agile Conference or Agile Roots? CHUCK:  I have been to Agile Roots. Agile Roots is actually a really interesting one too because you’re not talking about coding techniques. You’re talking about, like you said, methodology and stuff. The interesting thing about those is that they are much more of a soft science, I want to say. In the sense that one Agile approach for one team doesn’t necessarily work for another. And so, the Agile Roots Conference is a lot about, “Here are some of the challenges that you’re going to have and here is an approach or some approaches that work.”   Where with programming, it’s, “Here’s an algorithm that will solve your problem.”  With the Agile Conferences, it’s not always that way. But at the same time, you come out of there feeling like you really can conquer the people problems and the people problems are the ones that really make you suffer, in my opinion. TREVOR:  I feel like everywhere I’ve been, those are the biggest issues with development, the process problems and people problems, you’re always (Inaudible 20:01) more useful than developers give them credit for. CHUCK:  Yeah, but the talks seem to be a little bit more abstract. At the same time, a lot of times, what they wind up doing is, Agile, they encourage you to like, “This game will encourage this kind of behavior and this game will encourage this kind of behavior.”  So in a lot of cases, your talks are actually a bit more interactive where at the coding conferences, a lot of times, you’re talking your way through code or working your way through an algorithm. And so, it’s much more lecturer/lecture attendee. TREVOR:  Right. Yeah, I feel like when I go to a conference like Agile conferences, I come out with — like having been engaged the entire time thinking about what’s been going on and when I’m done, I want to go and improve how my company is working. Whereas when I go to the technology conferences, it’s kind of like I got to see ten introductions to something kind of cool. Especially if you’re talking about an open source but I guess this is true even with the Microsoft ones, like, “Oh, that’s such a cool technology. Maybe at some point, I might have a use for that.” So I need to kind of file that away and that way later on when something comes up that I might, you know. If you saw a presentation on one particular JavaScript library, for example, it’s not something you can use right now. Then you file it away and then later on, “Oh yeah, I heard about this and we could use this to solve this problem.”  Whereas with Agile, it’s like, “Alright, I got 25 things I want to come back and change right now.” CHUCK:  Yup. One other thing though, as I’ve said before, usually the more acute pain is the people pain. And so, I’m usually much more sensitive to which talks are going to solve my pain as opposed to the programming talks. TREVOR:  Right. CHUCK:  But yeah, I love going to those. You know, there’s also more of a feeling of kind of camaraderie and stuff. Well not more, it has a different camaraderie than the coding conferences.  TREVOR:  Yeah, I agree with that. CHUCK:  Yeah. But there’s always going to be that softer side to development and it’s just as important because it affects your code and it affects the way that you approach things. TREVOR:  And neglected by far too many people, especially developers. So many developers, they’ll whine and complain all day long about how a process is going on but not spend enough time educating themselves about how to improve the process. CHUCK:  Yep, so one other thing I wanted to bring into the conversation is, it sounds like Trevor’s been to JS Conf and maybe some of the wider industry conferences as opposed to the small local conference like Utah JS or Mountain West Ruby conference. Have you found that your experience is different between the two? Do you like one better than the other? TREVOR:  Well, it’s definitely different. I think I like the more narrowed focused conferences better. I feel like I get more out of them. Another part is that sometimes when you end up with a broad conference like that, your head’s going to explode by day three or whatever. You get so much information and it tends to be a longer conference because it’s so broad. I just don’t know how effective it can be as the length of the conference wears on you after a few days. So, I feel like my head is going to explode after a couple of days. But on the smaller conferences, I really like those because they tend to be a little shorter and more focused. You know, Joe mentioned sometimes you just get a JavaScript framework or something like that in JavaScript based or a Ruby framework that someone wants to introduce. And sometimes, those are, “Let’s file that away, it’s an interesting topic.”  