Outline your writing to ease the creative process

For most of my career I've been a software developer, but now I'm mostly a communicator. As a manager, I give the right level of detail to many different audiences, and I deliver that in words they can understand. As a Developer Advocate, I explain complex technical concepts in useful, memorable, and occasionally entertaining ways. However the best software developers are lazy and I'm still always looking for ways to get things done with less effort on my part! For writing, the best process I know feels like unnecessary overhead, but it's always worth it in the end so today I'm sharing my secrets: create an outline before you start. Continue reading

Support for Speakers

I've been a conference speaker for 10 years; I've given many talks, been to many events, organised a few events, and now have Opinions (TM) about conference speaking. This tweet showed up in my feed when someone tweeted at me to thank me for my support in their talks.

My approach to supporting other speakers is not really about the audience I would like (we're all different!), but more about making two things happen:

  • someone being the best they can be
  • them getting credit for that

In fact I've been a speaker coach and mentor for a few years and have variously watched rehearsals, suggested where to stand and not stand, walked nervous speakers around outside before their talk, fetched water ... all sorts of things. However this twitter thread (I got a bunch of tweets and the replies are also great) shows that _anyone_ can give great support to any speaker, whether you know them or not. Here are my favourite three things to do to support anyone giving a talk. Continue reading

What does a Developer Advocate do?

I'm a Developer Advocate (you might also hear job titles like Developer Relations, Developer Evangelist) and I'm constantly asked what that means. What do I do? The answer is different for every one of these jobs but there are some common themes. After 18 months of practice at answering this question, I think I'm ready to give it a go. Continue reading

Live Demo: Risks and Rewards

I'm not a huge fan of the live demo in conference talks - it's really hard to do well so I see a very large number of bad ones. Also, it's super hard work to include them in my own talks in a meaningful way because they are so difficult to pull off. I could write a very long list of reasons not to ever live demo (nobody wants to watch you type, now you are talking to your laptop, conference wifi rarely works, you could tell me three much more useful things in the time you've spent doing this ...) but in truth as developers we love the "new shiny" and it can be super helpful to get an actual walkthrough of how to do a particular thing. So if you absolutely must live demo, here's my own general plan and tactics: Continue reading

Switching To Reveal.js for Presentations

UPDATE: I presented at one event using reveal.js and have since rebuilt all my presentations in my original toolchain (rst2pdf). One presentation completely resized itself (I used rem units but that didn't help) so code samples were unreadable/missing. Also each presentation has all the dependencies INSIDE the presentation folder, so any backing up or syncing to dropbox becomes impossible (I ended up tethered to my phone with 250k files to sync ...). I like backups AND I like my Dropbox to work. So, no more reveal.js, it's just not fit for (my) purpose. Continue reading

Debugging rst2pdf and pygments

I create my slide decks from ReStructuredText, which is a text markup format. Working this way makes it easy to add into source control, fast to work with, and also accessible since I don't use a mouse or other pointing device so traditional slide deck creation programs are kind of difficult. Text-based wins every time for me. While working on a new slide template, I ran into some difficulties and had to figure out how to inspect what was going on. I seem to struggle with this every time so I am writing my troubleshooting guide here for when I need it next. Continue reading

The Microphone Is Your Friend

This post is an adaptation from an email I sent to a friend who is doing their first few conference talks. I was asked to share more widely so here it is

The microphone is your friend, honestly :) Even if you think you can be heard, there are some definite benefits to using a mic if it's available:

  • you actually can be heard
  • even people with less-than-excellent hearing can hear you
  • the video recording can hear you as well
  • you now have the option to employ some vocal variety: exclaiming, pausing, stage whisper ... it all adds interest and colour to what you are saying

There are a few different types of mic and each one has its own quirks! Continue reading

So You're Thinking Of Submitting A Talk

I've been a conference speaker for a lot of years now, which doesn't make me an expert but it does mean that people ask me for advice pretty regularly! With the Call for Papers open for PHP North West at the moment (awesome conference, first weekend in October, CfP at http://conference.phpnw.org.uk/phpnw15/call-papers/), I've taken this question a few times. Here's my advice in a nutshell:

  • Think about what's interesting that you could share with other developers. The key here is that the people listening should go away with something useful, rather than just the impression that you're awesome
  • Write it down. You don't need to write the talk before you submit - just a title and an abstract will do. The abstract should be one paragraph, maximum 200-250 words
  • A great abstract says why this topic is vital, what cool things will be covered, who should come and what they will learn. I'm paraphrasing but those are the basics!
  • Submit your abstract to http://helpmeabstract.com/ to get feedback from some lovely volunteers who will help you (bookmark the gist and keep revisiting it, the system doesn't notify you or anything ... yet. Pretty sure you can submit patches while procrastinating on a slide deck though)
  • Did you get this far without submitting? That's normal :) Remember that your community needs new voices. Each of us is ahead of *someone* on the path, you absolutely don't need to be the expert to have something to offer to the rest of us. So please, submit :)