Please don’t feel pressured to do a tech talk to further your career.

The tech talk seems, to me, to have become the new church of tech especially when it comes to meetups. I’m not sure if it’s the fear of missing out (FOMO) or the belief that it going to make a big difference in your career but everyone I’ve come across in the early stages of their career seem to think they have to do one.

Dear reader, I have some information for you: you don’t have to do one.

I wager 99% of the tech community don’t do talks

Honestly, they’re happier doing their job during the day and going home in the evening. At weekends they pursue their hobbies and interests and get on with life. At the end of the month they pick up their payslip and repeat the next month and so on.

And you know what, that’s fine. They may stay at home and learn some new stuff, in their time, or push some code they’ve done to a github repo. It’s still learning and sharing, it just doesn’t require hauling backside to a room of warm beer and pizza.

For the record, my career started in 1988 and it wasn’t until 20 years later I even considered doing a talk. The only reason I started was new location, no network and I needed to make one fast. So I did a Barcamp in 2009, a lot of things happened after that. After that I’ve never done a talk because of pressure either by myself or anyone else. I did them because I enjoyed them, they’re a performance and I like a stage. I think I know where it comes from…..


So if anyone says you have to do a tech talk to get anywhere in this career, they’re talking shite.

If you feel you want to do one, then by all means. Just don’t let other people sway you (unless you really want the drama and attention).

Getting started, if you really must

Small talks are fine to get started, meetups and developer events are all usually good. If you are going to present though make sure you know your stuff 100%. The nice thing with these events is that it’s not normally a huge process to get accepted, just ask and say you want to do something.

You are there to teach, once you understand that then you are unstoppable. Teach something that goes beyond the getting started documentation of a framework for example, it needs to be more than that, a lot more than that. Another walkthrough from the same chatbot framework will drive me mad.

Expect questions and answers at the end. While it’s okay not to know everything people are giving you their time so you can impart knowledge to them, they will have questions.

From experience people are friendly and want to see you do well so Q&A tends to be a nice humane affair. However you do get the odd one, one Barcamp talk in 2010 I was asked, “What time are you finishing, I’ve not learned anything I thought I would“, this kinda knocked me off course but somehow I brought it back. What was a picture was the rest of the audience who were pretty shocked. The chap got ejected from the conference not long after. You do get them, just not very often.

Personally small developer meetups are not for me, they’re not my thing. Location is not on my side either, it’s 140 mile round trip for me, finish work early to drive and then to drive back again. And the beer is off limits as I’m driving. That’s me and that’s fair enough. I also prefer something a little bigger.

Conferences and proposals are a long game

This photo by Ellen Friedman means a lot to me. This isn’t just me doing a talk, this is five years of ideas, proposal writing, tweaking, talking to folk and figuring out how to get my points across. The Strata Conference Call For Proposals (CFP) is competitive to say the least.

And I learned an important factor, writing proposals for this level of conference is not what you want to talk about but what you feel is relevant to the audience at this point in time. Once I sussed that I had an acceptance and a wait listed talk.

I didn’t want to further my career, I just wanted to talk at my favourite conference. There was no master game plan. And I was nervous and I made the fatal mistake while I was preparing my slides, I took all the personality out of it. Big mistake.

Attendees like a personality otherwise it becomes a trudge through talk after talk of very nice people, sometimes you need something to wake you up. I took out all my humour when I was preparing the slides and when I run them past my boss (possibly the very first time I’d done that ever) he told me to put the Jase schtick back in.

Finding out I was last on, “Jase, you’ve got the graveyard shift, how do you feel?”, “Oh I’m fine with it, means I can wake them up.”

I’m glad I listened to my boss. Watching a Strata talk audience do a Mexican wave was rather funny and they enjoyed it. Yes I did do that.

I should try that at ClojureX.

The main thing to remember though….

I’ve always been in control of a number of aspects:

  • Whether I wanted to do the talk. Never forced, I could say no. And I say no a lot of times during the course of a year.
  • I control the content, no employer has told me what to talk about. (and sometimes the content is secondary, it’s airtime for the brand on stage).
  • I was me. And that comes with heckling, controversy and pragmatism. Not everyone is going to agree with what I say, thank goodness. I got boo’d at Big Data Belfast for saying Python wasn’t much cop to use 🙂
  • I’ve not done it to further my career, I just like to share information. “This worked for me, it might work for you”. It’s about giving more information that you receive.

If you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable about doing a talk then seriously don’t do it. There are other avenues to share information, it might be a blog, a podcast or a video. Whatever works best for you, then go for it.

In all honesty the blog and Twitter did more for my career than meetups and conferences.

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