Diary of an anxious developer: My first conference talk

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Back in November I wrote a blog post Diary of an anxious developer about my struggles with confidence and anxiety as a developer. In this post I discussed how I managed to do my first attempt at public speaking and also contributed my first pull request to an open source project.

 

Fast forward 7 months and I have just given my first conference talk at Umbraco Codegarden! What the ….?! Not quite sure what happened to make such a drastic change but I thought I’d document my experiences in my first conference talk.

 

What is Codegarden?

 

As per my post last year , it was my first time attending Umbraco Codegarden. It was a really motivational experience and I left full of enthusiasm to be part if such an awesome community. Last year I got my ticket as part of a diversity incentive for women developers and I am so grateful as it was a game changer for me… anyone who says these incentives don’t work, send them my way.

This year there were 600 attendees, a mix of techies and non techies that use Umbraco. The agenda included: Community, Beyond Web, Security, Collaboration, E-Commerce and Editor experiences.

 

Preparing for the talk

 

To my surprise, I was asked to do a talk for the “Beyond Web” section for the agenda based on my blog post for 24 days in Umbraco: A CMS for the Internet of Things. To be honest, after the initial excitement of being invited, I felt sick… the fear set in and self doubt appeared.

 

Could I do it? Am I experienced enough? Will people respect my opinion? Have I anything interesting to say?

 

However, I am always saying “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” regarding women in tech. How can I complain there are never any female speakers then reject the chance to correct this?! The next few months went by and the emotion switched between excitement and fear about 100 times.

 

Deciding the content of the talk was difficult, I wanted it to be understandable for non devs but also wanted to give enough technical info for developers looking to build similar systems. Remember in that previous post how I mentioned getting self conscious of people seeing my code? Imagine the thought of putting it on a big screen for all to see!

 

I settled on what I hoped was a good balance between techy and non techy and practiced the talk countless times… poor Mr L having to listen to it so many times I think he could have presented it.

 

On the day

 

Luckily for me Codegarden has a run club and I was able to run off some of the nerves, although I was still too anxious to eat any breakfast! Umbraco make an effort to be more than just a regular conference and had a mindfullness session ahead of the day of talks, this was another welcome attempt to remove the nerves. I found 15 minutes of meditation super relaxing and it did help prepare me for my presentation… However, when the time for my session arrived, I thought I was going to faint!

 

 

During the talk

 

I was terrified. All the rehearsals fell out my head and I had the “Could I just run away?” thought. I decided that may not be the best idea and focussed on my first slide. It was literally a picture of me and my name, surely I couldn’t mess that one up!

 

One thing I have decided over the last 6 months:  I know my style is a bit awkward but that is how I am so rather than be fake, just embrace the awkwardness and hope people understand. If this means all my presentations end up filled with movie references and my hilarious (only to me) jokes then that’s fine if it helps me cope and get my point across.

 

I am a bit of a data geek so I had a look at the stats from the heart rate monitor on my watch. It shows that my heart rate went up to 150bpm as I was waiting to start and didn’t go below 100 for my whole talk. That peak in the middle of the screenshot is the hour around the session:

For context, my resting heart rate is generally between 45 and 55 so this is pretty high for me! Fair to say I was a wee bit nervous.

 

After the Talk

 

Immediately after, I was exhausted. The fatigue hit me like a bus. A few people came to ask some questions and some of my super supportive Umbraco friends were there to be my cheerleaders :) I grabbed a wee cuppa tea and headed straight into another talk thinking the sleepiness would wear off but I couldn’t focus on anything.

 

In the afternoon I had to skip a session of talks as I was so sleepy I needed some quiet time- not something you get so much at a conference this busy. So I took the chance while everyone was in talks, changed into my converse and had a lie down!

After my lie down and a quick 15 minute yoga session in the afternoon break (told you codegarden wasn’t a normal conference) I felt better. My batteries had recharged enough to get me through to the famous Umbraco bingo.

 

Feedback

 

I am overwhelmed by the reactions from my talk! People have been so sweet in their feedback, looking beyond the terrible jokes and appreciating the tech.

For me this is a great feeling as I have often found myself having to justify myself as I “don’t look like a developer” or when people just assume I was a designer or a project manager. The fact people were asking me questions and respecting my opinion on technical matters makes me quite emotional.

 

Now what?

 

Now I am home and have had some sleep, I am quite proud of myself. People always say how I seem confident because I am chatty but I know just how bad my anxiety has been in the past so this was such a big achievement for me in my journey to overcome it (maybe a separate post on this in the future).

 

So maybe my next diary could be “Diary of a slightly awkward developer” instead :)

 

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Slides from my talk here.

As usual, say hello on Twitter if you have any feedback :)