Category Archives: Speaking engagements

Diversity and speaking engagements

Background

I’m in the privileged position of receiving more invitations to speak (at conferences, user groups and podcasts) than I can realistically agree to. I’ve decided to start applying some new criteria to how I pick which ones I go to1.

However, over the last couple of years as feminism has become an increasingly important part of my life I’ve found myself saddened by the lack of diversity at conferences, both in terms of speakers and attendees. It’s not uncommon for me to spend the first couple of minutes of a conference talk commenting on this, and asking the audience (broadly white men) to think about what they can do to improve this, understanding that it’s our problem to fix. I don’t know whether that’s had any impact, but I’m likely to keep doing it anyway. (Drip, drip, drip.)

I should point out that some conferences do pretty well. When I was invited to speak at NorDevCon for the second time, a large part of why I accepted was because of the diversity of both speakers and attendees. (It varies by year, of course.) When I recently spoke at Web Summit the attendee gender diversity was the best I’ve ever seen – along with a Women in Tech lounge that was certainly busy.

Anyway, to do my part in encouraging diversity, from now on when I’m invited to speak, I’m going to refer the organizers to this post.

My requirements for speaking engagements

  • Conferences must have a published Code of Conduct, including incident resolution steps. Where possible, this should be highlighted in opening remarks (typically before the keynote). It’s important that all speakers and attendees feel both safe and welcome – and members of under-represented groups are the most likely not to feel safe and welcome.
  • Organizers must take active steps to encourage speaker diversity. One common challenge to diversity initiatives is that they mean compromising on quality, but I disagree with the assumption behind the challenge. There are many high-quality presenters who are women, but it may mean making more effort to find them. (It’s all too easy to rely on the “regulars” in the tech speaking circles.) If an organizer publishes how they’re trying to encourage diversity, that’s definitely a bonus. I’d at least expect organizers to keep track of how they’re doing over time, and be willing to privately share how they’re trying to improve. It’s hard to give concrete limits here as I may need to make a decision before the rest of the speaker list is decided, but any time I find myself at a conference where 25% or less of the speakers are non-white-men, I’ll be vocally disappointed. Over time, I expect this number to get higher.
  • Ideally, publishing data on attendee diversity over time, with a public plan for improvements. This may not always be possible historically, as the data may not have been captured – but I doubt that it’s very hard to add it to future registration processes. (I’d encourage organizers to think beyond binary gender identification when adding this, too.)
  • I won’t personally speak in any white-male-only panels of three people or more. Ideally, I’d like to see efforts for there not to be any such panels.

If conferences and user groups don’t want to make any efforts to improve diversity, that’s their choice – but I hope that they’ll find it increasingly difficult to attract good speakers, and I’m going to be a tiny part of that scarcity.

How I’m happy to help organizers

On a positive side, I’m happy to:

  • Try to help organizers find diverse speakers. I don’t currently have much in the way of a contact list on this front yet, but that’s something for me to try to improve.
  • Help potential speakers tune their abstracts or presentations in private. I know that presenting for the first time can be daunting, particularly if you feel under-represented within the industry to start with. I don’t have any experience on this sort of coaching, but if I can be helpful at all, I’ll do my best.
  • Co-present with someone who might otherwise worry that they wouldn’t get much attendance, etc. In particular, I’d be very happy to be an on-stage guinea-pig, learning from another presenter in a field I’m not familiar with, and asking questions along the way in an active tutorial style. (I’d expect any partnership like this to be primarily about highlighting the other speaker’s knowledge – it mustn’t be tokenism just to get them on stage while I waffle about C# yet again. That would propagate negative stereotypes.)
  • Be very vocal about positive experiences in diversity.

Diversity matters. It’s good business and it’s important ethically. Improving the diversity of events is only a small part of improving the industry, and I’d encourage all readers to think about what they can do elsewhere in their own place of work or study.

Further reading:

For conference organizers:

For new speakers:


1 Previously, my criteria have been very loosely based on:

  • Preferring events where I won’t need to stay overnight
  • Preferring events where there are other talks I’ll be interested in
  • Preferring community over commercial organizers
  • Preferring events where the focus actually seems to intersect with my area of dubious expertise. (I’m unlikely to speak at any Agile, Testing or DevOps conferences – while I can appreciate them, that’s not my area.)
  • How many other things I have going on at the time

I’m expecting this post to change over time. I don’t generally like revisionism, but I want this post to stay “live” and relevant for as long as possible. As a compromise, here’s a revision history.

