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First Conference in the Bag - React Week 2019 - Dev Productivity!

Posted on:August 13, 2019 at 12:00 AM (6 min read)

I’m struggling to believe that today’s date reads August 13th - it feels like summer has been a 2019 Aventador using all 729 horsepower to speed by. From traveling to different countries and states and exploring the New York City skyline on jet skis, all in addition to creating slides for my first ever conference talk - it has been a whirl of a summer!

Today I write to you all in a reflection of that talk, and hope that it could potentially help give you the courage to propose your own - it’s a wonderful experience!

React Week 2019

Before diving into the details of the talk, let me take a step back to talk about the conference. In NYC, we have a large meetup founded by 500Tech called ReactNYC with over 5K members. They noticed that there wasn’t an annual React conference being held within NYC each year, so it was time for a change.

They created React Week 2019 to make that change. As I was browsing through Twitter feed, the call for proposals (CFP) was in full swing as it came up as a retweet.

One of my goals for 2019? Speak at a conference! I decided to propose a talk!

I recommend checking out the conference schedule and putting the 2020 conference on your radar next year!

Deciding on a talk

Developer Productivity

Since joining Northwestern Mutual in November 2018, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at our bi-monthly Front End Developer Summits twice. This is where we get together, practice our public speaking skills, and learn more about the various technologies or innovations teams are doing throughout the enterprise.

You can check out all of my talks if interested!

I decided to propose Developer Productivity as my topic. I fill out the necessary details asked for in the submission form and waited!

Proposal Tips

As a fan of Mental Models, a term talked about on the blog before, I tried to think through a few and frame my perspective as a conference organizer when creating the proposal. Here were a few things I thought about:

1. Making an Impact / Add Value

The conference registration for React Week wasn’t free. This means that for each person attending if they all attended my talk, I wanted them to feel that they were positively impacted. Productivity is a VERY valuable skill in a development career, one that I could quantify in the talk, so I tried to show that it was impactful when submitting my proposal.

This is very important for conference organizers because if people pay, they want to have talks worth traveling or paying for.

2. Unique Topic

Developer productivity hot tips are tweeted regularly. Articles with favorite extensions are common. I had not watched any particular talks that focused strictly on productivity, how it relates to your career, and how to grow that skill as a developer.

I wanted my topic to be unique, potentially to the point that no other talks were on the same topic. I can’t say if it was or not, but it was something I considered!

3. Confidence in Public Speaking

Applying for my first conference meant that I didn’t have any videos of my public speaking skills. Although they can always be improved, I do have experience from presenting often at GE in my leadership program. We presented to executives, colleagues, and managers - along with even teaching a Node API class to leadership program members and BDPA classes.

I felt that since there was no way the organizers could see any of my talks, it was going to be challenging to convey that I was experienced.

I went with an elevator speech of my career with specific instances that I’ve grown from that gave me the experience required to speak in front of people at this conference.

I’m so thankful for all of the nerve-wracking sessions with Susan giving me feedback over those two years as she molded me into a young professional! She said she would help and boy did she!

4. Personality

In my humble opinion, personality and authenticity have high value in public speaking. I enjoy listening to people who have interesting stories and share part of them with you. They are people who have worked hard to attain the knowledge, compile the knowledge, and want to share with others. They aren’t always perfect but they are real.

I wanted to do my best at showing some of my story and personality in the proposal, so the organizers could get a feel for who I was and determine if it was a good fit.

Being Accepted!

One day a few weeks after proposing the talk, an E-mail notification came through that notified me of my proposal being accepted!

I was ecstatic!!!

Preparing for the Talk

Since I had spoken on Developer Productivity before, there was some material I could re-use. Before deciding on that though, I created an outline and read a few blog posts on tech talks at conferences.

One of my favorite series was from Dan at his blog on Preparing for a Tech Talk.

To summarize:

  1. Research what makes a great talk along with my objectives for the audience to take away from it.
  2. Create an outline that showed the order of slides and content
  3. Review the outline and make sure it meets objectives
  4. Create a rough draft (don’t worry too much about all of the colors/themes)
  5. Practice with the rough draft and make changes as needed
  6. Clean up the code/presentation after making changes
  7. Practice/time yourself
  8. Give the talk at the conference!

Conference Day

On the conference day, the trip to the conference venue was a bit far - 60 minutes on the subway + walking. We were asked to come a bit early to test out our laptops and sound before the conference started.

There was a nice speaker room so we could all be nervous and talk together about those nerves :D. We all went out at breakfast to meet the different attendees, and it was awesome to learn that a group from Seattle traveled to NYC for the conference.

After that, the conference began and I attended many of the talks, all on Youtube, to learn and support other speakers on their hard work!

My specific speaker slot happened to be the last slot of the day - which meant I was able to be nervous while watching everyone else, instead of those who got it out of the way first lol!

We all had a blast learning from the talks and enjoying the moment of the conference together! As my time slot inched closer and closer, I began reviewing my slides and content one last time.

Giving the Talk / Resources

I won’t write too much about giving the talk, instead, I shall link you to view if interested!

Developer Productivity Kaleb McKelvey

Slide Deck

Enjoy! I’d appreciate any constructive criticism in the comments for improvements next time!

Huge Thank You

This fabulous experience wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the hard work from the 500tech crew on organizing the conference. The other speakers were brilliant. The attendees attentive (even on the last talk of the day). IT WAS SO FUN!!

I’m grateful.