This year, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a speaker for DevWeek 2015 in London. In case you haven’t had the chance to attend or is the first time you hear of this conference, then I would highly recommend you make it your goal to be attend next year. DevWeek is the UK’s leading developer conference with over 100 breakout sessions and 23 full day workshops. The amount of information and knowledge you can accumulate in 5 days is immense and you will, most likely, leave the conference with some great ideas and a buzz about the endless possibilities that await you. For me, this year was the first time speaking and attending so I thought it would be useful to share my experience and do a small retrospect on the event, the things I learned and the people I met.
Videos & Slides
The video from the talk is now available :
And you can find the slides here:
The conference organizers were fantastic from the beginning. The people responsible for running the “show” were very communicative and ensured that everything run smoothly. The venue selection, Central Hall Westminster in London, was spot on and provided a lot of rooms for the different sessions along with the necessary amenities and space for the sponsor’s booths etc. I found it really easy to mingle with other attendees and speakers. The hotel selection for the speakers was a very nice surprise, a little gem just off Green Park. The quality of service at the hotel and its distance from the venue – 10 minutes on foot made it the perfect choice. If you know anything of London is that being so close is a blessing. Finally, the speaker’s dinner (more on this later) was set in a very nice restaurant with fantastic food and even better company. The whole team went to a great length to welcome and introduce everyone and provided the right environment for fun and interesting conversations.
The speaker’s dinner.
This was my first opportunity to meet and speak with most of the other speakers because I had only arrived in London a couple of earlier. Unfortunately, and I insist on the “unfortunately”, with so many speakers attending the conference, it was impossible to speak to everyone. However, I was lucky to be seated next to some really interesting and clever people. Most of them had years of experience in public speaking, writing, training and community events so it's no surprise that I felt a bit like a “noob”. The conversations covered a lot of subjects frrom code, platforms, frameworks, best practices to what’s coming next in IT, where we see ourselves in the future and so on... It was so compelling and exhilarating at the same time, that we started at 7pm and the dinner went on well after 12am by which time I had to leave to go back to the hotel. I was too tired to stay and it was with great regret that had to leave. One of the best dinners I’ve ever had and I don’t even remember the food they served us!
My talk was set for 9.30 am which meant that my audience would be fresh and eager to learn. The session was scheduled to last for 1.5 hours in the Grand Hall so I knew that there would be “a few” people coming to seem me talk about ASP.NET 5, .NET Core and the new Open Source direction that Microsoft has adopted in the past year. What was more interesting was the fact that just a week ago, at the DotNetConf, more announcements (see MsBuild) were made and I wanted to be on top of things. Consequently, my talk was still changing as I was collating the latest information on the .NET framework and I had to make sure that it was both accurate and interesting. My decision was to go with 45 mins of talking about the latest and greatest in web development using the .NET stack and then use the reminder of time, i.e 45 mins for demos. The talk went really well (based on my expectations) and run as planned apart from the following issues:
- Too much talking. It turns out that people attending talks like mine, want to see a lot more code instead of me blabbing away on what’s new and why it’s important. In the end, it’s all about the “show me the money” rather than “kill me with information”. Point taken.
- There were a couple of technical glitches, mainly because of the fact that both my laptops have crazy high resolution which doesn’t work nicely with projectors. In addition, MS PowerPoint’s presenter view tends to mess with monitor settings so this is something that you need to be aware of when switching from presenting to demo’ing. The suggestion is to turn it off, which I intend to do from now on
- Demo failures. Once I got past the issue with not being able to project Visual Studio on the monitor and battling with a black screen, my demos run fine. However, when I switched from my Windows machine to the Mac to showcase ASP.Net running outside Windows and IIS, I made a small, yet fatal error causing the demo website to error out instead of running as expected. In the end it was a silly error that I managed to figure out within 2 minutes as soon as I got back to the speaker’s lounge. My conclusion is that I should have been more prepared for this demo and run the steps a few more times to ensure that something like that never happens again. I intend to fix this going forward.