  • 2016-12-10: Initial post
  • 2016-12-16: Updated structure for clarity, fixed MVDP expansion (oops), rewording around not lowering quality

Writing and speaking update

This post has a few purposes – it’s partly a bit of advertising, but it’s also meant to serve as a quick way of replying to speaking requests for a while… if you’ve been directed here by an email from me, I hope you’ll excuse the “form letter” approach. (You can probably skip down to the bottom.)

Upcoming speaking engagements

I’ve got a few speaking engagements in the next four months:

  • December 2nd, hack.summit(): Humanity: Epic Fail (not currently sure how Tony the Pony will handle working with a webcam, but we’ll see)
  • December 3rd, NDC London: Abusing C#
  • January 6th-9th: CodeMash: workshop on LINQ, and a session on testing with Roslyn
  • February 27th: NorDevCon: Keynote (!) on passion, and C# 6 (probably with a bit of Roslyn too)

New book under development: Grokking C#

A long time ago I wrote about my hope to write two books: C# in Style and C# from Scratch. As you may have noticed, these haven’t happened yet, although I have had a couple of abortive attempts.

I’ve been working with my publisher (Manning) to think about the best way of introducing C# to newcomers, and we’ve made solid progress on a book with the working title of “Grokking C#” (subtitle: getting stuff done with objects). The aim will be to introduce both C# and OO hand-in-hand… not just “enough OO to understand the syntax of C#” but hopefully enough of the big picture to encourage readers to think about objects in a way which will last them long beyond the short time they’re reading the book.

The “Grokking” series from Manning is a pretty new one, but I’m really excited about the approach – it’s very visual, with a lot of thought put into reducing cognitive load. Have a look at Grokking Functional Programming for an idea of the style. If this sounds a bit like the Head-First books, there’s a good reason for that – Bert Bates who wrote Head-First Java with Kathy Sierra is acting in a consulting role for the Grokking books. However, the Grokking books have a style of their own – one which happens to take the things I like about the Head-First books, but without some of the aspects I’m less fond of.

I’m very much looking forward to learning a lot from Bert about getting a message out as clearly as possible. My blog, book and conference audience has always been reasonably advanced, and while I obviously answer Stack Overflow questions asked by newcomers, I haven’t done a large amount of writing for that audience. I expect this to be very challenging, but really rewarding.

No more speaking engagements…

Now for the bit which is tricky to tell conference organizers: I’m not going to accept any extra speaking engagements until the book is done, at least in first draft.

Writing the book is going to take a lot of my time, some of which would otherwise be family time… and currently speaking is taking about half of my vacation allocation each year. If I tried to continue with the speaking and the book, my family would suffer – and they don’t deserve that.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love speaking, and I’ll look forward to returning to the conference scene when I’m done, assuming anyone still wants me. Hopefully by then I’ll have some fresh ideas for talks as well. (I’ve been considering “Techniques for persuading people you’re an expert when you’re not” as a soft-skills talk, although I’m not sure I want to give away the secret…)

Apologies to conference organizers who I’ve already put off a few times with “ask me next year” – people trust me when I say it isn’t personal. If I had more time (or didn’t have a family!) I’d love to spend my life travelling around the world giving talks and chatting with developers. There just aren’t enough hours in the day :(

Coding in the style of Glee

As previously mentioned, at CodeMash 2012 I gave a very silly Pecha Kucha talk entitled "Coding in the style of Glee". The video is on YouTube, or can be seen embedded below:

(There’s also another YouTube video from a different angle.)

This post gives the 20 slides (which were just text; no fancy pictures unlike my competitors) and what I meant to say about them. (Edited very slightly to remove a couple of CodeMash-specific in-jokes.) Don’t forget that each slide was only up for 20 seconds.

Coding in the style of Glee

As you may know, I’m from the UK, and it’s wonderful to be here. This is my first US conference, so it’s great to be in the country which has shared with the world its most marvellous cultural output: the Fox show, Glee.

At first I watched it just for surface story – but now I know better – I know that really, the songs are all about the culture and practice of coding.

(It isn’t easy) Bein’ Green

When I started coding, it was on a ZX Spectrum, in Basic. It was hard, but the computer came with a great manual. I later learned C from a ringbinder of some course or other – and entirely failed to understand half the language. Of course, this was before Stack Overflow, when it was really hard being a newbie – where could you turn for information?

Getting to know you

Over time I became semi-competent in C, with the help of friends. But learning is a constant process, of course – getting to know new languages and platforms is just part of a good dev’s life every day.

Learning itself is a skill – how similar it is to getting to know small children, I leave to your imagination.

Man in the Mirror

Glee doesn’t just talk about the coding experience, of course – it talks about specific technologies. This Michael Jackson song is talking about reflection, of course. Although the idea wasn’t new in Java, it was new to me – and now it would be almost unthinkable to come up with a new platform which didn’t let you find out about what was in the code.