But you can also get trends within an industry. And I think that’s actually really useful for someone like I said earlier, for someone that’s — while I think there’s plenty of technology in Utah, it’s interesting for someone outside of Silicon Valley where you can feel trends better and kind of adapt and help your company adapt in direction when you’re able to go to a focused conference like that. I guess it also helps you in your career to not get stuck doing one thing. In Utah here, the unemployment rates for programmers is like 1%. So, finding a job is technically very easy. But I still meet developers that have a really tough time finding a job because they’ve gotten themselves stuck doing programming for years now that nobody, except for the company that they’re working with, wants. And without understanding what’s out there and what the trends are, then they’re doing themselves a disservice for when the time comes they either just hate their job or they get laid off. CHUCK:  Yep. One thing that I’ve noticed because like I said, I’ve been to the two big industry conferences that were Rails Conf, Ruby Conf, and then attended a few of the more local ones. I think I don’t know if I want to call the Aloha Ruby a regional local conference. It was more of a destination conference because it was in Hawaii. But you know, Mountain West is always a hit for me. The things I like about the bigger conferences is that they usually have a handful of talks that kind of address the overall community and address the overall concern that the community has. So, you’ll have a few people that get up and kind of challenge the status quo. You’ll have a few people that get up and talk about things that the community at large is talking about and they kind of get wider syndication because it’s a larger conference. I think there’s a lot of value there. The flip side is that it’s huge. And so, you can kind of show up and be a little bit lost in the whole thing. Ruby Conf had three concurrent tracks and I think Rails Conf had like four or five. So, you really kind of have this pile of knowledge that you have to figure out how you want to wade through. So that makes it a little bit more difficult. With the smaller conferences, it’s not that way. And the other thing is that the smaller conferences are usually focused on a particular region. They open it up to everybody. So, anybody can come but it’s usually more focused around the region; so, most of the folks that are there are regional folks, and it’s focused around the community there. It just has an awesome feeling. It feels like everybody’s kind of pulled together to make it happen, even if there are only one or two organizers. So like I said, the community feel there is just a powerful thing and it’s a lot of fun because you just get in there and you’re kind of part of the club for a couple of days. TREVOR:  Definitely. And those regional ones like that are, I would say, even better for networking stuff and being able to meet people that work in companies around you. And you’re learning in what they’re doing. And I think networking is a lot better for those regional conferences. CHUCK:  Especially if you live in that region because most of the sponsors are also local. And so, you can go and meet those folks and open up opportunities with companies that are local to you. TREVOR:  Yeah. If you’re in the job market, the regional conference is often a great place to go. CHUCK:  Yeah. One other thing I want to get into, unless you have more to add on that, is how do you get the most out of the sessions? So, you go to a session, what do you do? What don’t you do? TREVOR:  Out of a session? CHUCK:  Yeah. TREVOR:  One of my big things is taking notes. If you actually want to get something out of a session, don’t show up and just listen. If you actually want to get something out of a session, you got to take notes. CHUCK:  Do you do that on pen and paper? Or do you do that on your laptop or what? TREVOR:  Well, although I really like typing because I have terrible handwriting, I think by far, the most effective thing is pen and paper just because if you have your laptop, then it’s too tempting to check your Email. CHUCK:  Yeah. I want to kind of second that but for different reasons. If you bring your laptop and you open it up, then in a lot of cases, you’re basically at work. You have all your distractions, you have your Email, you have Twitter, you have this, you have that. The flip side is that some of the conferences have like a back channel, an IRC channel where you can discuss stuff going on with the conference. But I don’t know. It usually turns out to be more of a distraction than anything else. One thing that I’ve seen that’s kind of a happy medium to that is you bring in your iPad or your iPhone or whatever your equivalent is. And what you can do is you can just open up the Twitter app. Then if you have something that you want to share, you can just Tweet it. If you’re taking notes, you just write it down in your notebook and off you go. TREVOR:  I do really like conference sessions that are kind of like a follow along in code, focus on repository and you code along with those. So that’s nice to have your laptop for that. With the exception of that one case where you’re actually coding, I much prefer keeping the laptop closed just because it’s too much of a distraction. And so, you’re just not going to get as much out of a session. CHUCK:  Yeah. In a lot of cases, I wind up just carrying the thing around with me and not ever cracking it open. Then, it’s like this couple of pound weight that didn’t do me any good other than the fact that I got a little more workout. TREVOR:  Yeah, I’d say an iPad is a great way to go. I’ll second that. It’s also nice. A lot of the presenters now, they’ve got their presentations online so you follow on that way especially if you’re looking at code. It’s not usually the easiest to follow