In April, I presented for the first time at Peers Conference. ‘Pulling Up Your Legacy App By Its Bootstraps!’ was my talk title. I was super excited and honored and humbled by the experience. It was a very different conference in the best possible ways! Even now, I don’t think I have unpacked the many ways the experience has changed me. I’m going to try to share them here.
I had never been to Peers Conference before. I submitted because several speakers whom I admire recommended the conference, and I finally had an abstract I felt good about submitting. I had tried to figure out how to share the useful pieces of this legacy project that had dominated my work life. But the project was HUGE and difficult to put into pieces.
Peers selects talks using a blind approval process. I did not pay attention to this before submitting because I was new and using a shotgun submission approach to becoming a Conference Speaker. What I mean is that I felt my odds were pretty low and didn’t expect to win this opportunity. But I did! Peers featured almost 50% women speaking in its sessions. The Developer track was dominated by women (75%)! The lone male speaker on the Dev track was Matt Stauffer (but this isn’t about him). It’s about me. 😛
I found out I was chosen, not by a form email but a phone call. We talked about the conference, its community, and about the abstract I had submitted about bootstrapping. I received advice for how my talk would be most helpful to the community I would be meeting. It was wonderful and helpful as a new speaker to get this advice and support!
Preparing the Talk
I was offered so much support for preparing this talk! I organized my first draft and gave it as a google hangout to speakers I admire (Elizabeth Naramore and Beth Tucker Long), and they gave wonderful advice. I presented again to my supportive user group TrianglePHP. They asked so many questions throughout my talk, which helped guide me toward the interesting parts and highlighted areas I could explain better. This was a couple of months before the conference.
I consolidated a lot of those questions and added more code samples into the presentation. A week before Peers, I organized a small group of developers at work to come listen. I was really selective of who I picked because I wanted them to know me and to be comfortable giving me helpful feedback. Unfortunately, I had a really hard time with the order of my slides. I was saying things ahead of the slides and skipping over some details. It was really frustrating because my talk ended early, and I had a bit of work to fill in gaps. Luckily, these people were patient and kind. They gave me some great advice for some structure to my talk and feedback for filling out the talk. Mitch Amiano and Dustin Wheeler, my teammates on the project, were so helpful, too. They gave great advice for details I could explain better and corrected some technical details.
I continued revising my slides for the entire week, refining the flow and improving my speaker notes, hoping to keep myself on the current slide’s content! And I camped in the hotel room on Tuesday, feeling unsure and making my notes cleaner and easier to read. I was so relieved to only have one talk to give because I couldn’t imagine preparing two. But I did finally have my talk ready on Wednesday morning and practiced it several times after.
Thursday, my presentation was after the keynote. It was one I was excited to see, Gregg Pollack from Code School (a learning site with interactive tutorials). He shared so many great experiences of his team’s growing and how they were able to put their team needs first and grow together. I wasn’t sure if I would be too nervous to watch his talk, but my nerves weren’t too bad, and I enjoyed his presentation.
I had about 30 minutes before my own talk, so there was plenty of time to get settled! The A/V guy was super helpful and adjusted the lights to keep them out of my eyes. He got me set up on the podium and microphone. I was a bit nervous, but not terribly so. It was just enough that I felt like I needed the podium and to stay close to my notes. I chose the fixed microphone, which I later regretted because as I felt more comfortable, I couldn’t move away from the podium. Also, the microphone drooped a bit, and I was shrinking to stay in range.
As far as I could tell, the talk went well! I had a pretty attentive audience, and they asked great questions at the end. Some of them were consistent with what I’d been asked before. I was glad to have the code samples to use to explain in more detail.
I felt GREAT after giving the presentation!!! It wasn’t like feeling relief after a test or something I dreaded. I felt accomplished! I felt like I had something neat to share and people appreciated it. I felt like I had contributed something to the conference community I had joined! I immediately knew I wanted to do it again.
Speaking at Peers was incredible! I met people who were encouraging and supportive who made me feel so welcome. I never once felt like I needed to spout a list of my tech trivia to prove I belonged there or linger on the outside of a group. I attended knowing only 2 people that I knew would be there. I re-met two people, one from [php]tek 2014, and another from our old Laravel group back home! I made so many other new (old) friends while there. It was an amazing experience!
I’ll be getting the opportunity to speak again soon at Open Source Bridge in June! And I had the pleasure of speaking to DaytonPHP over Google Hangouts. I’m feeling pretty great about it! I’m so grateful for the chances to share this legacy project and the lessons we learned. I’m enjoying the brief breaks from work to revel in an accomplishment. I’m exploring new ideas and things I want to teach and share. It’s awesome! I can’t wait to do it again!