Bridge over Troubled Water

Another technology covered beautifully by Glee is the interop. We’re in a big world, and we always need to talk to other systems. Whether it’s over JNI (heaven help you), P/Invoke, SOAP, REST – whatever, I hope next time you connect to another system, you’ll hear this haunting Simon and Garfunkel melody in the background.

I will survive

And who could forget persistence frameworks. I’m not sure whether Gloria Gaynor had Hibernate and the Entity Framework in mind when she sang this, but I’m utterly convinced that the Glee writers did. When you submit your data, it’s just got to survive – what else would you want?

You can’t always get what you want

We’d all like perfect specifications, reliable libraries, ideal languages, etc – but that’s just not going to happen. It’s possible that of course you won’t get what you need – even if you try real hard. But hey, you might just.

Lean on me (or Agile on me)

(I didn’t actually have notes written for this one. Copied from the video.)

Glee sympathizes with you – but it also have a bit of an answer: lean on me. Lean and agile development, so we can adapt to constantly changing specifications, and eventually we will have something that is useful. Maybe nothing like what we initially envisaged, but it will be something useful.

Losing my Religion

Of course, we don’t always stay in love with a platform. I’d like to dedicate this slight to Enterprise Java. Fortunately I never had to deal with Enterprise Java Beans, but I “enjoyed” enough other J2EE APIs to make me yearn for a world without BeanProcessorFactoryFactories.

Anything Goes

Now I’m pretty conservative – only in terms of coding, mind you. I’m a statically typed language guy. But Glee celebrates dynamic languages too – languages where really, anything goes until you try to execute it. Even though I haven’t gone down the dynamic route myself much, it’s important that we all welcome the diversity of languages and platforms we have.

Get Happy

Along with the rise of dynamic languages, we seem to have seen a rise of happy developers. We’ve always had enthusiastic developers, but there’s a certain air about your typical Ruby on Rails developer which feels new to me. Again, I’m not a Ruby fan myself – but it’s always nice to see other happy people, and maybe one day I’ll see the light.

Bust your Windows

I don’t know what I can say about this song. Do the Glee writers have it in for Microsoft? I don’t remember “Bust your OSX” or “Bust your Linux” for example. Only Windows is targeted here.

The Safety Dance

One big change for me since joining Google is increased awareness of the need for redundancy – the intricate dance we need to perform to create a service which will stay up no matter what. Where redundancy is a dirty word in most of industry, as developers we celebrate it – and will do anything we can to avoid…

The Only Exception

… a single point of failure.

(Yes, that really is all I’d prepared for that slide. Hence the need for improvisation.)

Telephone

(From video.) Glee celebrates the rise of phone apps. Who these days could be unaware of the importance of the development of mobile applications? And obviously, we can credit the iPhone for that, but since the iPhone, and just smart phone apps, we’ve also started…

U Can’t Touch This

(From video.) Tablets! And touch screen devices of all kinds. So Windows 8 – very touch-based, and sooner or later we’re all going to have to get with it. I don’t do UIs, I’ve never done a touch UI in my life, I have no idea how it works. But clearly it’s one of the ways forward.

Forget You

As smart phones and tablets become more ubiquitous and more bound to us as people, privacy has become more important. Glee gave us a timely reminder of the reverse of the persistence early on: we need to be able to forget about users, as well as remember them.

(A)waiting for a girl like you

(From video.) I’d like to leave on an up-note, so: I’m clearly very, very excited (really, really excited) about C# 5 and its await keyword so I ask you – I beg you – be excited about development. And always bear in mind your users.

My life would suck without you

Users rule our world. Can’t live without them, can’t shoot ‘em.

Celebrate – we do stuff to make users really happy! This is awesome! We should be thrilled!

(Even for enterprise apps, we’re doing useful stuff. Honest.)

Don’t stop believing

(From video.) So to sum up: have fun, keep learning, really, really enjoy what you’re doing, and… don’t stop!