along on a code on a big screen, right? And then, the other thing you can do is just do a little bit of research on the topic they’re presenting on. I like to do that while I’m listening. I get distracted really easily. Maybe I just have ADD. CHUCK:  [laughs] No, I think you’re normal. TREVOR:  But I like to take the topic that they’re working on and presenting and I’d like to do some research on it. If it’s interesting, go do some research on it and see where it came from and who’s using it. And maybe dig in a little bit on the code to see how they did certain things that are interesting. CHUCK: Yup, absolutely. I’m trying to think what else? I usually try and get seated somewhere in the middle, or at the front, just so that I can see. Because usually, what they do is they angle the screens and the slides are showing on, and the speaker is facing you. They angle it all toward you. So, if you sit kind of in the middle toward the front, or middle front anyway, that tends to work out pretty well. I feel like I’m really involved. I could see everything fine and I feel like I’m a little more engaged with the speaker. TREVOR:  Yeah. It is also nicer the closer you sit in the front because if you do miss something you don’t understand, I often find that if I miss something or misunderstand the speaker at one point, I’ll get lost because they’ll be building on that in the future thing. So, if I can actually stop them and ask some question because most of them are usually immutable too, then I can make sure that I’m following along effectively. But in the back of the room, that’s really hard. Closer to the front of the room, it’s easier to stop them and ask a really quick question that probably a lot of other people have if they got confused, probably a lot of other people got confused too. And I’ve definitely found myself in a session and get lost about half way through and at that point then, they’ve lost me. So, I just go off to check my Email and completely lose the value of the session at that point. And I have seen that like one conference I was at, they had a keynote and they were talking about a multi-threading. Since I try to avoid that at all costs and make someone else do it, that’s why I‘m in the JavaScript role. I got a little lost on it, so I tried to educate myself on the subject. Really, if you can’t keep up with some difficult things, what are you going to end up doing? Checking Email and visiting Facebook. CHUCK. Yep. So, I keep moving from topic to topic relatively quickly. One other thing I want to jump in on is the lightening talks. So, we’ve talked about kind of showing up and listening and networking and all of that stuff, the lightening talks. When you want to give a lightening talk, what do you usually do? How do you know if you have something that’s lightening talk worthy? TREVOR:  Well, that’s interesting. I don’t know if you were at the Mountain West Ruby Conference this year? CHUCK:  I was. TREVOR:  They had lightening talks where you could just sign up on a chalkboard outside the room and I think they just filter it a little bit. But I’m not sure that there’s too much criteria for whether it’s acceptable or not.  If it’s an interesting topic to you and maybe a couple buddies, then I think it’s worth spending a couple of minutes for an audience like that. TREVOR:  I agree. TREVOR:  All the criteria there is whatever, if you’re questioning whether or not it’s valuable, the likelihood is that it is, err on the side of track going for it. Don’t be cautious. If you’ve got a topic that you think might be interesting. Only if a few people, rather than saying, “Oh you know maybe only a couple people care about this or maybe nobody does.”  Just go and talk about it anyway. You’ll be really surprised by how many people actually registered in that topic. That’s way better than saying, “Oh you know what? I can’t talk about something completely awesome for an hour. That’s something that’s going to draw everybody in the conference too so I may as well not even bother.” And I’ve actually loved all of the lightening talk sessions at multiple conferences that I have attended. Those have been some of the most useful sessions. And like Joe said earlier, you may just get a little [inaudible] to that session, but it may be something that’s really interesting to a couple of people in the crowd and then you go have your side conversation. And when it’s really bang bang like that, you tend to hit several good topics. CHUCK:  Yeah, one other thing that I want to point out is that in some cases, if you want to speak at conferences, the conference organizers will look for past examples of you speaking. And so, if you have a lightening talk up, especially if it’s been recorded, they can go and watch you talk. That will help sometimes because then, they’ll be a little bit more confident that you can handle a 30 minute talk because you did well with a five minute talk. So, make sure you’re well prepared and you know, it’s a great way to kind of get into speaking. TREVOR:  Yeah. Absolutely. CHUCK:  We’ve got probably another ten minutes to talk through things. And so, I’m going to segue a little bit from this into actually speaking at conferences.  