templates slides, presenting for the first time, and OMG MASSIVE FREAKOUT
If you’ve been waiting since Refresh for me to post these so you could figure out exactly what I was up there babbling about, they’re now on Slideshare:
And here are the links from the presentation:
- jQuery templates plugin
- The Tech Behind the New Twitter.com
- node.js templating modules
- jQuery templates documentation
- jQuery templates for node.js
- jQuery templates for .NET
- photo credit
- demo application
Now I’m gonna talk about my feelings.
There was a break-out session during jqcon hosted by Rebecca Murphey on getting more women speaking at conferences and there were some interesting comments that came out of that on the subject of presenting for the first time. It was interesting to hear what other people who might soon be first-time speakers had to say about why they didn’t jump into it or what confused them. Some of it was the same shit that kept me from jumping into it.
I would never, ever have submitted a talk if Rebecca and Alex Sexton hadn’t been like, “hey, you should try this.” In hindsight, I feel a little ridiculous about that. I’ve been waiting my entire career for someone to say, “you, you’re good enough.” It took hitting my 30s and realizing my options for the future of my career were management or Being More Involved for me to realize that the latter was something I’d really, really wanted for a long time. Modesty is awesome and underrated, especially in developers, but I spent so much fucking time worrying I’d come off like a rockstar developer if I spoke up and claimed to know shit that it kept me from doing what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was more or less what happened this weekend, minus the freaking out. Wonderful as modesty is, you have to ask whether it’s healthy when it holds you back from an experience like that.
Loving what you do is a qualification. Even if you didn’t work on a site or product everyone has heard of, even if your employer isn’t Twitter or Google, even if you don’t think about code obsessively, you can still be a good developer. I hate seeing articles about what makes a great developer, because they tend to list off totally subjective metrics for gauging your love of this profession. There are only two tests that are worth shit, IMO: whether you write good code and whether it makes you excited. I’ve loved development (mostly) for a long time, but I waited all this time to try and get closer to the source of that excitement, the people and tools that shape this industry. And even when I did, I needed a shove. Kids, don’t be like me.
Speaking at jqcon has made me a better developer. For one thing, the effort I put into making the slides and the demo app that went along with them was possibly the most comprehensive research project I’ve done since college. More tangibly, I finally set up node.js, I posted something on github and made a pull request, and I got real cozy with the template plugin’s source. Additionally, putting your thoughts out there gives people the chance to tell you where you’re wrong. Finding out you’re wrong is awesome, because then you have the opportunity to be right. And just being around the caliber of developer who comes to conferences, who speaks at conferences, is beneficial. Even the conversations I eavesdropped on probably taught me something. You don’t get paid to speak, but you get plenty out of it.
Last night it took me a couple hours to get to sleep cause I was trying to put my finger on what was so terrifying while I was on stage. I finally got it, I think, and this is probably a good thing to note if you’re thinking about speaking at a conference: nobody is looking at you. It’s confusing and unsettling to be standing at the front of a room packed with people who are all staring down at their laptops, notebooks, or telephones. Anything I’ve ever done that’s included being on a stage, I’ve relied on drive-by eye contact with people in the audience to tell me whether or not I’m sucking. I got up there and had a difficult time even spotting anyone looking in my direction (didn’t help that the slides were in the opposite corner of the room), and it was pretty disorienting.
What’s really fucking dumb is that, after my talk, I spent the rest of the conference lost in a myopic haze of shame over the quality of my presentation. It took me pretty much until dinner to distance myself enough to realize that the people who came up and said they were excited about templates weren’t just being nice – that they’d been specific about what they got out of it and had no reason to track me down just to shine me on. All that negativity led to me not being the best ambassador of my topic. My impression of the duty of someone speaking at a conference is that it’s not only preparing the slides and walking everyone through them, but being available throughout the thing to have conversations and further spread your own excitement about whatever subject you spoke on. And I fucking love JS templates, I love talking about using them, I think about front-end development completely differently as a result of having discovered that tool. A part of me wanted to stand in the hallways wide-eyed and eager and tell people personally what I’d said on stage so they’d go back to work and try it out or, whatever, just be amused and maybe have something interesting to think about. I didn’t do that at all, though, and that’s way more shameful than any nervous delivery.
Though I’m mindful of the things I’d need to do differently if I tried this again, I’m done kicking myself. I didn’t do the job I wanted to, but people still learned shit. I missed way more presentations than I wanted to, but I can see them online and I was lucky enough to be in the vicinity of and get to talk to the brilliant folks who put them together. I got to hang out with awesome people I usually only interact with online, met new folks who I’m excited to know, I got pretty good notes from Day 1, and I ate a hell of a lot of seafood. On the whole, the experience was sparkly and wonderful, but I would have gotten a lot more out of it had I not be so self-absorbed about my presentation. (Which is funny cause now I’m writing a whole blog post about it, but I’m reflecting, yo, which is totes important.)
Back to the break-out session.. Whether you’re a woman or not, if you want to speak at a conference, just man or woman up and submit a talk. Don’t be shy about wanting to. If you’re excited about being a developer, you should want to, because you should share the things you know and love so other people can feel the same way. If public speaking actually does terrify you, write a blog, or just post a lot of shit on github. But don’t feel like you can’t participate, cause I did it and I am nobody special. If I can, you can. And if you’re not as good as you’d hoped, it’s ok, then at least you have something to work on. The world isn’t going to end and failure is an excellent teacher.
UPDATE: If you’re considering speaking at a conference for the first time, two really awesome posts you should read:
Rebecca on the Women & Conferences Breakout Session at jqcon, and
Menno van Slooten’s “So you want to speak at a jQuery conference?”