CodeMash 2012 report

I’m nearly home – on a bus back from Heathrow airport to Reading – returning from CodeMash 2012. This was my first US conference, and I had a wonderful time. It was pretty densely packed in terms of presenting / recording for me:

  • I presented two back-to-back sessions jointly with Bill Wagner, on async. These went down really well (particularly Bill’s genius idea of using the Doctor Who quote about time being a "big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff") and were great fun to give. Bill’s a class act, and I think we got the balance between use and underpinnings about right.
  • I recorded a podcast with Scott Hanselman (we were going to record two, but the first one ended up being longer than expected)
  • I presented a talk on "C#’s Greatest Mistakes" which ended up being somewhere between a discussion on language design, and a demonstration of surprising "features" of C#. It overran by 15 minutes without me coming close to running out of things to say, but hopefully it was useful. It was a somewhat rambly session, but at least I warned folks of that up-front. It would be nice to be able to present the same sort of material in a really "tight" way, but I’m just not sure how to.
  • I gave a 20×20 "Pecha Kucha" talk called "Coding in the style of Glee" as the silliest topic I could come up with on short notice. This was absolutely terrifying and extremely silly. I only came third in the contest (and the winner, Leon, was simply phenomenal) but I was happy that I’d only embarrassed myself about as much as I’d expected to. The YouTube video of this is already up, and I’ll write a blog post with the slide titles and what I was trying to say in them :)

Unfortunately due to last minute async prep and desperately trying to cobble together slides for the Glee talk, I didn’t have time to actually attend as many talks as I’d have liked. Even though I was present for the whole of the Scala Koans session in the PreCompilr on Wednesday, I found myself next to Bruce Eckel, and ended up chatting with him for most of the time. It would have been a bit of a waste not to, really. (And at least some of that talking was Scala-related…) I also watched the whole of the SignalR presentation by Brady Gaster – where I was apparently the only person in the room with an aversion to "dynamic" in C# 4. That made me the butt of a few jokes, but not too many for comfort.

In terms of C#-related talks, I went to the first half of Dustin Campbell’s Roslyn session, but was somewhat distracted by putting together Glee slides and had to leave half way through to hand them in. My final session of the conference was Bill Wagner’s "Stunt coding in C# – I dare you to try this at home" which was excellent, and a very fitting end to the conference for me.

Highlights of the conference for me:

  • Messing with Bill Wagner’s code at the end of not just our joint async talk but also his Stunt Coding talk. I’ve never before asked a presented whether they mind me just stealing the keyboard, but I was confident that Bill (and the attendees) would get a kick out of it – and the code was nicer afterwards :)
  • Meeting so many people… some that I’ve met before (I hadn’t seen Ted Neward since I gate-crashed a party at his house after the MVP 2005 Summit), some I’d met virtually but not physically before (like Bill) and there loads of other folks I’d never known at all before – including Cori Drew. Cori simply seemed to pop up everywhere – I swear she had about 20 clones at CodeMash. (She also recorded the video of the Glee talk, and it’s her laughter you can hear – thanks very much, Cori!) Everyone at the conference was incredibly friendly, and I was really touched by how many people said on the last day that they’d appreciated me making the long trip.
  • Confounding Dustin Campbell and Kevin Pilch-Bisson with my evil generic overloading puzzle. Just to be clear, these are two seriously smart guys and this was a friendly over-lunch challenge. It’s always a privilege to meet more of the team responsible for C# and Visual Studio.
  • The number of families who came – this is something I’ve never seen at other conferences, and it really made a difference in terms of the atmosphere of the non-dev bits. It was fabulous to see the kids in the water park, for example. Even out of just attendees, there was a greater proportion of women at CodeMash than at other conferences I’ve been to – obviously still vastly outnumbered by the men, but it was nice to see some improvement on that front.

This will probably be my only international conference for 2012, so it’s a good job that it was so wonderfully organized. I really hope I have the chance to attend next year too. Many thanks to everyone who helped make it such a special conference.

Awaiting CodeMash 2012

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m attempting to make 2012 a quiet year in terms of my speaking engagements – I’ve turned down a few kind offers already, and I expect to do so again during the year. I may well still give user group talks in evenings if I can do so without having to take holiday, but full conferences are likely to be out, especially international ones. This is partly so I can take more time off to support my wife, Holly, who has her own books to promote. This year will be particularly important for Holly as she’s one of the World Book Day 2012 authors – I’m tremendously proud of her, as you can no doubt imagine.

However, there’s one international conference I decided to submit proposals for: CodeMash. I’ve never been to this or any other US conference, but I’ve heard fabulous things about it. I’m particularly excited that I’ll be able to present alongside Bill Wagner, a fellow C# author (probably most famous for Effective C# which I’ve reviewed before now). Bill and I have never met, although we’ve participated jointly on a .NET Rocks show before now. I could barely hear Bill when we recorded that though, so it hardly counts :)

The conference schedule for CodeMash shows Bill and I each giving two talks: two individual ones on general C# (C# Stunt Coding by Bill, and C#’s Greatest Mistakes by me) and two sessions on the async support in C# 5… async "from the inside" and "from the outside". Although these have hitherto been shown as separate sessions, everyone involved thought it would make more sense to weave the two together… so this will be a double-length session. Bill will be presenting the "outside" view – how to use async, basically; I’ll be presenting the "inside" view – how it all hangs together behind the scenes.