I think it’s an interesting topic. We could probably talk about it for a full episode, but really quickly, I just kind of want to go through the process of getting in to speak. So usually, there’s some kind of call for proposals. Tim just jumped in and he asked me if we want him to jump in and it sounds good to me. Welcome to the show, Tim. TIM:  Can you guys hear me alright? CHUCK:   Yep. TIM:  Excellent. CHUCK:   So what makes a good talk proposal? TIM:  It depends a lot on the conference you’re attending and what they are looking for. There’s a huge difference between an O’Reilly Conf and a JS Conf, they have very different goals. CHUCK:  What’s the difference? TIM:  I mean, they are different kinds of conferences. Like for example, at an O’Reilly Conference, I was given a node workshop. And I get there and there’s like a thousand people in the room, and I’m at a stage with spotlights. Not exactly what I thought of as a workshop, but I hadn’t been to a lot of these conferences so I didn’t know what to expect. Whereas you go to JS Conf and it’s capped at 200 to 300 people. They are kept very small on purpose. And also, not near as many tracks. The bigger conferences, you’ll have like 10, 15 tracks wide. And the smaller ones, they are very, very picky in who they pick. So you have to pick a topic that. If you’ve given this talk at five other conferences, they’re probably not going to pick you at the smaller conferences. Because they have so little space to put you in, if that makes sense. CHUCK:  Yeah. The only exception I’ve seen to that is if you’re like a major name but even then, it’s hard. TIM:  Even then, if you speak at like every conference, then they may just let you not speak at this one so other people get a chance to speak. And it depends on the conference organizer, not all of them do that. Some of them will just try to get the biggest names out there and hope that it makes for good talks. Others will say, “Well, I want to get some people I’ve never heard of and hope they’re good talks,” to make it more exciting. TREVOR:  I think JS Conf is more like the latter. They’re more interested in people who haven’t spoken in a big conference before and they want new topics. Not the typical topics that you’d see. CHUCK:  My experience too is that the conference that gets the big names, if you haven’t been to the other conferences to see them speak at the other conferences, then those are usually pretty good conferences to go to. You know, the quality is there. The flip side is, is I’ve also seen the conferences where they have like one or two big names and then everybody else is nobody you’ve heard of before. And my experience with those is also usually that those are pretty good conferences. It just depends on what flavor they want. So Tim, if you are writing proposals to different conferences, do you usually write the same proposal to multiple conferences? Or do you put different proposals up to the different conferences? TIM:  I like to customize it to the different conferences. Like when I’m submitting for Node Conf, it may be the same content that I gave at Lua Conference, because I do a lot of Node and Lua crossover stuff. But I will customize the abstract and what I’m going to focus on in the talk. And when I submit to JS Conf, if I submit a bunch of node stuff, Chris may say, “Well, we’ll let you give that at Node Conf and I want something a little more unique for JS Conf.”  And so, if you just submit the same thing everywhere, you’re much less likely to get accepted. CHUCK:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It also helps in some cases and this also depends on the conference organizer. If you know him or even if you don’t know him, if you can reach out to him and say, “You know, I’m considering these different proposals.”  You can put him all in if you want because usually, you can propose more than one talk. Or you can just ask them, you know, which one is more in keeping with what they want. If they are not too busy, sometimes they’ll respond. Other times, they’re totally slammed and there’s just not a way to do it. TIM:  So my first talk, my first actual conference talk was in Stockholm, Sweden at SWDC 2010. Before that, I’ve never spoken anything bigger than like a Ruby user group. And I think, I heard there was a call for proposals because I followed some Europeans on Twitter and I proposed just for fun. And because of my ‘How to Node’ blog, Peter Svensson was excited to have me speak. He’s like, “Sure. We’ll find a way if we can afford to fly you to Europe.”  And the reason he was so excited was because I had this blog that did technical stuff. And they assumed that if I can write well, then maybe, I can be a good speaker too. So if you’re having trouble getting into a conference, do podcasts, or blogs or something else.  Whatever medium you can get out there, that will help people to see that you’re not afraid to share your thoughts. CHUCK:  Absolutely. As far as writing the proposals, a few pointers that I would give are one, it’s okay to make the title what your talk is about. But I usually try and make it at least somewhat interesting. So, if I’m talking about ‘What is a JavaScript function?’ I’m not going to call it, ‘what is a JavaScript function?’ I’m going to come up with something maybe a little bit more interesting or clever-sounding to kind of get their attention and make sure that it’s focused on something that’s very interesting and relevant to the conference attendees. Then with the abstract, make sure that you tell the conference organizers what you are going to talk about. It’s not a terrible idea to actually put kind of a short outline of what you’re going to cover. In fact, I think that’s more or less what they expect. Just so that you can explain to people why they should come and what they’re going to learn when they come to your session. I’ve seen a lot of proposals where people get in and it’s like, “Functions, what are they good for?”  And then, so they’ve got an okay title. And then, the abstract is, “I’m going to talk about what functions are and how they’re defined.”  And that’s their whole abstract. So, it’s like, “Okay, what’s the point of attending?” There’s nothing there to go on for that. And so, you definitely need to explain to the conference organizers and the attendees what the value is of your session in the abstract. TIM:  Right. And especially if it’s a multi-track conference like most of them are, you’re competing against the other tracks and usually, all people are going to look at is your title. So you’ve got to keep that in mind. If all they’re going to see is your title and you want them to come to your track, you’ve got to make it interesting. JOE:  Yeah, flashier titles definitely attract more people. You can do the marketing thing of making your title, you know, a little vague. So, they have no choice but to read your abstract. TREVOR:  Or controversial. JOE:  That’s right. CHUCK:  Yeah. So, let’s move onto speaking. What mistakes do you see people make when they speak at conferences? TIM:  Well, the mistake I make is I underestimate how much time it takes to prepare and I rarely have my slides done. JOE:  You and every other presenter. TIM:  It takes an amazing amount of time to prepare proper slides. And if you don’t budget time for that, you’re going to be crunched in the end and missing all the talks before yours and just be stressed. And it’s no fun. CHUCK:  Just write your talk out on 3×5 cards and then, you just copy the stuff off your cards onto your slides. JOE:  I think when I spoke at Utah Open Source Conference, it went pretty well because I had an opportunity beforehand to present. In that case, it was to a user group. But running through your talk once for real in front of, at worst just one person, I guess even worse than that, your dog. But run through the actual slides, the actual presentation as if you were doing it. Go through the real motions, not just walk over your slides and in your head, it’ll be what you’re going to be talking about. But actually stand up and present it and time it. See how it goes. CHUCK:   That’s actually really important. I usually do that with my wife. And she’ll sit there and patiently listen to me talk about stuff she doesn’t understand. But the nice thing is, is that I find the hang-ups that I have in my slides, “Oh, I keep on forgetting to talk about this.” Or, “I really need to clarify this.”  So I can put them in my speaker notes and then when I give the talk, then I’m ready to just take care of it. And I don’t have to backtrack, “Oh, I forgot about this.” And, “Oh, I really want to do this.”  It really does pay off to practice. JOE:  You know Chuck, I think you’re confusing with what your wife doesn’t understand with what she doesn’t care about. [Laughter] TREVOR:  Actually, I was just going to say, how is that any different than your audience? [Laughter] TIM:  Now I will say, and this is more of picking a topic. But if you’re not excited and passionate about what you’re speaking about, it’s really, really hard to make it an exciting talk. CHUCK: Agreed. TIM:  There have been a few times that I’ve been given assigned topics, usually by employers, and I just can’t do them. I’m like, “I want to talk about what interests me right now.”  Which is a problem because that will change by the time the conference happens. But at least, it was what interested me four months ago. CHUCK:  Yep. So when you’re preparing the slides, I’m a little curious to see how you guys do it. I really tend to try and avoid the bullet point slides. There are better ways of doing it, in my opinion. The bullet point slides are really just kind of a, “Here’s a reference. Go look at the slides later to get the information.” Do you guys usually go for pictures? Do you go for a handful of words on the screen? How do you usually go after it? TIM:  I usually just have some bullet points. I’m just sensitive to not put too many of those in or not too many in a row because they get boring real fast. When I’m on my game and I think about it, I do diagrams, or I have live coding breaks where I’ve practiced and prepared and make sure it works with no Internet because I mean, these are technical topics. You can only talk about the theory so much.  