A conference is as good as its speakers and delegates. I had a good rapport during my talk and I got a few questions asked in the end. I would have expected a bit more enthusiasm during my talk when I announced some of the new exciting features or maybe some more questions at the end of the session but I’m happy with the fact that I didn’t see anyone fall asleep or walk out my talk. What’s also interesting is that the audience had the same demeanour in other talks I attended so I believe that this was consistent throughout the day. I hope that the final feedback from the conference will give me a better idea about the attendees' overall feelings.
The other speakers
I felt humble and extremely lucky to get to meet such a high calibre of speakers. Some of them have been in the software development industry for over 25 years which is over double mine. When I think that I've seen a lot of things, you can only image what they have to share. I found it quite intriguing that a large number of speakers were also established consultants working/running their own successful companies. At least this is the impression I got after talking to a few of them during the 2 days I was there. I did my best to speak to as many as I could and tap into their experience. It’s nice to keep an open mind and try to find out about other languages and technologies outside your comfort zone. For example, I have a really strong .NET background but for the first time I thought that I should look into Python after the excellent conversations I had with a couple of speakers. I only hope that the feelings were mutual and I managed to instil a bit of interest in .NET or whatever technology we talked about. Finally, since I was having so much fun and I was learning about so many new things, I decided to change my ticket and extend my stay in London so that I could spend more time among like-minded people who are as enthusiastic about development and technology as I am. I properly geeked out for 2 straight days and I wish it was more.
Since I had a lot of free time after my talk, I attended a few sessions which were given by friends I met the night before (at the speaker’s dinner). The sessions I chose to attend were on Angular.js and SPA applications. The talks were great and the presenters both entertaining and informative. The talk on Angular.js was by Shai Reznik (@shai_reznik) who has a unique way to make even the most boring subject entertaining and fun without compromising on the quality of information he’s trying to convey. If you’re not following this guy (on Twitter, please), then I highly recommend you do so. The SPA session was presented by Gil Fink (@gilfink), a true knowledge powerhouse when it comes to web development. This guy knows what he’s talking about so he definitely deserves a place in your Twitter timeline. One talk I really wanted to attend but I couldn’t, since it was at the same time as mine, was from Michael Kennedy (@mkennedy) on why Python is so great for .NET developers. Michael is an awesome guy, really knowledgeable yet down to earth and fun to hang out and speak to. I had the pleasure of talking to him for a good part of the morning, almost to the point I felt guilty about monopolizing his time, but it was worth it! There were a ton of other really interesting sessions and workshops to attend and it’s unfortunate that I still haven't mastered the ability to be in 2 places at the same time. I guess, I will have to wait for the session recordings to become available…
With the conference behind us, we had the rest of the evening ahead of us so some of the speakers decided to extend the stimulating conversations over dinner. A bunch of us got together around 7pm and headed to a nearby Turkish restaurant where good food and good wine set the foundations for a lot of fun and open minded conversations about life, technology, work and programming. The dinner went on for a long time until we were the last customers left in the restaurant. But the night was far from over and upon returning to the hotel, a small subset of “renegade developers” decided to stay at the bar and dig even further into each other’s ideas, thoughts and experiences. If some of us didn’t have a workshop or an early flight the next day, this thing could have lasted all night!
In retrospect, this was an awesome conference I'm glad I was part of it. I feel that both delegates and speakers had a great experience. The organization of the event was stellar and I only have good things to say about the team behind it. Personally, what made this experience so unique, was the fact that I was able to get in front of people to tell them what I’m so excited and passionate about, the extraordinary people I crossed paths with and the friends I made along the way. I truly hope that after this post I may have convinced to join me in making this community even better and if you ever thought about becoming a speaker, then I say "go for it"! It’s never too late to start speaking about things that you’re passionate about and things that excite you.