With any luck, this will be much more helpful to the conference attendees, as they should be able to build up confidence in the solid foundations underpinning it all at the same time as seeing how fabulously useful it’ll be for developers. It also means that Bill and I can bounce ideas off each other spontaneously as we go – I intend to pay close attention and learn a thing or two myself!

It’s pretty much impossible to predict how it’ll all hang together, but I’m really excited about the whole shebang. I’ll be fascinated to see if and how US conferences differ from the various ones this side of the pond… but it does make the whole thing that bit more nerve-wracking. If you’re coming to CodeMash, please grab me and say hi – it never hurts to see a friendly face…

(Note: Bill has a similar blog post posted just before this one.)

Upcoming speaking engagements

It’s just occurred to me that I’ve forgotten to mention a few of the things I’ll be up to in the near-ish future. (I’ve talked about next week’s Progressive .NET session before.) This is just a quick rundown – follow the links for more blurb and details.

.NET Developer Network – Bristol, September 21st (evening)

I’ll be talking about async in Bristol – possibly at a high level, possibly in detail, depending on the audience experience. This is my first time talking with this particular user group, although I’m sure there’ll be some familiar faces. Come along if you’re in the area.

Øredev 2011 – Malmö, November 9th

It’s a whistle-stop trip to Sweden as I’m running out of vacation days; I’m flying out on the Tuesday evening and back on the Wednesday evening, but while I’m there I’ll give two talks:

  • Async 101 (yes, more async; I wonder at what point I’ll have given as many talks about it as Mads)
  • Effective technical communication (not a particularly technical talk, but definitely specific to technical communication)

Last year I had an absolute blast – looking forward to this year, even though I won’t have as much time for socializing.

Stack Overflow Dev Days 2011 – London, November 14th – cancelled!

Update: Dev Days has been cancelled. I’m still hoping to do something around this topic, and there may be small-scale meet-ups in London anyway.

Two years ago I talked about how humanity had let the world of software engineering down. This was one of the best talks I’ve ever given, and introduced the world to Tony the Pony. Unfortunately that puts the bar relatively high for this year’s talk – at least, high by my own pretty low standards.

In a somewhat odd topic for a Christian and a happy employee of a company with a code of conduct which starts "Don’t be evil," this year’s talk is entitled "Thinking in evil." As regular readers are no doubt aware, I love torturing the C# language and forcing the compiler to work with code which would make any right-thinking software engineer cringe. I was particularly gratified recently when Eric Lippert commented on one of my Stack Overflow answers that this was "the best abuse of C# I’ve seen in a while." I’m looking forward to talking about why I think it’s genuinely a good idea to think about nasty code like this – not to use it, but to get to know your language of choice more intimately. Like last time, I have little idea of exactly what this talk will be like, but I’m really looking forward to it.

Speaking engagement: Progressive .NET, London, September 7th

Just a quick note to mention an event I’ll be speaking at in September. SkillsMatter will be hosting Progressive .NET, a 3-day event set of tutorials on September 5th-7th in London. I’ll be speaking about C# 5’s async feature on the last day (9.30am-1pm) but there’s a host of other speakers too. Should be good. For my own part, with four hours or so to cover async, I should be able to cover both the high level stuff and the implementation details, with plenty of time for the inevitable questions.

This one isn’t free though, I’m afraid – it’s normally £425. Hardly pocket money, but pretty good value for three full days of deep-dive sessions. However, there are two bits of good news:

  • Readers of this blog can get £50 off using the promo code "PROGNET50" at the checkout.
  • I have two free tickets to give away.

In an effort to make the ticket give-away fair, I’m thinking of a 32-bit number – mail me (skeet@pobox.com) an Int32, and the two readers with the closest value will get the tickets. Please include "Progressive .NET" in the subject line of the mail so I can filter them easily :)

Anyway, hope to see you there – please grab me to say hi.

Update (August 4th): and the winners are…

Congratulations to The Configurator and Haris Hasan who submitted the closest numbers to the one I was thinking of: -890978631.

In fact, The Configurator guessed the exact value – which is the result of calling "Progressive .NET".GetHashCode() on my 32-bit laptop running .NET 4. (I can’t remember which versions have different hash algorithms, but as it’s pretty arbitrary, it seemed good enough…) I’m impressed!

I’ll be emailing SkillsMatter to let them know about the winners – and thanks to everyone else who mailed me a guess. Hope I’ll see some of you there anyway!