Sure lots of large codes, nice pretty colorized, make sure it’s large. And I usually walk through code or if I’m talking about control flow, I’ll have diagrams of the various steps and how the call backs and exceptions work with arrows. I find that helps explain what you’re talking about a lot more than, “What you should do is call backs because…” and it’s all words. CHUCK:  Right. JOE:  I would say that programmers are a lot like 3-year olds. So, you have to treat them with that ADD mentality just like Sesame Street. You’ve always got to be changing things constantly. I really liked your idea of breaking with code, showing some interesting or funny images or whatever, but definitely breaking topic, going into examples, whatever you got to do. But you know, bullet points are dry and I’ve made that mistake myself. I was wondering why I was losing everyone. And that’s why. CHUCK:  And if you’re doing codes like Tim said, make sure it’s colorized, make sure the contrast is really good with the background, so that none of it blends in. That’s something that I see almost every time somebody puts a code sample up, is that it’s in a lot of cases, some of the keywords are colorized differently and are hard to read. TREVOR:  Yeah, and if you’re doing a slide, spend time making them pretty. Find a good template, match it to the conference, something. But make them pretty. Don’t underestimate the value of design just because we’re programmers, you know. This will offend a few designers that are out there but for the rest of us who have no design capabilities whatsoever, just because we suck at making things look pretty doesn’t mean it’s not important. And it’s important to us. We like talks that have pretty slides. CHUCK:  Yup. TIM:  About projectors, do not underestimate how crappy projectors are. [Laughter] TIM:  You were doing your slides at home on your Retina Mac book Pro, in your dark cave and it looks beautiful. And then, you get there and it’s 1024 x 768 in a brighter lit room with poorer contrast. CHUCK:  In fact before the talk, a lot of times, your conference organizers, they’ll allow you access to the room you’re going to be speaking in. So go in, hook up, jack in, whatever you have to do to make your presentation work and then, make sure that it works. Make sure that it looks okay. That way, you can make the adjustments in the color schemes or whatever, before you actually have to give the talk. JOE:  You know, that’s a great point. My least favorite thing at conferences is watching the presenters get their slides on the screen, period. CHUCK:  Isn’t that always fun? You see them fumbling with the dongles on their machine? JOE:  Switching it out three different times? CHUCK:  Yeah. Or they hook it into the network so that they can VNC over to it from another machine because they can’t quite get it. Or they wind up using a thumb drive to get it on someone else’s machine. And then, it’s not quite the same because it’s not on the machine that it was designed to run on. Headache, headache, headache. Make sure that you’re ready to go. And before you go, make sure that you have all the connectors and stuff. For example, I have a 2009 white Mac book, that’s my laptop. And so, if I go to a conference to speak, 99.9% of the time, they don’t have the dongle for my laptop. I’ve been to one or two where they actually did. Thankfully, I didn’t need it because I had my own. But make sure that you have that stuff with you. Just double check before you walk out the door. JOE:  Right. CHUCK: Are there any other presentation tips you guys want to give before we wrap the show up? Because we are about at the end of our time. TIM:  If possible, watch your audience and see what interests them and see what loses them. And if you’re quick enough on your feet, you can adapt your talk. But that only works if you’re prepared and confident. CHUCK:  Yeah. TIM:  Otherwise, you’re just barely keeping above water just to go to the next slide. If able, watch the audience and they’ll enjoy it much more when you customize it for them. JOE:  I would say, on that topic, approach it more like a teacher rather than a speaker. You know, your best — at least for me, my best teachers in college and everywhere else have been the people that could engage an audience. And if you’re not paying attention to them and trying to go with the flow of what’s interesting to them, you’re going to lose people. Think back to your most dry, boring professors. All they’re doing is standing at the front, speaking. They don’t care whether you’re listening or anything. TIM:  Yeah. Don’t be afraid to throw away slides if you realize they are not going to interest them. There have been many a talk where half way through, I’ll just ask the audience, like, “Would you rather me talk about this, or this, or live code?” And very often, they answer with something I wasn’t expecting. CHUCK:  That’s interesting. It makes a lot of sense. And if you have all three of those things ready to go, then you can confidently just move into it. TIM:  Right. So, the biggest tip from me is be prepared, as much as possible. CHUCK:  Awesome. With that, we’ll go ahead and wrap up the podcast and we’ll get into the picks. Trevor, did Joe warn you about picks at all? [Laughter] JOE:  I did not. CHUCK:  Okay. Picks are just basically things that we like, things that we find useful or maybe just something that we enjoy. So Jamison likes to pick music, we’ve picked all kinds of coding tools and things like that on here. So really, just whatever it is that has gotten you excited or made your day. We’ll make Joe go first to kind of give you an example of how this works. JOE:  Alright. I went and saw the Hobbit last season. And I think I picked it. But I actually went and saw it and it was really good. So, I’m going to pick it again. The other thing I’d like to pick is RiffTrax. RiffTrax is the old Mystery