Talking at a Tech Conference
June 23rd, 2017
Developer is not always a speaking job. Of course, you discuss with your colleagues, about what they are working on, how they are doing, you have meetings and discussions regarding your projects. But as a developer, you are rarely speaking with customers, direct users. This is even more true when you are working on infrastructure or on the backend.
From Paris classrooms to Amsterdam TechSummit
When I've joined Algolia in January 2016, I was happy to see how open the company was regarding public speaking. At that time, the company was still small (I was the 36<sup>th</sup> employee) and, as in any other startup, word-of-mouth was really important. All employees were more than welcome to talk at meetups, conferences, etc. And this is still true today. The marketing team has grown a lot in the last year, and as new employees are joining, they are making sure that everyone in the company who's keen to speak at conferences or meetups will be able to do it. No matter if you're the VP of something, solution engineer, frontend or backend developer, accountant or office manager. If you come and say "hey guys, I know this conference, I think it will be good to have Algolia there for these reasons and I'd be happy to talk there" they are here to help.
From 2013 to 2015, I was still a student. I was also teaching at my school to 2nd, 4th and 5th CS students. It taught me a lot regarding public speaking and teamwork, as I was working with around 30 schoolmates, few academic teachers and the school administration itself. I was also used to do presentation to academic researchers in the laboratory when I was part-time working. Then, I did some talks regarding how we used to handle support at Algolia (we haven't any QA team as of today) and the challenges to maintain the Algolia Go API client. All of these were great experiences, I was speaking English or French in front of a tens of people (actually more than 100 students at my school) about both technical and non-technical subjects for various audiences.
So after nearly one year of work on the new log processing toolchain the occasion showed up to speak at an internal conference, I cannot say I was ready for it but at least to give it a try. And as my colleagues were really supportive, I accepted.
Preparing the talk
The very first step when you want to speak at a conference is to submit your talk with a title, an abstract, sometimes a few words about yourself and also why you think the talk fits the conference purpose. This process is the Call For Papers or CFP, sometimes named Call For Speakers. Then you wait for an answer. Actually you may even wait for nothing at some conferences are not even telling you your talk wasn't selected. However, if everything goes well, you will finally receive this kind of email:
Thank you for sending in a proposal to speak at TechSummit Amsterdam (techsummit.io)!
The Program committee has reviewed all the proposals and we are happy to include your talk “Building a magic and reliable pipeline in the cloud” in the schedule.
Needless to say, I was both highly happy and surprise to read it. But then, the actual work begins.
This was the easiest (not the easy ;) ) part for me: writing the talk. I've actually prepared quite a lot of presentations in the past and I like spending time on it, building a story, making the slides and the schemas. Once the first draft is done, it's time to rehearse.
I did few rehearsals alone and two with my colleagues (thank you again for your time guys). It is really important to do it in front of people to let them tell you what is actually wrong in your presentation, whether it's what you say, how you say it or how you present it. Also, you cannot notice your own verbal tics. Most of those issues can be addressed when you try your presentation against an actual audience. Finally, after those multiple sessions and fixes, I had the opportunity to try this talk in front of CS students from my previous school, in French this time. All went great, but the day after, I was leaving with my teammates for Amsterdam.
Speaker dinner and going to the venue
Some conferences organize what they call the "speaker dinner" a day before the event. It helps the speakers to meet altogether around a nice meal in a more informal way. This time, it was at the TonTon Club West. I met speakers from LeaseWeb, Docker, Elastic for instance and had nice discussions regarding challenges they were tackling. After a nice meal (noodle burger, yes, it does exist and it's good), we played some games together and even tried some dance steps on Dance Dance Revolution machines!
After a small breakfast, I arrived to the venue with few Algolia colleagues to install our booth and prepare the goodies. As everything was well-organized by Leaseweb, I just had to be on stage 10 minutes before the beginning of my talk to put on and try the microphone and enjoy as one of the organizers told me. Overall, I was very happy to be there and I really thankful to Algolia for this opportunity. Last thing now is to re-watch my talk and improve on all the things that I'm doing wrong... Nearly one month later, I still haven't watch it. I know, I know, I'll have to do it... Eventually, it's painful. I'll drop it here just in case.