Science Theater 3000, guys. They have this now where they’re doing these blockbusters. It’s just a sound file that you download and you have to actually manually sync it up with your T.V. and watch it at home. You have to get it playing on some other sound source separate from your T.V. because you actually still want to be able to see and watch the actual movie studio. You load it into a DVD player, you turn it on and you’re watching it normally and you can hear it normally. But then somewhere else, you got to be playing the RiffTrax MP3 and you have to sync it up and they’ll help you sync it up. But once you do, it’s those guys making fun of the movie and it’s freaking hilarious. I mean, it’s so dang funny. We watched a couple of Harry Potter ones and Pirates of the Caribbean, and they’re hilarious and just awesome. I will say they’re slightly off color often. So, you may want to not be doing this with younger children but they are really, really enjoyable. So, I want to pick that. My last pick, because we’re talking about conferences, is going to be — and this is something I’ve picked twice now in the past, is going to be PluralSight.com because if you cannot afford to get out to a conference, then it still behooves you to keep up on the industry. And reading a lot of articles is not necessarily very fun. It can get pretty boring. So actually, watching a presentation is really nice. And with PluralSight.com, we got like 400 courses on all kinds of different things. And you can basically create your own conference for yourself at $30 a month, sit down and watch whatever you want to watch about , learn whatever you want to learn about. So, my last pick is PluralSight. CHUCK:  Awesome. Tim, what are your picks? TIM:  Since I didn’t think that I was going to make this show today, I’m just going to have one. And that is my new microphone which hopefully sounds good. It’s called the Yeti. It’s about $80 and it’s built like a tank, so I like it. I just plugged it in. I’m running Linux and just plugged it in and it works which is pretty amazing for a USB device. CHUCK:  Awesome. Yeah, the Yeti is pretty cool. I have one sitting under my desk that I use when I travel. Alright. Well, I’ll go next. We’ll give Trevor a few more minutes to figure out what he’s going to pick. So, my first pick is something that I think is very relevant to this show in particular. If you’ve used the Closure Compiler, it’s kind of a neat little project from Google.  I found a www.closure-compiler.appspot.com and I’ll put a link in the show notes. I was trying to debug something earlier today and we were getting this funky error from Chrome. It was like ‘unexpected token’ or something like that. And of course, it doesn’t tell you where it is. And we’re using XJS. So the problem was it was showing up in one file that actually required the class, I guess you would call it, from another file. And the syntax error was actually in the other file. So, what I wound up doing was I wound up copying and pasting the different file contents into this and then just hitting compile. On the other end, it told me exactly where the syntax error was and what it was. So then, I could go in and put the comma on the right line to make it not blow up. So, that was a really, really handy thing that I’ve figured out. The other one that I want to pick and this has more to do with speaking and specifically with coming up with that title that draws people in. This is something that was written for blog posts and how to write the perfect headline for your blog post. The headline is usually the title. It’s called Headline Hacks. And you can get it at HeadlineHacks.com. It just writes you through. I think there are like 50 odd tips for how to write better headlines or in this case, better titles for your talks. So, if you’re writing proposals and you want some ideas on how you can make it a little more interesting without being cheesy or weird, then this is a really good way to go. And now, we’ll ask Trevor for some picks. TREVOR:  Alright. I’ll stop my head here. What I’m watching on Netflix, I just finished up the first two series of ‘Once Upon a Time’ with my wife. I thought that was a good clean show that was very entertaining. CHUCK:  My wife and I watch that. It’s a terrific show. TREVOR:  Yeah. I like — I know this isn’t new or anything but I like Sublime Text 2 and I think it’s changed the way that I program. Learning how to use your tools is super important and Sublime Text 2 is great for that, learning shortcuts and everything to go with it. A movie I want to see is Jack Reacher. That looks really interesting. I don’t know if I have to say anything more than that. It’s just a good looking movie coming out. And something I like to listen to right now is Foo Fighters. CHUCK:  Awesome. Well, thanks for the picks and thanks for coming on the show, Trevor. TREVOR:  Thank you! CHUCK:  Alright. Well, we’ll go ahead and wrap this show up. Thanks for listening. One thing that I want to point out is that I am currently working on a Rails course, that’s ‘Ruby on Rails’. It will be available in March. You can sign up now at RailsRampUp.com and there’s more information there, if you want. Other than that, we’ll wrap the show up. And thank you guys for coming and thanks for listening.

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